Holding USF football games in a stadium roughly 25 minutes away from campus presents inconveniences for most students, but for USF seniors like JaQuez Jenkins, it’s been an honor to play at an NFL
stadium in each home game.
“I’m a huge Bucs fan,” he said. “It’s been an honor to walk out through the same tunnel as the guys I grew up watching.”
For the last time as USF Bulls, seniors such as Jenkins, linebacker DeDe Lattimore, defensive tackle Luke Sager, and defensive ends Ryne Giddins and Julius Forte will dress in the same locker room as NFL
players and run out of that tunnel at Raymond James Stadium to face SMU on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t say it’s depressing, but it’s one of those things you’ll miss,” Forte said. “Counting down the days, it gets so uneasy leading up to it. I’m excited about it. I’m
nervous for it, but it has to happen. You’ll miss Ray Jay. You’ll miss coming out of that tunnel with that smoke and with this group of guys.”
All the practices during the week leading up to home games and grueling two-a-day workouts in the spring and summer bring memories too, they said.
“The first 300-yard shuffle I ran here,” he said. “Probably one of the worst days of my life. Guys were passing out, everybody was locking up. One of the worst days, but it was such a great memory because we all went through it as a team. Small memories like that are so monumental. The camaraderie of going through such tough things together makes the mind so much stronger.”
Behind the physicality of football, a genuine bond has grown over the past four or five years for the USF seniors, who Jenkins calls his brothers. They’ve shared memories at the most unusual times of day.
“I’ll remember getting to the field at 5 a.m., but having hysterical laughs at 4:50 right before we hit the field while other people are still asleep,” Jenkins said.
After the pregame ceremonies in which each senior will be honored with immediate family or guardians, USF will have to contain the SMU offense, which is fifth in the country in passing yards per game.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said his defense has to do something that has been the focus all year.
“Does it sound repetitive when I say, ‘Don’t give up the explosive play?’” he said. “But seriously, that’s the big thing — don’t give up the explosive play and limit where the quarterback is able to put the ball. It’s going to be seven-on-seven most of the game. We’ve got to sit back and limit the yardage.”
Forte said the defensive line’s lead objective is to get pressure on the quarterback but at the same time maintain gap integrity to limit SMU senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert rushing, who Forte said is
Gilbert is SMU’s leading rusher, collecting 29 yards a game out of SMU’s 101.4 per game, which is 114th in the nation. USF is at 113th.
While SMU relies on the passing game so heavily and Jenkins compared them most closely to Houston out of all of USF’s opponents this season, Bresnahan agreed, but said there are slight differences.
“These guys don’t spread the field quite like Houston did,” he said. “But they’ll take their shots on the intermediate routes. They’re playing extremely efficient on offense.”
While SMU is scoring 32.4 points per game, it’s allowing 38.1 points a game defensively. USF has an advantage defensively at 30.3 points allowed per game and far behind SMU offensively at 14.8 points per game.
USF is set to kickoff with SMU at 7 p.m.