USF kicks off spring practice with new strength, competitiveness


USF held its first spring practice Wednesday and hit the field with new muscle and personal weight-lifting records from more than half the team.

USF coach Willie Taggart, who noticed an improvement in speed, said there has been a team-wide commitment to getting bigger and stronger since the Bulls ended the
2013 season 2-10 on Dec. 7.

“Out of 79 guys in winter conditioning, we had 66 guys make every (session),” Taggart said. “That’s big time. We had 52 guys have a personal record (in weight lifting).”

As a proponent of a power running game, Taggart placed particular emphasis on strength and size gains among offensive linemen. He said he needed “people movers” in order to run the football.

Several offensive linemen gained more than 10 pounds since season’s end. Junior center Austin Reiter, like many of his teammates, was recruited by Skip Holtz to play in a spread offense reliant upon quickness.

Taggart’s power-running style has ignited a physical transformation in Year 2, that wasn’t achievable in the few months of workouts after his December 2012 hiring. 

Reiter, the lightest of last season’s starters, jumped from 273 to 286 pounds and said he’s done extra lifting with teammates after team sessions for faster results.

But not only has the team grown physically, it has grown mentally, making this spring’s first practice run
smoother than in his first
season, Taggart said.

“Day 1 last year, no one knew anything,” he said. “Even coaches. Some guys hadn’t coached with me before. Now you can sense everything is so much smoother.”

That’s not to say a smooth practice means everything is set in stone – quite the

“Nobody has a job,” Taggart said. “Not even (Lou Groza Finalist) Marvin Kloss. It’s going to be highly competitive. We can’t do that to our football program and university … to just give guys anything. That’s how we get better – everybody has to earn it. Everybody needs to know they can’t take a day off because the guy behind them is good enough to take their spot.”

Along with strength and competition, Taggart has made attention to detail and self-discipline a focal point of the 2014 offseason, as USF was the most penalized team in the AAC last season.

“We want to be disciplined,” he said. “We’re adamant about players doing exactly what they’re told to do. Even if a coach says ‘Stand behind the line’, (players are) not standing on that line.”

Off-field discipline has been an issue for the Bulls, too.

Sophomore defensive back and 11-game starter Kenneth Durden was arrested on a felony marijuana possession charge Jan. 19, and Taggart said he is no longer a part of the team.

“Kenneth Durden is suspended indefinitely,” he said. “He’s got things he needs to take care of that are much
bigger than football. Those are his issues. If he works those things out he can come back and talk to us, but I’m not really concerned about what Kenneth is going to do for our team right now. I’m only concerned about the guys out there working hard.”

When it comes to injuries, 2013 starting outside linebacker Reshard Cliett had shoulder surgery for an injury that caused him to miss time last season. Taggart said the junior’s rehab is ahead of schedule, and he may hit the field before the spring session is over.

Sophomore offensive guard Thor Jozwiak, who was a projected starter in summer 2013 but missed the season due to a heart condition, made the largest gain of the offensive linemen. Taggart confirmed Jozwiak has jumped from
300 to 332 pounds, and has been cleared to practice.

Taggart also confirmed sophomore quarterback, and starter of the 2013 season opener, Matt Floyd, is graduating this semester and will transfer. Floyd would have a year of playing
eligibility remaining.

“I’ve said from day one we’re going to be highly competitive,” Taggart said in regards to why Floyd never saw the field again. “I’m not going to give
anyone anything.”

Another change from last year’s spring practices is that six of the team’s 15 practices are open to the public from start to finish. Taggart said he thought of how the USF football program started in the 1990s, with practices open to the public.

“When USF started football with a lot of success, it happened with our entire community,” he said. “We need everybody behind us. I want to get it back to where this community is behind the football program.”

USF will continue to practice in preparation for the Spring Game on March 29.