It was a scorching hot August afternoon at the Frank Morsani Football Practice Complex and Rodney Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling were working on running routes, trying to out-do one another with one eye-popping grab after another.
On the sideline, they can be found hooting and hollering for each other, never shy to give one another praise. There’s no competition between these close friends who consider themselves the co-leading receivers on the 2016 Bulls.
“With both of them, I’m confident in their unselfishness in this offense,” receivers coach T.J. Weist said. “I think it’s a great relationship that they have because they stick together, they’re good friends, they work hard together and they compliment each other. They’re not worried about who’s doing what, there’s really no jealousy between the two.
“Every time you get in an offense you always want to be the number one guy or the top receiver, whatever it is. But I think those guys respect each other enough and respect this offense enough to not let it become an issue.”
The duo is working hard in preparation for a season that holds arguably the most potential and expectations in recent memory. Following USF’s first bowl appearance in the past five years, the addition of three-star recruit Valdes-Scantling from N.C. State gives an already-potent offense even more weapons than before.
But even with expectations looming, Adams and Valdes-Scantling have made their goals lofty.
“We plan on being the best receiving corps in the nation,” Valdes-Scantling said. “That’s our expectations, we won’t settle for anything less than that. We have great playmakers all around, it’s not just one guy like it is at other schools. Even the backups are good enough to be (No. 1s) anywhere.
“So I feel like with our quarterback and our running backs and our offensive line, we can be the best offense in the nation. That’s where we set our goals.”
In adding the junior receiver to the offense, USF not only gains an experienced playmaker, but a fast receiver who will take defenses’ attention away from other playmakers such as Adams.
“His speed, he’s got real good speed,” Adams said. “And his hands, he’s got gigantic hands so he can just snatch that thing out of the air like it’s nothing.
“Defenses can’t just key in on one player now, they have to worry about the whole offense. They can’t just shut down one side of the field because if they shut down this side, then we have the left side. So, it’s going to be hard for defenses to pick their poison.”
Fortunately for this wide receiver duo, leading an explosive offense together is nothing new.
Four years ago and forty minutes down the road from USF, Adams and Valdes-Scantling were making their names known as high school star wide outs for Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg.
As stars of both the football and track teams, little separated the two star Spartans receivers. When football was finished and it was time for track season, the two led the school team to a state championship.
They even wound up dating best friends, finding themselves together more and more often away from the field.
“We were pretty close back then, we scored a lot of points in high school and it was tough to contain us, so we were close in that way too,” Valdes-Scantling said. “We carried it over to track and won a state championship there and so we stayed friends.”
In their last season together at Lakewood, they began to catch the eye of several Power 5 schools. Adams finished his senior season gaining over 1,200 all-purpose yards while earning First Team All-County honors and Second Team All-State.
Valdes-Scantling had an equally impressive final season with the Spartans, racking up 800 yards and 14 touchdowns.
With each passing week, both receivers went to work against the opposition and the offers began to flow in. Adams earned 10 offers from schools including Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Florida and Florida State.
Valdes-Scantling fielded offers from 16 schools including the likes of Louisville, Kentucky, Arkansas and Houston.
Both were also offered by USF, but passed on the chance to play close to home.
Despite their friendship and success the two had playing together, they parted ways after graduating from Lakewood, mostly because they wanted a shot to play immediately.
Adams joined the University of Toledo and Valdes-Scantling signed his letter of intent with N.C. State.
Unfortunately despite their talent, living away from home didn’t end up working out for either of them.
In one year with Toledo, Adams caught two passes for 15 yards. In his two seasons at N.C. State, Valdes-Scantling caught 22 receptions each season, with 281 yards his freshman year and 257 and a touchdown his sophomore season.
Adams returned home first in 2014, coming to play for USF after qualifying for a hardship waiver following the passing of his mother. He played in 10 games that first season as a Bull, starting three. He finished the season behind only former USF receiver Andre Davis with 23 receptions for 323 yards and two touchdowns.
Even though Valdes-Scantling and Adams had drifted apart more than they would have liked when they went their separate ways, it was easy for Adams to recruit the junior receiver to come back home to play together once more.
“He asked why I transferred and I told him it was a great decision and I was close to home,” Adams said. “Everybody from high school can come back and watch us play. Everything worked out well and the future is bright.”
But while Adams’ pitch to his former teammate wound up being successful, it was the recruiting of his current coach that ultimately sealed the deal.
“Coming out of high school, coach Taggart recruited me pretty late,” Valdes-Scantling said. “He came in around December and signing day was in February, so I had pretty much already made my decision, but even after I decided to go to N.C. State, coach Taggart kept in touch with my family and it’s a big home atmosphere here and I think that’s what drew me back.
“It’s so close to home and even when I’m away from my family, this team feels like my family. I didn’t have that at my last school. That’s the most important thing is feeling like a family and that’s when you feel like you can play good football, when you’re close to your teammates and coaches and I think that had a big impact on me coming back here.”
Once the junior receiver officially made up his mind, Adams’ thoughts immediately turned toward the 2016 season.
“My first thought was: ‘it’s about to go down’,” Adams said. “It’s about to go down for real. Once I heard he was actually coming here, I just knew there’s nobody that’s going to be able to stop this receiver group.
“It’s showing in practice, he might make a good play and then I’ll come back and make another good play and it’s working out really good.”
Even though Valdes-Scantling was coming home, that doesn’t always mean the transition will be easy.
But with Adams already well established as a Bull, the rest of the team welcomed the N.C. State transfer with open arms.
“Transferring is always tough, that’s just a tough thing to do,” Valdes-Scantling said. “You’re going into a brand new environment as the new guy on the block, no one really knows you, no one really likes you, they’re all looking at you. So having someone there who I went to high school with and had a really close relationship with helped ease that transition.
“Guys took a liking to me right away because I knew him and we was a good player on the team and so being close friends with him made it easier for guys to accept me into their family then maybe a normal transfer would.”
With the Lakewood dynamic duo back together once more for one final season at USF, sometimes even they can’t believe how they wound up where they are now.
“I never saw this coming, not at all,” Adams said. “After we parted ways in high school, I thought it was over. I never would have though of us being on the same team in college. It just happened how it happened and now we’re here.”