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Turnout reflects growing excitement around program

Fans packed the stands and berms at Corbett Stadium on Saturday afternoon to watch Charlie Strong’s first spring game as USF’s head coach. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ    

Upon walking through the gates of Corbett Stadium and into the throngs of buzzing USF football fans on Saturday afternoon, it was apparent there was something different about this year’s spring game. 

In years past, fans would turn out to watch how key position battles would shake out and what the offense would resemble. 

But Saturday’s final scrimmage of the spring instead served as a teaser of what’s to come this fall following the best season in USF football history. 

With fans packing the stands and grass berms surrounding the field, it was easy to see how Bulls fans' hope has manifested into expectations. 

“We’re going to need this crowd and we’re going to need it each and every week,” USF coach Charlie Strong said. “Like I’ve said, we’re a big-time program, so we have to carry ourselves like a big-time program. We need support, and it’s going to come from our fans, but we have to give them a product they’re going to be pleased with. But I’m very pleased with the crowd today.”

The crowd, which was visibly the largest in recent memory, was reflective of spiking season ticket sales. 

As of Wednesday, USF has distributed 8,734 season tickets for the upcoming season, or nearly 1,300 more than at this point last year, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times. 

The feel-good afternoon was highlighted by a halftime ceremony in which quarterback Quinton Flowers was presented with the CFPA National Performer of the Year Award and Tampa Rays founder Vince Naimoli announced his donation of $1 million to the football and tennis programs.

Flowers, who battled for the starting job with former quarterback Mike White just two springs ago, threw two passes on Saturday. 

He threw a 24-yard touchdown and an interception on his two attempts in what was essentially a brief showcase for fans.

Starting running back D’Ernest Johnson was held out Saturday, but Strong wasn’t concerned with what he should expect from the senior back. 

“I didn’t need to see D’Ernest, I’ve seen enough of him,” Strong said. “We know how good of a player that he is.”

Once Flowers was permanently on the sideline, the game developed into a contest between quarterbacks Chris Oladokun and Brett Kean for the backup role. 

Kean threw for 151 yards and two scores, with 123 yards and both scores going to senior receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, as their Green team defeated Oladokun’s White team 15-14 in a back-and-forth game. 

With Johnson sidelined for the afternoon, Darius Tice started for the White team, rushing for 59 yards on seven carries. On the other side, Elijah Mack received most of the work, rushing for 60 yards on 14 carries. 

With spring practices wrapped up, the Bulls will return to the gridiron when training camp begins in early August.