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Defense uses historically bad end to 2018 as motivation during offseason, spring practice

Kelvin Pinkney was one of many USF players to add weight in the offseason. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

2018 was a historic year for USF football.

Granted, it was for all the wrong reasons.

The Bulls became the first college football team ever to start a season 7-0 and finish 7-6 after losing their last five regular season games and falling to Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl.

Being on the wrong side of history can be tough, but USF is using it as motivation during spring practice, which began last week.

“That’s something that we take each and every day,” defensive end Kirk Livingstone said. “That’s something that we took through winter workouts and things like that. That’s something that the coaches have ingrained in us when we’re watching film. We look at things from last year and just things that we did wrong and just try to fix those things.”

Specifically, the Bulls’ defense has spent the offseason mulling over what it needs to do better in 2019.

“We know the standard last year wasn’t the standard,” defensive back Mike Hampton said. “So this year, we’re preaching on stopping the run.”

Part of what could lead to an improved rush defense will be something coach Charlie Strong desired toward the end of the 2018 season — having a bigger, stronger team. Many players added significant weight during winter conditioning.

“Coach Strong made a big emphasis on us to get bigger, stronger and faster,” Hampton said. “So this winter conditioning, that’s what we focused on.”

The results are already apparent.

Hampton said he gained 15 pounds over the winter and now checks in at 185 pounds. Livingstone has set his sights on adding 15 pounds before the 2019 season kicks off in the fall — he played around 260-265 pounds last season and is at 273 pounds right now.

But it’s not just those two who are taking Strong’s message to heart.

“Just guys, especially on the inside, like [Kelvin] Pinkney, [Kevin Kegler] — guys that didn’t play last year like [Devin] Leacock and [Stacy] Kirby — those guys have gained 10-15 pounds,” Livingstone said. “We’ve all made gains.”

While the increase in size should be encouraging, the question now is will the players be able to maintain their new playing weights, especially as spring practice heats up — both in a football sense and in terms of the weather.

“I know some guys have gained some weight, but to me, it’s always what they’re like at the end of the spring,” defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said. “I’m a perfect example … I can gain weight real quick, I just can’t lose it as fast because I’m not out here with these guys.

“A lot of them gained the weight. Now the maturity part shows up. How can they maintain weight? Because we’re out here in the Florida heat and we’re running. We’re an up-tempo offense and a blitzing defense, so they’re burning a lot of calories. Now the main thing is, who’s going to be able to maintain that weight that they’ve gained during the offseason?”

As spring practice continues, time will tell whether the offseason gains can be kept, but the winter conditioning which led to the gains was probably one of the best the team has had in recent years.

“It was one of the few winter conditionings going into spring practice where we didn’t have major issues and it felt like the team was aligned,” Jean-Mary said. “When you do winter conditioning, it’s about mental toughness and trying to build some continuity and some togetherness on the team and you really felt that starting to take shape during the spring.”