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Bulls look to ‘carry the boat’ in 2020

J.D. Dutka, who hit .299 in 2018, missed all but six games in 2019 due to injury. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/USF ATHLETICS

When Navy SEALs are going through their training, one of the most formidable exercises they do is known as the “surf passage.” 

During this exercise, the trainees, under intense circumstances, have to carry their rafts above their heads from the beach to the ocean.

The whole point of the exercise is that if one member of the team does not do their part in holding up the raft, the entire team fails. This exercise has inspired the rallying cry for the Bulls this season.

“Carry the boat.”

Retired Navy SEAL and current motivational speaker David Goggins spoke to the USF baseball team in the fall, introducing the slogan to the Bulls, who have rallied around it.

“I think that one of the biggest things that we’ve got this year is a close team,” junior catcher Jake Sullivan said. “Everyone wants to fight for each other because this fall we had the ‘carry the boat’ motto. … Everyone puts in the work every day: Coming, showing up and getting their extra work in and carrying the boat.”

The motto has created a culture and work ethic in the team that coach Billy Mohl is taking into the season.

“It’s just a cultural thing,” Mohl said at Media Day on Jan. 30. “Right now, we’ve got optional stuff going on and our coaches can’t be out there and you see guys working. That’s a culture that the older guys created in the fall with the ‘carry the boat.’”

The Bulls look to carry the boat after an injury-plagued campaign in 2019, where they went 8-16 in the conference and missed out on postseason play, including the AAC Tournament. 

“Hungry is an understatement,” Sullivan said about the team’s desire to get back to the postseason. “We’re ready to go and there is no better feeling in the world than being prepared, and I think this team is as prepared as anything out there.”

The pitching staff is coming back healthier and with much more depth than last season. The Bulls will have plenty of options to carry the boat that they did not have last year, as the likes of right-handers Carson Ragsdale, Graham Hoffman and Ben Koff will return from Tommy John surgery.

Some freshmen could contribute as well, especially since they’ve been impressive during the preseason. 

“They look really good,” senior pitcher Collin Sullivan said. “Especially Jack [Jasiak] and Orion [Kerkering] coming in and throwing strikes on just three or four pitches and Andrew Washington’s looking really good, just needs to harness his command a little bit but we’re looking pretty good so far.”

Mohl echoed Sullivan’s sentiment on his team’s young arms.

“Those young pitchers — Jasiak and Kerkering — those guys have shown a lot of promise over the last seven months that we’ve been together,” Mohl said. “I’m expecting big things from those guys this year.”

Offensively, it will be all hands on deck as the Bulls will be looking to a mixture of older and younger players to carry the boat at the plate. 

The veteran presence should be aided by the return of senior infielder J.D. Dutka, who hit .299 in 2018, but only played in six games last year due to injury.

Mohl is also excited about several sophomores on the team who he says are ready to make a difference.

“All those sophomores have made a jump,” Mohl said. “[Dylan] Buck had a really nice fall for us, Nicky Gonzalez, Alex Bello, all those guys made a nice jump.” 

The Bulls begin their mission to carry the boat at home on Friday against Marist at 7 p.m., and the team is ready, according to Mohl.

“We all remember that Saturday in May last year when our season came to an end,” Mohl said. “The expectation of this program is to get to a regional and break through to the supers and get to Omaha.

“These guys are as hungry as they’ve ever been, and I’m looking forward to seeing the lights go on.”

When those lights come on Friday night, it will be seen if the Bulls are like Goggins and the SEALs — coming together on the field, each holding up their end to carry the boat.