Spring practice begins, Scott credits player leadership

Coach Jeff Scott said he is pleased with the way players like senior safety Mekhi LaPointe (above) have stepped into leadership roles for the secondary this offseason. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

After five weeks of preparation and workouts, the first day of spring practice wrapped up Tuesday as the Bulls get ready for their spring game at Raymond James Stadium on March 27.

“I’m really proud of our players and our staff, these guys have worked extremely hard over these last five weeks,” coach Jeff Scott said. “I think there’s just a different energy, attitude and mindset right now around our locker room.

“I’ve been encouraged with the leadership I’ve seen from some of our guys. [I’ve been] really, really encouraged, I think we’re off to a great start.”

Scott mentioned several players who have impressed him with their leadership qualities over the past few weeks. He also made it a point to single out senior offensive lineman Demetris Harris for the work he did in the offseason to get his body ready for football.

“On offense, Brad Cecil, Harris, Donovan Jennings, those are three guys that have really stood out so far, and have done a really good job,” Scott said. “Defensively, Dwayne Boyles, [Antonio] Grier, Mekhi LaPointe, the safety on the back end, Thad Mangum.

“That’s part of my optimism right now, is the leadership that I’ve seen. We’ve got guys that have really been more vocal this year, I think they feel more comfortable being vocal this year, there’s just a really good energy among that leadership.”

When tackling leadership, however, Scott feels that a big piece of the puzzle will be found when he and the team decide who is going to be the starting quarterback.

“I think the big beast is whenever we find out who our quarterback is, having them be a big part of the leadership of our team and our offense will be critical,” he said. “I think the quarterback competition that we have this spring, and will probably continue on past the spring, is going to be really fun to watch.

“These guys are talented, and they also have, I believe, the leadership and mental makeup that is required to be great at that position.”

Although early, Scott pointed out a handful of quarterbacks who have piqued his interest, including sophomore transfer Jarren Williams and returning junior Cade Fortin.

“I think Cade Fortin [has] shown a lot of improvement from last year to this year, just in his decision-making and speeding up the process, that was very noticeable today,” Scott said. “[I was also] really pleased with what I saw from Jarren Williams, he’s a really talented guy, really big, has a very strong arm.”

Last year was Fortin’s first with the Bulls, but the transfer from North Carolina injured his arm against Tulsa, effectively ending his season. As for Williams, he threw for 2,187 yards and 19 touchdowns over 12 games as the starting signal caller for the Miami Hurricanes in 2019.

In addition to Fortin and Williams, Scott also discussed the talents of freshman Timmy McClain and sophomore Katravis Marsh.

“Katravis Marsh probably has one of the strongest arms of any quarterback I’ve been around, [and] I’ve been around some good ones, he just has to get all the other intangibles to go with it,” Scott said. “And then Timmy McClain just got here, high school freshman, he’s got a really smooth release, the ball jumps out of his hand, super athletic.”

Marsh started one game last season for the Bulls and appeared in four total, but similar to Fortin, Marsh’s first season with the Bulls in 2020 was sidetracked by injuries. McClain is a three-star freshman out of Seminole High School. In his time at Seminole, McClain passed for 6,351 yards and 68 touchdowns over four seasons.

Someone who will not be in the running for the lead quarterback role is sophomore Jordan Smith, who’s recently changed positions. Scott said Smith will now be playing safety and has the skill set to make it professionally based on his impressive athleticism.

“It was not a situation where we didn’t think he could play quarterback, it was a situation where we felt like he could have an earlier impact, as of this year, playing in the secondary,” he said. “For the first day, he’s still learning, but man he is an explosive athlete.

“I believe he has the potential to play at the next level potentially, at the safety position, if he continues to learn and work at it, just because of his athleticism and speed.”

Another note Scott touched on was strength and conditioning coach Trumain Carroll moving on from the Bulls to Kansas State.

“I really got the message out to the guys yesterday, I wanted them to hear it from me, and then we visited it a little bit at the end of practice,” Scott said. “What I told our players was ‘Hey, I’d rather have great coaches here for a short amount of time, than average coaches here for a long time.’”

Despite the turnover on his staff, Scott said he will not change his philosophy of hiring the best candidates going forward.

“I’m not going to slow down trying to hire who I believe is the best of the best, and that’s what we’ve seen,” he said. “And that’s the way we’re going to improve our program, [continuing] to bring in great people and great coaches.”

The Bulls will continue to practice Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays over the next five weeks to prepare for the March 27 game, of which more details will be announced at a later date.