One player to keep an eye on at each position

Junior wide receiver Xavier Weaver had a strong performance in the spring game in March as he caught three passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

As the second year of the Jeff Scott era approaches, excitement and eagerness looms over the program.

The Bulls are looking to bounce back after a rough season in 2020 marred by injuries, COVID-19-related issues and ultimately, losses. After defeating the Citadel to open the season, the Bulls went on to lose their final eight games of the year to finish with a disappointing 1-8 record.

If things are going to change for USF, the players will undoubtedly play a large role. Here are a few players to keep an eye on throughout the season.

Quarterback — Cade Fortin

It’s been a long, windy road that’s led junior quarterback Cade Fortin to this position, being tabbed the starting quarterback for the Bulls in 2021.

From breaking his left leg senior year of high school to transferring out of North Carolina after just one season and then suffering a shoulder injury against Tulsa in 2020, it hasn’t been easy for the Georgia native to find his footing at USF.

But over time, he was able to get more comfortable within the system.

“[I’m] really proud of Cade,” Scott said in an Aug. 24 press conference. “He’s had a really outstanding year, from spring practice, to the summer, to fall camp. He’s worked extremely hard. … Since January he’s been working extremely hard and really established himself as one of our leaders on our team. [He’s] just been very consistent throughout spring practice, summer workouts and fall camp. So, [I’m] looking forward to having him lead us here [Sept. 2].”

If Fortin can come in and establish himself as a reliable signal caller in the AAC, USF’s offense may be more than meets the eye.

Running back — Jaren Mangham

Junior running back Jaren Mangham has spent the last two years with the Colorado Buffaloes, but has been making noise in fall camp for the Bulls since transferring over in the offseason.

Mangham has reportedly scored in all three of USF’s scrimmages during camp and could help boost the running back position after redshirt sophomore Leonard Parker tore his ACL earlier in the year and freshman K’Wan Powell suffered a knee injury which will likely sideline him for the season.

The running back position is one of the deepest for USF, as Mangham is joined by sophomores Brian Battie and Yasias Young, juniors Kelley Joiner and Mychael Hamilton and senior Darrian Felix in the backfield.

Wide receiver — Xavier Weaver

Former USF wide receiver DeVontres Dukes was second on the team last year in receiving yards and paced the offense with four touchdowns through the air.

With his departure, the Bulls are in need of someone to step up into a bigger role, which junior receiver Xavier Weaver may be able to do.

In the spring game earlier this year, Weaver hauled in three passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns, appearing to have a special connection with newly appointed starting quarterback Fortin.

Tight end — Mitchell Brinkman

Graduate student tight end Mitchell Brinkman had his first year with the Bulls last season, after transferring into the program from Northern Illinois, and he proved to be a valuable asset for the team both in the passing and run games.

Through nine games and seven starts, Brinkman caught 15 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, while also blocking in the run game. In his second year at USF, a boost in production from Brinkman would be helpful for the offense.

Offensive line — Donovan Jennings

Senior offensive lineman Donovan Jennings is returning for his fourth year within the program, where he has started 19 games over three years. Not only is Jennings returning, the entire starting offensive line from last season is running it back in 2021.

“Definitely with the offensive line, having that cohesion, you know who’s going to be to the right and left of you, that’s a big component in o-line play because communication is big in our room,” Jennings said Aug. 24. “We talk all the time, go over pressures [and] blitzes, so it’s real comfortable just knowing who’s going to be next to you. We consider ourselves a veteran group, we [have] to get the job done.

“It’s great having that camaraderie [and] willingness to play for each other. We’ve been playing for each other for so long, it’s like second nature now, so it’s a great feeling.”

Defensive line — Rashawn Yates

It’s been a consistent climb for senior defensive end Rashawn Yates since he got to the program as a freshman in 2018. His number of starts has increased every year, and so has his production.

Yates started nine games in 2020, racking up 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. As he begins his senior season, a strong performance would be beneficial to USF’s defensive line. 

Linebacker — Mac Harris

Sophomore linebacker Mac Harris was one of the brighter spots for the Bulls last year in a season where there wasn’t much to cheer for.

As a true freshman, Harris appeared in seven games and started two at linebacker. In his first-ever collegiate start, he tallied eight tackles and even pulled down an interception against Cincinnati.

Although senior linebacker Antonio Grier likely has the starting job locked down, Harris can still be a valuable asset next to Grier and work under him for a potential starting role in 2022.

Defensive back — Daquan Evans

Similar to Harris, junior defensive back Daquan Evans was someone who fans could look at glowingly for his play on the field last season.

Evans managed to lead the team in interceptions with three and seemed to have a knack for making plays after securing the turnover. In three consecutive games, Evans had interception returns of 56 yards, 31 yards and 51 yards, coming just 27 yards shy of breaking USF’s single-season interception return yards record.

Kicker — Spencer Shrader

The 2020 Bulls had an interesting kicking situation. Senior kicker Jared Sackett spent most of his time kicking field goals within 40 yards and making PATs, but junior kicker Spencer Shrader was USF’s big boot, coming in on kicks from over 40 yards.

The duo combined to be 9-of-13 on the year on field goals. Shrader’s best game of the season came against Memphis where he knocked down each of the four field goals he attempted.

Punter — Kenny Scribner

Redshirt sophomore punter Kenny Scribner was a bit of a do-it-all man for the Bulls on special teams last season, serving as a punter, kicker and holder at different points.

As a punter, he launched seven balls for an average of 35.4 yards per punt. His competition this year will be freshman Andrew Stokes, a native of Australia playing for the Bulls for the first time in 2021.