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A defense grounded in personal connection

Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop looks to revamp a USF defense that finished bottom of the AAC in 2021 with just nine sacks all season. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Despite returning nine starters and several other depth options, USF’s defense started spring practice with as clean a slate as any team in the country. New coordinator Bob Shoop arrived with the intention to build relationships with everyone in camp from scratch.

Shoop has operated this spring looking to identify the players who best fit his aggressive defensive style, regardless of previous production at USF or potential. He has instead given every player a fair chance to make an impression and show why they deserve playing time over others.

“That’s the beautiful thing about football, football is a meritocracy,” he said. “The best players are going to play, and the players that deserve to play are going to play the amount that they deserve.

“That was one of the things I tried to emphasize, to not just the players coming in from the [transfer] portal, but to all the players … that it’s a fresh start, it’s a clean slate.”

To establish that level playing field, Shoop sat down with each player individually to lay the groundwork for a true connection with their coach, not based on just football.

“When I first got on the job, one of the things I did was have a 30-minute meeting with each player,” Shoop said. “It was really just to get to know them, get to hear their journey, how they ended up being a South Florida Bull.”

Freshman defensive back Aamaris Brown spent one year at Kansas State before returning to Tampa. A standout at local powerhouse high school program Armwood, Brown found it easy to grow close to Shoop when the coach empathized with the personal circumstances that led to Brown’s transfer.

“He told me straight up that he understood my situation and why I left K-State, why I was coming here,” Brown said. “He told me he was ready to see what I can do and he knows the type of ability that I have. So I would say that relationship started from that first conversation because I began to put my trust in him for believing in me.

“[Shoop] is my guy, man. I look at him as a father figure, I feel like I can go to him whenever I need to.”

Establishing a personal connection is crucial for young players like Brown who have several years of college football ahead of them, but even the more seasoned in the locker room could benefit from it as well, according to Shoop.

Senior defensive end Jatorian Hansford, who chose to play a fifth year of college football at USF after four seasons at Missouri, approached that initial talk with Shoop with no intentions of talking about the sport. 

Rather than starting the conversation with x’s and o’s, Hansford preferred to go beyond football with Shoop, letting his coach know who he is off the field first.

“Once you come into a team you want to build all types of relationships,” he said. “I want to talk about my life, whatever is going on, just let him know who I am, what type of person I am.”

With every week that passes in spring practice and beyond leading up to the season opener against BYU on Sept. 3, the recipe for success is slowly coming together for USF’s defense.