Keep an eye on these players

Senior running back Jaren Mangham tied for third all-time in rushing touchdowns in a single season at USF. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Last football season was one of growth for South Florida. While the Bulls finished 2-10, they remained competitive in multiple contests throughout the year.

The team saw the return of all its team captains from last season. With Jeff Scott entering his third year as coach, the team’s recruitment has brought optimism from players, coaching staff and fans for improvement heading into the season. 

Here are some players at each position on the roster to look out for this season.

Quarterback – Gerry Bohanon

Before transferring to South Florida, junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon spent four seasons and played 27 games at Baylor. While starting 12 games, he helped lead them to a Sugar Bowl win as well as a conference title in 2021.

In terms of his on-the-field play, he is a capable playmaker in the air and on the run. As a Bear, he passed for 2,200 yards last year, including a career-high 336 passing yard performance against West Virginia. Bohanon’s nine rushing touchdowns led all quarterbacks in the Big 12.

The dual-threat skills he provides along with his intangibles will be a welcomed addition to the Bulls’ offense this upcoming season.  

Running back – Jaren Mangham

There’s a great deal to like about the Bulls’ backfield coming into the year. Senior Jaren Mangham finished eighth in all of collegiate football with 15 rushing touchdowns in 2021. It was the second most in USF history.

He had 671 rushing yards on 160 carries. was also an All-AAC honorable mention last year as well. USF’s rushing attack also received contributions from players like junior Kelly Joiner Jr. and senior Darrian Felix.

Sophomore Brian Battie became the first All-American at USF since 2007 for his work on special teams last year. He set a program record with three kickoff touchdown returns and accumulated 1,039 all-purpose yards in 2021. 

Wide receiver – Ajou Ajou

Sophomore wide receiver Ajou Ajou joined USF as a transfer from Clemson.

“He brings a different play style to the receiver room, he’s a big body,” center Brad Cecil said. “He’s a big natural, just a freak is the way to put it. He’s big and strong. So I think he’ll bring a different play style but a good playstyle to that receiver room.

“He’ll be able to switch it up. He’s a great player, a great, great competitor, and I think that he’ll surprise a lot of people.” 

Ajou adds to a receiving core that already includes sophomore Jimmy Horn Jr. and junior Xavier Weaver.

Tight end – Jayson Littlejohn

With the departure of senior Mitchell Brinkman, there is competition between a couple of players to fill the spot he left behind. It could mean increased burn for junior Chris Carter, who had 50 receiving yards on seven receptions last year. 

They could also go in a different direction. In the offseason, they acquired junior college transfer Jayson Littlejohn. At the College of Sequoias, he accumulated 467 receiving yards on 43 receptions over three seasons.

Offensive lineman – Brad Cecil

With a collegiate career totaling 43 games, fifth-year senior Cecil has been a consistent presence in the offensive line since his freshman season. He’ll carry the responsibility of being a quarterback on the offensive line.

“I’m pointing everyone to where everyone’s supposed to be going on, calling out the defense and calling out what covers are and if they’re bringing certain pressures, certain blitzes,” Cecil said.

“It’s kind of like being the leader because everyone looks to me for direction. Everyone looks to me for guidance.”

In last year’s game against Temple, he helped block for a rushing attack that accumulated 421 yards, a school record. His abilities as a run blocker will be important to the success of South Florida’s ground game in 2022.

Defensive lineman – Eddie Kelly

Eddie Kelly as a true freshman could have a great impact. At 6’4” and 274 pounds, he already has a frame for the collegiate level. 

“He’s a guy that’s come in and looked ready to play from Day 1, he’s been flying everywhere. He’s so young and I don’t think he knows how good he is and how good he can be.” Cecil said in an Aug. 24 Oracle interview.

“But he’s just he’s got natural talent and it shows and I think there was some, but some polishing, it could be a really, really good player.”

As the season goes along, if Kelly can establish himself on the defensive line there, USF’s defense could see significant improvement.

Linebacker – Antonio Grier

Linebacker Antonio Grier was all over the field last year. The All-ACC second-team-member led the team in total tackles, interceptions and sacks. He is also joined by senior Dwayne Boyles, who contributed 68 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2021.

These two will help lead the defense in 2022 whether by covering the pass or stopping the run. The team will also be glad to see redshirt freshman Mac Harris returning to the team from injury to add depth to the roster.

Defensive back – Mekhi LaPointe

For the Bulls previous campaign, their secondary defensive back Mekhi LaPointe helped force turnovers for South Florida. 

LaPointe tied for most interceptions on the team with two last year and contributed 59 total tackles. Another key contributor in the secondary was junior cornerback Daquan Evans who also finished with 59 total tackles.

Kicker – Spencer Shrader

Preseason All-AAC team member Spencer Shrader should still be featured in special teams and field goal attempts. Last season, Shrader scored a combined 68 points from field goals and extra points. 

Specifically, the junior kicker was 11 of 13 on field goal attempts including a stretch where he made nine straight, the third longest stretch in program history.

Punter – Andrew Stokes

Australian punter Andrew Stokes started all 12 games last year for USF.  He punted 56 times for 2,183 yards and a 39-yard average.

They will also have depth in the position from freshman Pierse Stainton and senior Colin McReary, a transfer from Monmouth.