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Merritt looking for versatility in running back room

Associate Head Coach and Run Game Coordinator Matt Merritt said the running back group has done well in buying into the new culture set forth by the new coaching staff. ORACLE PHOTO/HANNAH HALILI

When USF Associate Head Coach and Run Game Coordinator Matt Merritt saw a phone call from coach Alex Golesh in December, Merritt said he already knew he was reaching out to invite him onto the team.

Merritt previously worked with Golesh at Tennessee in 2021 as a senior analyst. He said the two have stayed in touch ever since.

“When he made the call to me it was really a no-brainer,” Merritt said. “I’ve always believed in him and everything he’s done. Philosophically, how he sees running the program, how the offense is run and just how you build a culture really fits who I am as well.”

Now that Merritt is part of leading that offense, he said he wants to see explosiveness in the running back room as the spring game approaches. He is looking for the ability in players to change directions without losing momentum.

In addition, Merritt said because of USF’s fast tempo, he is also expecting the players to be versatile to where they could perform well on the field at all times. One of the Bulls’ core values is taking care of the football and 100% ball protection.

“We need a guy that can do everything. Running the ball is obviously a prerequisite to play running backs, but you have to be able to protect the quarterback as well. Keep it clean and comfortable,” Merritt said.

Looking at the depth of the running backs, Merritt said they don’t have much diversity from player to player, but their athletes are multifaceted. Without giving names, Merritt said he has about three running backs he feels can be on the field for most of the game, while a couple others are still developing their skill set.

“[I’m] feeling pretty good about three of them that can do everything — catch out of the backfield, block, run, strong on contact and just being able to make a guy miss.”

Some players that have stood out to Merritt are seniors Nay’Quan Wright and Michel Dukes and sophomore Yasias Young.

One player that has especially caught the coaches’ eyes is senior Kelly Joiner.

Joiner is serving as a fourth-year veteran for USF, and he is looking to continue his final season strong. Merritt said he has had a successful spring ball because of how he prepares and takes care of his body.

Part of being prepared is taking extensive notes of what the coaches say at meetings and at practice. Even if information was repeated in a previous practice, Joiner said he still finds himself writing it down.

“My pages are filled,” Joiner said. “I realized that takes you a long way. Going out to practice and doing the same thing over and over and over again. I try not to get complacent and try to stay consistent.”

Joiner said his leadership style is less vocal, opting instead to lead by example. Fans will be able to see this in action at the spring game.

“We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things. Y’all come out Friday night and see, it’s gonna be good,” Joiner said.