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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns
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Big year for USF’s Taggart and The Team

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— He’s coming off 2-10. And now he’s 0-1.

But you can’t blame a guy for trying, can you?

“The Coach” was talking about “The Team,” the jersey idea that died before it lived.

“We just thought it was a good idea,” second-year South Florida football coach Willie Taggart said. “It wasn’t for everybody else. It was for our football team. Unfortunately, it blew up bigger than we thought. But I don’t think about it too much.”

Yes, NCAA rules nixed USF’s use of “The Team” on the backs of jerseys. The rules probably did Taggart and his players a favor. This program needs wins, not gimmicks. It needs relevance, not ridicule. Still, USF athletic director Mark Harlan was on board.

“I know Willie’s heart is in the right place,” Harlan said. “I know his kids’ hearts are in the right place.”

This is good news, and not just medically.

“They’ve come together,” Harlan said.

“We’re in it for each other,” Taggart said.

So these Bulls, whose season begins Saturday against Western Carolina, will go without words, including player names, on jerseys. This after Taggart’s first year, which words also can’t describe, the 2-10 nightmare that began with a ghastly 53-21 loss to McNeese State.

“Everything was going well, everybody was excited, and then you get hit right in your mouth out of the gate,” Taggart said.

To his credit, the man never hit the deck. Taggart hasn’t lost his enthusiasm or confidence, despite the rough season, which featured about the most pathetic offense in college football: 12 games, 11 touchdowns. USF fans stayed away in droves.

“It was like it was hide and seek,” Taggart said with a smile.

This team needs to make people come out, come out, wherever they are. The only thing that will do that is winning.

“But this is a different football team,” Taggart said. “This is not the 2013 football team.”

Taggart thinks this 2014 club has a lot going for it, including a strong freshman class, a deeper offense and promising sophomore quarterback Mike White. Finishing even 6-6, enough to be a bowl team, seems a tall order. No matter.

“We need to be one,” Taggart said. “That’s a goal, that’s a good starting point, getting back to a bowl game.”

Above all, Taggart thinks he finally has a close-knit group. Taggart says it will matter.

“I thought that was a big part of it (last season), the lack of team. I think it was that way coming in. We had some good players, but we didn’t have a team that cared about each other, especially in those close ballgames. When adversity struck in games, you saw some finger pointing, rather than looking at it as an opportunity. If you’re a team, you find a way to make those plays for your teammates.”

Taggart said this team supported the “Team” jerseys. That includes USF senior running back Rodney Watson. Then again, Watson is the much younger brother of former NFL player Rod Smart, who had the now-iconic “He Hate Me” on his jersey while playing in the short-lived XFL. Smart played college ball with Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky. Rodney Watson has two He Hate Me jerseys in his closet.

“My brother has no problem with the (Team) jerseys,” Watson said.

Well, there you go ...

“I’d go out there with a big heart on the front of our jerseys if it meant a bowl game,” Bulls senior receiver Andre Davis said.

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