TAMPA — University of South Florida senior defensive tackle Todd Chandler likes to tell young teammates about USF’s game-day atmosphere when he entered the program.
“The student section was packed,’’ Chandler said. “The whole bottom section was packed with fans cheering you on. That’s where we’re trying to get. We want to make it hard for teams to come to Raymond James Stadium and come out with a victory.’’
As the Bulls prepare for Saturday night’s opener against Western Carolina, the USF administration has put in place a series of initiatives designed to attract fans, specifically students.
Beginning Friday, USF will host “Marshall Mayhem,’’ a weekly pep rally beginning at noon that features the entire Bulls football team, the Spirit Squad, the Herd of Thunder marching band and Rocky the Bull. It’s held on the campus concourse between the Marshall Center and the USF bookstore.
Free food and USF T-shirts will be distributed. Jean Cocco, the USF student body president, is the emcee and Bulls Radio provides music before the event.
USF also has created the “Student Tailgate Zone’’ at Raymond James Stadium, which offers discounted parking, in addition to a free “Bulls Blitz’’ bus service from campus to the stadium. When students returned to campus, USF players and coaches were available to help move in the residents. Last Saturday, USF began “The Huddle,’’ which will become an annual preseason event, giving the students a chance to gather with the football players and receive a pep talk.
If there are any empty seats in the student section this season, it won’t be for a lack of effort from USF’s athletic brass. USF athletic director Mark Harlan called the students “the heartbeat of everything we’re going to do.’’
Senior wide receiver Andre Davis said it was “extremely important’’ to have student participation because “we want them to be a part of it the whole way because we’re representing them.’’
“We know we have to earn everyone’s support,’’ said USF coach Willie Taggart, who was 2-10 in his first season. “Nothing is going to be given to us. But this team belongs to the students, and we want them along for the ride.
“When we win, the crowd will take care of itself.’’
Volleyball opens at Purdue
Courtney Draper’s USF volleyball team, 17-15 last season, opens its season Friday at Purdue, where the Bulls will face the Boilermakers, along with LSU and San Diego, a trio of teams ranked in the nation’s top 30.
The non-conference schedule was upgraded to give the Bulls, picked to finish fifth in the American Athletic Conference, the best opportunity to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I need to see more, but it’s the closest we’ve had to a postseason team in my three years here, for sure,’’ Draper said.
The Bulls are paced by junior outside hitter Erin Fairs, the AAC Player of the Year as a sophomore and also the league’s preseason player of the year this season.
“Our expectations are to win the conference and go to the NCAA Tournament, plain and simple,’’ Fairs said. “I think we’re ready to make a big jump.’’
Men’s soccer senior defender Wesley Charpie (No. 44) and sophomore midfielder Lindo Mfeka (No. 65) were named on the top 100 list of the nation’s best college soccer players by TopSoccerDrawer.com. The Bulls, who travel to Florida Gulf Coast University on Friday night, host No. 13-ranked Akron in the regular-season home opener next Thursday night at 7:30. … Denise Schilte-Brown’s women’s soccer team (0-2) looks for its first victory when it hosts Navy on Friday night at 7:30. Florida Gulf Coast University visits Sunday night at 6. … Andrew Goodrich, who worked in USF athletics from 2005-09 and has been an assistant AD at Miami, was named Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Relations. He will oversee ticketing, corporate sales, merchandising and licensing.