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Friday, Jul 25, 2014
USF Bulls

Bulls Beat: Football’s next step is on-campus stadium

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TAMPA — When the torrential rain finally gave way Saturday afternoon, the University of South Florida’s spring football game suddenly had perfect weather.

And a perfect venue.

Instead of cavernous, antiseptic Raymond James Stadium, Coach Willie Taggart and new athletic director Mark Harlan decided to play the game on campus at Corbett Stadium, normally the site for USF soccer.

Instead of zero atmosphere, there was a festive feel with palm trees swaying, the band performing, cheerleaders cheering, students turning out, along with campus buildings in the background. That’s the way it was. And it’s also the way it should be — every Saturday in the fall at USF.

The football program was built with great financial care by former AD Paul Griffin. It was nurtured into the big-time. Now Taggart is charged with restoring its relevance by winning championships.

Raymond James Stadium has been just fine, but it’s not a true home. Harlan should start planting the seeds for an on-campus football stadium. A 35,000-seat facility would do just fine. It’s stunning what a difference exists when playing on-campus.

“It was great,’’ Bulls receiver Andre Davis said. “Everybody enjoyed it.’’

“Especially with the rain, I couldn’t imagine how it would’ve been down at Ray-Jay,’’ quarterback Steven Bench said. “The rain cleared out and the students could just walk over. The atmosphere was great.’’

Take a bow for a good decision, USF.

Then start thinking about the future. It’s the natural next step in making the football program all that it can become.

Bilingual coaches

With the addition of Orlando Antigua, USF has head coaches for men’s basketball and women’s basketball (Jose Fernandez) who are bilingual. With a significant Spanish-speaking population in Tampa, that’s an under-the-radar advantage in recruiting. With some imagination, it also could spur new ideas in marketing.

“It’s fabulous,’’ USF president Judy Genshaft said. “We’re a very diverse campus. Florida is a very diverse state. That’s just a stellar quality and it’s another example of how our coaches will be able to communicate with a wide variety of students.’’

Antigua, the Kentucky assistant and former head coach of the Dominican Republic national team, said he hopes to make USF basketball into a factor not only nationally, but internationally. He said his Spanish-speaking ability is an obvious plus in “the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Latin America countries — and Florida.’’

“Honestly, my experiences and background are perfect for what this program needs right now, which is why I’m sitting here,’’ he said.

Bulls bits

Sophomore Matthew O’Neal was named American Athletic Conference Field Athlete of the Week after his triple jump of 53 feet at the Texas Relays. It’s a USF record and the NCAA’s best triple jump this season (by 11 inches). O’Neal and the Bulls host the USF Collegiate this weekend, beginning Friday at 8:30 a.m. … Senior LHP Sara Nevins is one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award in college softball. It recognizes excellence in community, classroom, character and competition. The winner, announced during the Women’s College World Series, will be determined by votes from a combination of fans, media and Division I head coaches. Voting is conducted at www.seniorclassaward.com. … Baseball sophomore RHP Jimmy Herget made the AAC honor roll for the second straight week. He struck out 11 in Friday’s 2-1 win at Cincinnati. … Men’s tennis player Roberto Cid was named AAC player of the week. He’s 16-3 in singles and 14-4 in doubles this season. The Bulls defeated UCF on Friday to finish 10-0 at home this season.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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