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USF Bulls

Bulls 'brothers' key to USF's Big East hopes

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:25 AM
TAMPA -

They are so different.

There's senior Sam Barrington, son of Jacksonville, citizen of the world, always outspoken, never dull. There's senior Mike Lanaris, passionate, faith-driven, aggressive. There's junior DeDe Lattimore, stealth, quietly effective, filled with potential.

Yet, they are so similar.

"I'll tell you what we are,'' Barrington said. "We're brothers.''

They are the University of South Florida linebackers, the most experienced part of a team that could compete for the program's first Big East Conference title, burying the bitterness of last season's 5-7, bowl-less finish.

They have been described as USF's backbone, its heartbeat, its conscience.

"We don't mind everybody putting things on our back,'' Lattimore said. "We're strong.''

Combined, they have played in 124 games with 61 starts. They have seen it all, done it all, except, of course, the thing they want to see and do the most.

"We want to be champions,'' Lanaris said. "We want to do that together.''

First-year defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Chris Cosh, who arrived from Kansas State, wants to build more depth within his unit. Sophomore Reshard Cliett will see playing time, perhaps bouncing Barrington from strong side to the middle, giving Lanaris a supporting role. Senior Mike Jeune will be a factor.

But in the meeting room – and especially on the field – Cosh knows where to find his leaders.

"That's where it has to start, with those guys,'' Cosh said. "Those guys are like the glue.''

And the team's personality, as well.

Barrington is called "the mayor'' for his ability to bring everyone together. Lanaris, a dynamic performer, is rarely caught without words. Sometimes, Lattimore just observes and absorbs.

"I don't think DeDe gets lost in the shuffle,'' Lanaris said. "He doesn't have to say much. His game speaks so loud.''

Lattimore, 6-feet-1, 232 pounds, from Athens, Ga., rarely goes by his given name – Devekeyan.

"I got my nickname from my auntie because I was always with her as a baby and the only time I would quiet down was when she held me,'' said Lattimore, who was named to the Lombardi Award's preseason watch list. "I don't think anybody else in the world has my name. It's like a name out of the blue.''

It's similar to how Lattimore arrived at USF, coming on strong in 2010 training camp as a redshirt freshman and earning a starting spot he wouldn't lose. Barrington also became an early fixture. Lanaris' path was more methodical.

Somewhere, they all meshed together.

They are thinking about contributions and legacy, which means they want to create distance from last season's disappointment.

"We had some problems closing out games on defense last year and that came from people being out of position and not doing what they're supposed to do,'' Lanaris said. "It had nothing to do with talent. Coach Cosh is teaching us that if there's 11 guys doing what they're supposed to do, how they're supposed to do it, when they're supposed to do it, we've got a chance to be pretty good. We need to trust in each other.''

"We're not looking for respect,'' Barrington said. "With respect comes complacency. We got complacent last year and that's a big reason why we went 5-7. If respect is not given, we're not going to cry about it. No matter what, we're going to work and work. That kills complacency. We have learned that much. We're playing hard.''

And fast.

USF's team speed can be startling, Cosh said.

"That's a strength for us if we utilize it,'' Cosh said. "Speed can cover up a misalignment or a mistake. You can be fast and not play fast. We have to be fast and play fast. That comes not only through athleticism, but through trust and communication.''

Even Lattimore, the soft-spoken one, knows that.

"I am the quiet one,'' Lattimore said. "When it's time for me to speak, it's usually very well-timed. You can't be just about talk. You have to be about action.''

Talk and action.

That's how the linebackers hope to perform. They want to be the backbone, the heartbeat, the conscience. They want to be in the middle of it all.

Whatever happens, they'll be doing it together.

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