It was back in January when University of South Florida defensive ends coach Vernon Hargreaves first began noticing some differences in Ryne Giddins.
After the Bulls lost both starting defensive ends from 2010 to graduation, the door was open for Giddins to grab a spot on the first-team defensive line. The opportunity to be an every-down player often triggers a change in mentality, Hargreaves said, with players understanding the need to crank things up a bit.
That's exactly what the coach saw – and continues to see – from Giddins.
"He kind of understood what his role was going to be and the opportunity that was in front of him, and so he's really kind of dived in," Hargreaves said. "He's taken that role now with the idea that 'Hey, this is my opportunity,' and he's trying to grab it."
Giddins came to USF with as much hype as any recruit, a prep All-American and local product of Seffner's Armwood High who spurned offers from many of the nation's top college programs in choosing to stay home and sign with the Bulls.
He's shown glimpses of his talent through his first two years in the program. Giddins played in three games as a true freshman – when his first two tackles were sacks – before an ankle injury turned that into a redshirt season, then finished second on the team last season with 3.5 sacks as a top backup. In his first start, USF's 23-20 overtime win at Miami last year, he had six tackles (two for loss) and a sack.
But 2011 could be the year Giddins fully taps into his potential. At the very least, it seems he'll have a much greater opportunity to do so after being penciled in atop the depth chart at left defensive end.
"I'm trying to do some great things this year," said Giddins, who has switched jersey numbers from No. 7 to the No. 97 he wore while terrorizing quarterbacks on high school fields in Hillsborough County, "and for me to do that I've got to keep pushing myself."
USF coach Skip Holtz felt Giddins was on the path toward becoming a difference-maker for the Bulls when spring practice concluded, noting his attitude and work ethic over the course of the team's 15 workouts. Giddins continued on that path this summer, earning praise for his work from strength and conditioning coach Mike Golden.
"He went at it really hard," Golden said. "He's a very focused kid. A lot of kids his age aren't as focused, in terms of when he comes in and lifts he gives it everything he's got. You can set your watch to the way he prepared himself this summer. … He's just very methodical in the way he approaches what he does, and that says a lot for someone his age.
"What set him apart from some guys was all the extra stuff that he did when he was done with us. That's when all the other stuff came into play – taking care of his body, making sure he was eating right, making sure he was going in the cold tub and getting treatment if he was banged up. He just wanted to be a better player. He didn't want a better bench press. He didn't want a better 40 time. He wanted to be a better player."
The results of all that work have been noticed by his teammates.
"Ryne, he's a freak, man," junior defensive end Patrick Hampton said. "He's a redshirt sophomore, and he's looking like a fifth-year senior."
Giddins, now listed at 6-foot-3 and 262 pounds, talks about all he's learned through his first two years from those previously ahead of him on the depth chart, first George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul in 2009 and then Craig Marshall and David Bedford last season. But he also talks about the players currently behind him on the depth chart, such as fellow redshirt sophomore Julius Forte, and the role they play in his continued development.
"They're pushing me to a level where my head's bursting," Giddins said. "It keeps me on a constant grind, knowing what I've got to take care of."
Hargreaves talked about how players ready to take a bigger role tend to crank things up a bit. Now, he said, Giddins needs to keep that motor running at a high level.
"The talent is there because you see it in flashes. When he goes 100 miles per hour, that's when you can actually see it," Hargreaves said. "So now the key is if we can get it to where we're going 100 miles per hour all the time, or at least 80 percent of the time. Then, yeah, when you start talking about those high aspirations and expectations (for him), then we can probably reach them, absolutely."