Senior running back Lindsey Lamar might be the University of South Florida's most feared player. Making that case is easy. Lamar, USF's do-everything offensive performer, resembles a college version of C.J. Spiller or Darren Sproles, an electrifying presence who can reach the end zone from anywhere on the field.
And to think, Lamar, the former Hillsborough High standout, almost didn't play this season.
Even with the Bulls (2-4, 0-2 Big East) on a four-game losing streak heading into Saturday afternoon's game at No. 16-ranked Louisville (6-0, 1-0), it's difficult to imagine USF's offense without Lamar. But that's where things were headed following the opening weekend. Coach Skip Holtz and staff intended to redshirt Lamar, who had shifted from wide receiver back to his natural backfield position.
When Marcus Shaw suffered a high ankle sprain, the Bulls were forced to reconsider.
Lamar, 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, was unleashed.
And he hasn't slowed down since.
"I see more and more opportunities each week,'' Lamar said. "Of course, that's what I want. But I'm a team guy. If statistics come with winning, I'm all for it. I don't like these losses we've had. I want to win.''
Lamar has 417 all-purpose yards — 220 rushing, 115 receiving, 82 on kickoff returns — and a team-leading five touchdowns in five games. But he has only 50 touches on plays from scrimmage — including 10 that have resulted in gains of 10 or more yards — a workload that could easily be doubled if USF hopes to fully exploit his go-the-distance talents.
"Give him a little crease and he'll make magic happen,'' USF senior guard Danous Estenor said.
It happened in a third-quarter sequence against Temple. Quarterback B.J. Daniels sprinted right, then pitched to Lamar, who followed the blocking of fullback Jeff Hawkins. Once Hawkins cleared a path, Lamar turned on the jets, displaying jaw-dropping acceleration, and motored for a 19-yard touchdown down the right sideline.
"He was like a lightning bolt,'' Hawkins said. "When he's rolling, it's honestly fun to be on his team. I can't imagine trying to tackle a guy like that. If you don't have an angle on him, you're going to be eating dust all day.''
Off the field, though, few players are as unassuming as Lamar.
"When you sit down and talk to him, it's hard to picture him out there on the field playing such a physical football game,'' Holtz said. "He's a very deep individual. He's very concerned about his future and his family. There are a lot of things you start to look at as a senior when you see that light at the end of the tunnel.
"He's never on an emotional high or an emotional low. He always has his mind right. Every day he shows up. He has a professional approach.''
Lamar learned that mindset from his father. Even if things seemed bad, the father reminded him, they could always be worse.
"He raised me to stay focused and grounded,'' Lamar said. "Certain things, we just take them for granted, and it shouldn't be that way. I'm very thankful to be on a full scholarship, to basically have everything taken care of. I'm blessed. All I've got to do is play.''
Since an early age, Lamar has done that well, whether it's football or track and field. Because of his small stature, he has been doubted. In fact, even his father once was skeptical.
"When I was in high school, he actually tried to race me,'' said Lamar, chuckling. "He thought he could beat me. We went down to the track. We ran about 60 yards and he had to stop. I think he pulled his hammy.
"That never happened again. He knew I was fast.''
That's a lesson Lamar intends to teach to USF opponents — for all the games and touches he has remaining.
USF AT NO. 16 LOUISVILLE
Saturday: 3:30 p.m. TV: ABC, Ch. 28
PLAYING WITH A PURPOSE
USF senior RB Lindsey Lamar needs 134 yards to become the fifth player in school history with 3,000 career all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, return yardage).
1. DeAndrew Rubin;3,898;1999-02
2. Andre Hall;3,533;2004-05
3. Charlie Jackson;3,289;1997-00
4. Dontavia Bogan;3,179;2007-10
5. Rafael Williams;2,912;1997-00
6. Lindsey Lamar;2,866;2009-present
7. Hugh Smith;2,379;1999-02
8. Taurus Johnson;2,299;2005-08
9. Matt Grothe;2,234;2006-09
10. Clenton Crossley;2,078;2001-04