TAMPA, Fla. — The University of South Florida football program kicks off its 25th season Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. against North Carolina St.
The Bulls' program is young compared to powerhouses who've been around for more than a century. It's a team that's still building its identity after coming from humble beginnings. Former Bull Marshall Smith couldn't help but laugh when he reflected on the early days of the program.
"We weren’t regulated by the NCAA at the time. So, coach took advantage of that," said Smith, a linebacker on USF's first team in 1997. "We had two-a-days for like two months in the spring, when now they can have 10 practices."
The locker rooms were nothing like today's state-of-the-art luxury accommodations.
"We had a great locker room that was in the dungeon in the bottom of the Sun Dome," Smith joked. "We didn’t know any better! We thought it was amazing. [Coach Jim Leavitt] told us it was the best locker room in the country, and we believed him."
The first game in school history was an 80-3 rout of Kentucky Wesleyan on Sept. 6, 1997. Jim Louk, the radio voice of the USF athletic department, still remembers the details of that night.
"We knew the crowd was going to be good. So 49,000, but we could see that coming. I got there really early, and I was shocked to see people tailgating, grilling hamburgers. That hadn’t even occured to me, that that was going to be part of it," Louk laughed. "Nobody could’ve predicted that score. It was just a wonderful first evening and a great way to start."
The Bulls program is young, but its resume is impressive. The 2007 team was ranked as high as number two. That team started a five-year run that included wins over Auburn, Clemson, Florida St., Miami, and Notre Dame.
"To get noticed, you’re going to have to play against those big-time teams that have been around forever," said '07 quarterback Matt Grothe. "And if you happen to play well and knock some of them off, it’s only going to help that much more. Just to continue to watch it grow is always fun to see."
Kayvon Webster's 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown sparked a 23-20 win at Notre Dame in 2011.
"It was definitely a team effort. Without Jerrell Young, it wouldn’t have happened. He caused the strip. I just grabbed it and went for the score," Webster said. He smiled and made sure to drop in his personal resume as well. "We beat Clemson, Miami, Florida St. Yeah, I beat a few schools here."
Second-year head coach Jeff Scott is in the midst of a rebuild. The former Clemson offensive coordinator wants to write his own chapter while continuing to grow the USF brand.
"I think in recruiting, that’s something that the players in this area want to be a part of," Scott said. "Having a chance to leave their legacy and build on the foundation of those that were before us."
USF is expected to break ground on a new athletic performance facility on Sept. 8.