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1999: A Game of Firsts


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June 15, 2016
By  USF
 

On Sept. 3, the Bulls will start their 20th season of football.  This summer we’ll take a look back at 20 moments, one for each season, including the “practice but no games” year of 1996.  These may not be the biggest moments in USF history; they may not even be moments where things went right for the Bulls.  But they help define the program, remind us where the time has gone, and show how our Bulls have progressed as season 20 gets closer and closer.

20 Seasons, 20 Memories: Fourth Edition (1999)

By JIM LOUK

Voice of the Bulls

TAMPA, JUNE 15, 2016 – One of the many things that captured the attention of football fans nationwide about the early days of USF Football was how fast the Bulls moved up in rank.  There was no FBS or FCS then; in the top two levels you were either 1-AA or 1-A.  With the Bulls beginning play in 1997 at the 1-AA level, the stated program goals (and all the planning that went along with them) had the Bulls moving to 1-A as soon as possible. 

So, it was no surprise when USF began challenging 1-A programs early in its history.  When it happened for the first time, in the 23rd game of USF Football’s existence, the on-field results were probably about what most fans would have predicted.  But USF’s trip to California to play San Diego State opened doors on a lot of levels, and hastened the progression of the young program.

Yes, California.  That in itself was a first.  The Bulls had played eight road games prior to the Sept. 4, 1999 game against the Aztecs, and for the most part had stayed in the southeast.  The furthest outpost of USF Football to date had been Long Island, N.Y., for a game against Hofstra in 1998.  For the first time, the Bulls would open a season on the road.  And, a trip across multiple time zones would give the young program its initial West Coast exposure.

For a first 1-A opponent, the Bulls could have had an easier team than San Diego State.  The Aztecs had gone 7-5 in 1998 and played in the Las Vegas Bowl.  They didn’t lose a lot off that team for 1999. But the Bulls were getting better too, finishing 8-3 in their second season.

The game was at Qualcomm Stadium, the first time the Bulls had played in an NFL facility on the road.  Just two years earlier, USF had played at a high school stadium in Burlington, N.C., against Elon.  Now they were in the home of the Chargers and Padres, and it would be the first of many pro stadiums they would visit over the next few seasons.

San Diego State won, 41-12, that day.  As expected, it turned out to be quite a challenge to jump up to a 1-A matchup for a program so young.  San Diego State’s offensive and defensive lines dominated.  The Aztecs had six sacks, the Bulls none.  USF was able to run for only 36 net yards despite 33 minutes of possession time.  San Diego State was just bigger, faster and more experienced than our guys. But we had gotten our feet wet at the 1-A level, and the team did not embarrass themselves in the least. 

We stayed over a second night (aside from bowl games, the first and only multi-night football road trip unless you wish to count the infamous “all night on the tarmac” game at Houston in 2013).

There was one more first in this game, maybe the most important one of all.  With a one-sided score in the second half, the coaching staff gave a freshman quarterback his first plays at the college level.  Marquel Blackwell completed six of nine passes, including his first-ever touchdown pass, when he found the late Reshod Durant for a score in the fourth quarter.  Yes, it was mop-up duty, but we all could see the next four years begin to unfold that evening.

A game of firsts. We brought Bulls football to a new part of the country.  We found a quarterback.  We competed against a 1-A opponent, and a good one. 

Rough final score, yes. 

But former USF basketball coach Bobby Paschal said it best; “Sometimes the last place progress shows up is in wins.”

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That Bobby Paschal quote is so true. We take it for granted but this program rose in such a short time period. Looking back on it CJL and his staff did a great job getting kids to come to USF from the ground up. I'm sure it was neat to help "build" a program but I wonder how many guys they were recruiting just didn't know what to expect and spurned them for other programs. Love these write ups. Prior to 2006 I didn't pay too much attention to USF football (that's when I was in HS looking at my future college choice.) My sister was there in 1998 but my family grew up Noles so I didn't pay any attention to a team that was barely on TV. Amazing to brush up on the history. 

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