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Nice Q&A With CJL


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Leavitt hopes '07 success merely springboard for Bulls

By RYAN BOYD rboyd@bradenton.com

BRADENTON

University of South Florida's football team experienced a topsy-turvy season in 2007. The Bulls made school history by earning a spot in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time - beating nationally ranked Auburn and West Virginia along the way, climbing all the way to No. 2 - and produced the football program's first-ever first-round NFL Draft pick in cornerback Mike Jenkins, a former Southeast High standout.

Then there was the turvy. A three-game losing streak following a 6-0 start cost the Bulls a shot at potentially playing for a national championship. A poor performance in a Sun Bowl loss to Oregon denied the Bulls the first 10-win season in school history.

As he prepares for the 2008 season - with star players such as quarterback Matt Grothe and defensive end George Selvie headlining a strong returning cast - USF head coach Jim Leavitt took time to discuss the state of his program, and reflect on that strange 2007 season, with the Bradenton Herald.

Climbing to the No. 2 ranking in the country, what did it do for the program?

It's like the little train climbing the mountain. It's like (Barack) Obama going after the presidency, like Hillary Clinton making a run at it. It showed that South Florida can win a national championship. It opened up a huge deal for us.

Were your players ready for that level of success?

I think they were ready. I think Rutgers (which handed the Bulls their first loss in 2007) is a good football team. I think we got a couple guys banged up, and we turned the ball over a little bit and lost a close game up there. The next week we played Connecticut, which ended up being the Big East Conference co-champions with West Virginia. It poured down rain, we had the ball at the 1-yard line, and we made some poor decisions. We lost another close game. Then we played Cincinnati at our place. We lost 38-33, and we turned the ball over eight times. Then we pounded Syracuse, pounded Louisville and pounded Pittsburgh. So I think my guys were ready for that. We had some mishaps along the way. We won nine games, and that's not awful. We had a decent season.

What did you learn?

That you've got to protect the football. You can't turn the ball over and expect to win.

How would you describe your coaching style and philosophy?

I love our players. I'm passionate about the game. I'm going to do everything I can in a ballgame to put ourselves in a position to win. I'm going to fight for my guys.

Any coach out there you try to emulate?

Not really. I'm my own guy. I just try to do my own thing.

Your name has been linked to other jobs, and the more success your program has the more those rumors most likely will increase. How do you handle that?

I have the best job; why do I want another one?

Quarterback Matt Grothe will be a junior in the fall. How would you describe your relationship with him?

It's good. He knows I'm a competitor, and he's a competitor. We both want to win. And we want to play good football. I get along with about everybody, and they understand me.

How far has Grothe progressed?

He's gotten a lot better. He's learned to handle the game a bit better. He needs to learn how to protect the ball more. That would be his big thing. He'll do that with experience. If we are going to win a championship, he's going to have to do that this year.

How good is preseason All-American defensive end George Selvie?

He's that good. He's an outstanding player and a focused player. He's athletic, very talented and understands he's got to work at his task, got to get better all the time and stay on edge. All those things he understands. That's what makes him a great player.

This season, how important will he be to a defense that is depleted due to graduation?

He's going to be important, but he's not going to do it alone. We've got some other people who can play as well, and they are not bad.

How does having cornerback Mike Jenkins selected in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft help your program?

We are very proud of Mike. That let players know you can obtain any goal. If you want to play for South Florida and win a national championship, it's possible. If you want to go in the first round, it is possible. There's not a goal you can't achieve at the University of South Florida.

Do you feel like the questions about South Florida belonging in the company of the Big Three (Florida, Florida State and Miami) are behind you now?

I don't think we belong in the Big Three until we beat them. Everybody will talk about FSU, Miami and Florida being established, but in my mind, we need to beat them. That's why we got Miami scheduled for the next five years.

What program have you patterned your program after?

Kansas State. We've been pretty close to Kansas State's model with coach Bill Snyder and what happened there.

Was it difficult getting fans, alumni and school officials to buy into that concept?

It wasn't hard, because if they don't, they wouldn't be around. Everybody with our coaches and support staff and community wants to win. Tampa is the city of champions. We all want the same thing, and it has been pretty easy getting those people on board, and heading in the same direction.

Is it possible we are witnessing something similar to what Bobby Bowden did at Florida State 20 years ago?

I'm not going to go there, because Bobby Bowden is a legend. You are not going to find many Bobby Bowdens in this world. But what I think (we) have experienced is history. Some of the accomplishments and milestones are already very historical. How we build upon it will be interesting to see. That's the new chapter in the book. Nobody can take the Auburn victory away, and nobody can take the West Virginia victory away. They are facts. But I can't be mentioned in Bobby Bowden's world.

What is your most cherished accomplishment in your 10 years as USF's only football coach?

Seeing young people graduate. To see them move on and move forward in their lives and to understand how important it is to have a relationship with the Lord.

http://www.bradenton.com/sports/story/707304-p2.html

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BH has way upgraded their following of the Bulls.

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Great find...good to see us getting more pub down there.  Very good interview...good honest questions and good answers.

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Great find...good to see us getting more pub down there.  Very good interview...good honest questions and good answers.

well the best player to ever wear a Bulls uniform came from here [Jenk!], no reason we shouldn't be getting more pub in his hometown paper.

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last year was the year to make noise with so many returning players

it will be tough for this group to duplicate what last year's group did

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last year was the year to make noise with so many returning players

it will be tough for this group to duplicate what last year's group did

CaptainobviousChooseOption.jpg

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Seeing young people graduate. To see them move on and move forward in their lives and to understand how important it is to have a relationship with the Lord.

http://www.bradenton.com/sports/story/707304-p2.html

So what happens if an athlete doesn't have a relationship with the lord? Does he get put on the second string? Keep it in the church Leavitt!

other than that, keep up the good work

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as opposed to many, CJL cares about more than just what happens between the sidelines.

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I think that's great, but that doesn't mean he should impose religion on his players.

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I think that's great, but that doesn't mean he should impose religion on his players.

we are in the minority on this one

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