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Trib: Reversing field helped USF's Raymond


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Reversing field helped USF's Raymond

By SCOTT CARTER

scarter@tampatrib.com

University of South Florida assistant head coach Rick Smith, who also coaches the defensive backs, didn't know what to make of No. 16 when he started reviewing film of his new players after joining Skip Holtz's staff last spring.

Fifth-year senior Mistral Raymond looked pretty good for a walk-on. So Smith started asking around.

"Why's this guy not on scholarship? He had a great work ethic. He did decent in the classroom. He seemed to have all the intangibles," Smith recalls thinking.

Soon, he learned why.

"I heard he was kind of a goof-off going into his junior year," Smith said.

Raymond changed directions in a hurry.

After playing two seasons at Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College, Raymond had a handful of scholarship offers from smaller schools. However, wanting to play closer to his Palmetto home for family reasons, Raymond joined the Bulls as a walk-on at the start of the 2008 season.

He slowly moved up the depth chart, and as a reserve defensive back last season, Raymond moved into the starting lineup at free safety - ahead of other scholarship players on the roster - when starter Jerrell Young was sidelined by a broken arm in the season opener against Wofford.

Raymond ended up playing in all 13 games and finishing with 40 tackles, which ranks third among returning players. He also watched and learned from a pair of his teammates in the secondary - former Bulls safety Nate Allen and cornerback Jerome Murphy - who parlayed their talents into becoming NFL draft picks.

Raymond has similar visions for himself entering his senior season. He also is on scholarship after being awarded one last week with teammate Donte Spires during a team meeting, and players gave him an ovation.

"He is a young man who has been a walk-on in this program and played a significant amount," Holtz said. "We expect some big things out of him."

Like Smith, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder didn't know much about Raymond's odd journey when he arrived in the spring - "I don't know it all, but I'm glad he's here," Snyder said of Raymond's path.

"I think he is a good player. He's got a lot of football knowledge. It will be up to him how much we feature him, but we're going to have some stuff for him."

Raymond hasn't had much time to reflect on how far he has come since first leaving Palmetto for Iowa, and then arriving at USF with no guarantee of playing time or a scholarship. But he did take time to call his family and friends last week when Holtz informed him of the scholarship.

"You'll be amazed where life takes you," Raymond said. "I've come a long way. Everybody has a story. The road I traveled is a very interesting road, from Florida to Iowa to back here. Everything that has happened I'm grateful for. I'm soaking it all in and doing everything I can for this program.

"It's a tribute to my teammates. From the moment I came in, they treated me like family. I'm feeling blessed."

Smith sees a player who has changed his body through intense summer weight training - Raymond is listed at 6-foot-2, 192 pounds - and who is primed for a leadership role on and off the field. Snyder sees a player who can make a real impact with his versatility. His teammates, who call him "Bub" or "Skinny" most of time, see someone they can learn from.

"He is definitely somebody we need," linebacker Jacquian Williams said. "What's good about him, he can player corner, safety; actually, he'll play whatever you ask him to play, so I definitely respect him for that."

Said fellow defensive back Kayvon Webster: "He is a team person. He gets along with anybody. He's full of energy. He keeps us young guys in line. He lets us know about all his struggles he's been through, and that just makes us push even harder."

Raymond enters the season as the Bulls' starting strong safety. He admits he has grown significantly the past couple of years, in part knowing this is the final season to reach his goals.

"I've always wanted to be the guy," he said. "That's just in my nature. I want to be on the field, I want to be the guy making plays. I want to be the guy keeping everybody up."

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Wrong paper in the thread title OP.

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nice story

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Great story. Kid put in a lot of work to get to where he is.

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Wrong paper in the thread title OP.

Fixed

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Wrong paper in the thread title OP.

Fixed

Oops, my bad.  Thanks for the fix.

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