New Book Chronicles 25 Years of USF Football

TAMPA, FL. – Roughly 75 players gathered on old intramural fields at the University of South Florida to practice three times per week starting in September 1996. The Bulls’ inaugural football season was still a year away, though one player thought otherwise.

While watching ESPN’s pregame show prior to an early September practice, receiver Cory Porter asked running back Otis Dixon if USF’s first game was the following week.

Dixon, perplexed, called his teammate a “fool” and informed Porter that the Bulls would do nothing but continue to practice that fall. After all, their first game would not be until the following September.

“I was probably the dumbest guy on the team because I thought we really had games,” said Porter, a quarter-century later.

That is one of many anecdotes revealed in The Silver Stampede, 25th Anniversary of South Florida Football. The 104-page softcover book was written by USF alum and veteran Tampa-based reporter Joey Johnston. It can be purchased at the USF bookstore. (Here is the link https://www.bkstr.com/usfstore/product/usf-football-25th-year-anniversary-book-379177-1)

The book serves as a journey through the timeline of USF football, including that first year when coach Jim Leavitt and his staff conducted practices and scrimmages while operating out of a trailer. Eleven years later they were No. 2 and behind only Ohio State in the initial BCS rankings.

“I always felt USF football had one of the most unique stories in all of college football,” said Johnston. “To go from nothing — not even a football — to the nation’s No. 2 ranking in just 11 seasons still blows my mind. There’s plenty more out there to be accomplished, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any program to have a story like this in the first 25 years.”

Not even a football? Turn to page 20 for the chapter on the program’s launch.

Silver Stampede offers insight on the years prior to the program’s inception, including the university’s resistance to expanding athletic competition beyond the intramural level. Eventually, and particularly under the leadership of president Francis Borkowski, momentum was built toward sponsoring the sport.

A chapter is dedicated to the late and great Lee Roy Selmon, who was the driving force behind getting a program up and running. His ties in the Tampa Bay business community, which he became a part of during his hall of fame career with the Buccaneers, proved invaluable.

“When USF hired Lee Roy Selmon, it changed everything,” said Johnston. “The football program could not have dreamed of a better man to represent what it wanted USF players to be athletically and academically. Tampa has never had a more iconic civic leader and USF was privileged to have him as its representative.”

Starting with the Bulls’ first game on September 6, 1997 against Western Kentucky, when Porter and Dixon could finally take the field against an opponent, all of the key games on the program’s timeline are highlighted.

Among them are a 2005 pounding of No. 9 Louisville in the Bulls’ Big East debut. There was an exhilarating win over No. 5 West Virginia in front of 67,012 at Raymond James Stadium in 2007, a B.J. Daniels-led victory at Florida State in 2009 and a 2011 season-opening win at No. 16 Notre Dame, when Mother Nature twice interrupted proceedings.

Some of the losses are noteworthy as well, including an emotional Thursday night at Rutgers in 2007 after the Bulls checked in at No. 2. A thrill-a-minute setback at UCF in 2017, in which the teams combined for more than 1,200 yards, will not soon be forgotten.

Because it reveals the effort of presidents and athletic directors as well as highlighting key games and players from the first 24 seasons, the book serves as an informative and entertaining read.

“There are many people involved with USF football, including the players and coaches, who don’t know the full story of how this program was formed and how quickly it grew in the early seasons,” said Johnston. “For that reason alone, I think there is great value in this book as an educational tool and a way to build a lot of pride in the unique way USF football came about.”

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