Spring practice begins this week so we will breakdown each position group as we gear up for football season. Note: We will not guess on what impact freshmen who are not on campus yet will have on the team.
Position Coaches: Jules Montinar (Cornerbacks), Wes Neighbors (Safeties). Both in first seasons at USF.
Key Losses: Devin Studstill (74 tackles, three pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, one interception)
Key returnees: KJ Sails, Mike Hampton, Bentlee Sanders, Nick Roberts, Vincent Davis
While there are question marks a plenty at several other position groups across the board for USF football, the secondary will ride into spring as the most experienced, and thus stable unit on the entire roster.
Virtually everyone from last fall returns to the fray except Devin Studstill, who came to USF last season as a graduate transfer after spending three years at Notre Dame.
At the forefront of the secondary of course is senior cornerback KJ Sails, who showed out after being granted immediate eligibility following his transfer from North Carolina. The Tampa native accounted for 42 tackles, team-highs in pass breakups (six) and interceptions (three) and two fumble recoveries on his way to earning Second Team All-AAC honors. The combination of Sails’ experience, leadership and vocal advocacy of getting his peers from Tampa to play for the hometown school will be a key asset for Jeff Scott and company in year one of this rebuild.
Opposite Sails is another senior veteran from Tampa in Mike Hampton. Following a breakout 2018 campaign in which he earned all-conference honors by posting 18 passes defensed, his production dipped a bit in 2019 with only six pass breakups and no interceptions. Still, the Hillsborough High School product will serve as a main weapon for cornerbacks coach Jules Montinar to lean on.
The returning production doesn’t stop there with as juniors Nick Roberts (11 starts, five pass breakups, two interceptions, two sacks in 2019) and Bentlee Sanders (Nine starts, three pass breakups, two sacks, one interception in 2019) bring a ton of reps and game experience onto the practice field of the Frank Morsani Complex. Also in that category is Vincent Davis, who came away with 33 tackles and interception through 11 games last year.
The likes of uppercalssmen like McArthur Burnett and Mekhi Lapointe will provide depth as well as underclassment like sophomore Daquan Evans and reshirt freshmen Jayden Curry and Leonard Parker out of Plant High School. And that’s not including options like true freshman Chris Townsel, who enrolled in January out of Deerfield Beach and will participate in spring practice.
Montinar, Neighbors and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will no doubt have plenty of pieces to work with in the secondary. The question now becomes where each guy will fit, especially considering they like to switch things up from a 3-3-5 to a 4-2-5 to a more traditional 4-3. They’ll certainly get an idea of where to arrange the pieces of the puzzle starting on Tuesday.