Last season, University of South Florida defensive end Ryne Giddins knew the question was out there. He wasn’t getting sacks. He wasn’t creating havoc. Mostly, he was a non-factor.
What’s wrong with him? Giddins, keeping his head down and silently lurching through USF’s 3-9 season, chose not to respond.
Only now is Giddins willing to tell the depth of his real story.
On USF’s first defensive play from scrimmage last season, Giddins sacked Chattanooga quarterback Terrell Robinson. Giddins came down hard on his shoulder, then pushed down on his elbow. It hurt badly. But he kept playing.
Eventually, he learned the truth: Left labrum injury, torn in three places. His individual season was lost, although he played in every game and didn’t undergo surgery until December. After not competing in the spring under first-year coach Willie Taggart, Giddins has termed his health as greater than 90 percent approaching his senior season.
“I remember watching Ryne play in high school and I knew his potential and what he could be then,” Taggart said of the Armwood High product. “Ryne knows this is his last go-round. I think he’s going to give us everything he has to become the football player he intends to be.”
And if Giddins achieves that, an already strong USF defensive line will be more formidable.
“We definitely have the unit to set the tone,” said Giddins, 6-foot-3 and up to 280 pounds from 245 after surgery and 225 when he arrived at USF in 2009. “I just want to play my role, whatever role they give me. I’m here to pass rush. I’m here to stop the run. Whatever you want me to do.
“The competition is really high this year. It’s very motivating. You feel that competition and we push each other every day.”
The biggest addition is sophomore defensive end Aaron Lynch, a transfer from Notre Dame who sat out last season after earning freshman All-American status with the Fighting Irish. Before his initial snap with USF, Lynch already is touted as an all-conference performer and high first-round NFL draft choice.
On the edge, USF also returns senior Tevin Mims, an 11-game starter, senior Julius Forte and sophomore Eric Lee. The interior includes senior Luke Sager, junior Elkino Watson and junior Todd Chandler.
And that doesn’t account for freshmen defensive tackles Derrick Calloway and Deadrin Senat, two centerpieces of Taggart’s first USF recruiting class.
After spring football, Taggart was asked what first caught his eye about the Bulls. The defensive line, he said without hesitation. But Taggart knows preseason praise doesn’t compare to on-field performance.
“They can be as good as they want to be … that’s on them,” Taggart said. “They can be preseason guys or they can go out and make it happen during the season. It’s all on them, how they come together, how they learn the schemes, how they come out and produce.
“Someone is saying something good about our football team. But there’s nothing like going out and doing it.”
Giddins can relate to that.
As a sophomore, he was named second-team All-Big East Conference while registering 5.5 sacks. Some thought he was on a fast track to the NFL.
Now that talk has been tempered. Things are slower. Giddins wants to savor every moment of his senior season.
“People on our training staff, they knew what was wrong (last season),” Giddins said. “Some of my coaches knew what was wrong. But I tried not to voice it too much. There wasn’t anything they could do.
“It was frustrating. I just want to be healthy and do my part.”
A healthy Giddins could be fearsome. He had a 21-sack season at Armwood, while earning USA Today and Parade Magazine first-team All-American honors. He had plenty of college choices. He selected USF because he liked the opportunity to make history.
One season remains.
“I’m looking at a guy who’s excited about getting back on the field,” USF first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said. “He has an incredible amount of talent, but he’ll also be the first one to tell you he’s rusty. He has to get the rust off.
“But boy, does he flash some things out there that will give us depth at a pretty strong position. We’ve got to take advantage of that depth.”