TAMPA – The University of South Florida football program, seeking to recapture its fan base after three consecutive losing seasons, finally has a player worth talking about.
Wouldn’t you know it? USF is getting a ridiculous amount of attention because it won’t allow this player to speak.
Mostly, USF freshman running back Marlon Mack let his statistics do the talking in Saturday’s 36-31 victory against Western Carolina. Mack was stunning, rushing 24 times for 275 yards and four touchdowns (runs of 62, 60, 3 and 56 yards), setting American Athletic Conference records in the latter two categories.
Afterward, with fans and reporters alike clamoring to know more about Mack, who last season played for Sarasota Booker High, we were reminded of coach Willie Taggart’s policy: Freshmen players aren’t permitted to speak with the media.
Florida, Florida State, Alabama and other schools have similar media blackouts for freshman players.
If I was in charge of USF football marketing, this policy would drive me crazy. As a media member, I’m not wild about it, either. But don’t look for it to change.
“We want (freshmen) to be students, learn the playbook and learn how to deal with and talk to the media,” Taggart said. “They’re dealing with enough distractions. A lot of kids are uncomfortable in front of the camera and it’s our job as coaches to get them comfortable.
“We want them to represent the university in the right way. We have to prepare them for that and not just throw them to the wolves. Our (non-freshman) guys do a good job when they talk to you all (media).’’
Indeed, USF players are generally interesting personalities. They also have great manners.
Taggart’s policy, though, is a bit tone-deaf in the era of Twitter, Instagram and other social-media communications that are permitted. And I’m not sure a post-game interview following a record-setting rushing performance – less than five minutes, filled with fawning questions – would qualify as a distraction. More likely, for the player and his family, it would be a thrill.
The readers and viewers are the ones who lose potential insight.
Hopefully, by the time Mack is allowed to talk, we will still have reason to listen.
Nine former USF players are on opening-week NFL rosters: DB Nate Allen (Eagles), LB Sam Barrington (Packers), DB Mike Jenkins (Bucs), LB Aaron Lynch (49ers), DL Terrell McClain (Cowboys), DL Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants), DL George Selvie (Cowboys), DB Kayvon Webster (Broncos) and LB Jacquian Williams (Giants). QB B.J. Daniels (Seahawks) and LB DeDe Lattimore (Bears) were signed to practice squads.
Today is the third anniversary of Lee Roy Selmon’s death. He was the Bucs’ initial draft pick, the franchise’s first Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, a driving force behind the formation of USF football, the school’s former athletic director and one of the most beloved figures in Tampa Bay area history. The programs he put in place will influence USF athletes for decades to come. RIP, No. 63.
George Kiefer’s men’s soccer team (0-1) hosts the No. 24-ranked Akron Zips (0-1) tonight at 7:30. … USF senior defender Wesley Charpie is among 30 nominees for the Senior CLASS Award for men’s soccer, which recognizes excellence in the community, classroom, character and competition. The winner is named at the Men’s College Cup, which begins Dec. 12 in Cary, N.C. …Courtney Draper’s volleyball team (0-3) opens home play at the USF Invitational, facing Buffalo (2 p.m.) and Florida International (7 p.m.) on Friday.