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Bulls ready to get camp started in Vero Beach

It's zero distractions. It's all football. Wednesday morning, the University of South Florida Bulls took a 2 1/2-hour bus ride to Florida's East Coast and the Vero Beach Sports Village, their home-away-from-home for the next 10 days. "It's eat, sleep, meet, practice … eat, sleep, meet, practice … and I love it," said USF coach Skip Holtz, who has staged training camp at Vero Beach in each of his three seasons. "When we first got to USF, we looked into holding camp on our campus. But the dorms didn't have enough housing for us. The dining facilities were closed part of the time.
"I didn't want it to be an NFL deal, where you come in, you go to work, you go to meetings, you practice, get in your car and go home. We wanted to build a team atmosphere. We needed a true camp. Vero has been just perfect." The Vero Beach facility is the former Dodgertown, the site of an old naval base that was built into a state-of-the-art training facility for the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948. It's where baseball legends such as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider once came to play. But when the Los Angeles Dodgers moved their spring-training operations to Arizona after the 2008 season, the 67-acre sports and conference center, now operated by minor-league baseball, shifted its focus to a multi-use training facility for all sports. This season, Arizona State, Illinois, Syracuse, Tennessee and UCLA also will hold off-campus training camps. "This will be my first time doing something like this and I'm excited," said USF first-year defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, a 28-season veteran who has coached in five of the six BCS conferences. "I can see where it helps with bonding, developing teamwork, togetherness, just being around ball 24-7. "I feel like I've gotten to know everybody pretty well since I've been here. But this is bound to take it to another level." In fact, that is guaranteed. Offensive players are roommates with defensive players. The monotony of camp practices is offset by light-hearted activities. The USF Olympic Games will be a highlight. Bulls cornerback Kayvon Webster remembers being engaged in a free-throw shooting contest against Holtz. Tight end Evan Landi felt like a kid again while competing in an egg-toss game. There's a talent show, where the players hold nothing back while mimicking their coaches. There are motivational speakers, life lessons, moments when the safeguards are completely lifted and friendships are forged. "The best thing is you learn to be a team," Bulls linebacker Sam Barrington said. "It's going to be a drag at times because it gets to be long, but you have fun so you end up feeling great about it. "It's a different feeling looking into a teammate's eyes during the fourth quarter, knowing all the things you've been through with him. You develop trust in one another. For us, the trust starts in Vero." In 2010, Landi said he didn't know what to expect at Vero Beach. But the past two USF teams, he said, have been the closest he has ever experienced. "It builds urgency," Webster said. "When we get back to Tampa, we're ready. You get a lot of work in. You have a lot of fun. It gets your mind right." All of USF's Vero Beach practices are open to the public. Scrimmages are planned for Monday and Saturday, Aug. 18. After the second scrimmage, the Bulls will return to Tampa and hold an Aug. 19 FanFest at Raymond James Stadium. "Wherever we go this season, it will be based on our foundation," Holtz said. "We're going to build great memories in Vero. It's a smaller locker room, closer quarters, and we're all in it together. That's the beauty of it." Zero distractions. All football.  


All practices open to the public:

Today – 3:30 p.m.

Friday – 3:30 p.m.

Saturday – 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Sunday – 3:30 p.m.

Monday – 10 a.m. and scrimmage at 5 p.m.

Tuesday – 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday – 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 16 – 5:30 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 17 – 3:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 18 – Scrimmage at 11:50 a.m.

 Note: USF returns to Tampa after its Aug.18 scrimmage. The Bulls will practice Sunday, Aug.19, at Raymond James Stadium and then hold Fan Fest at 2 p.m.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTrib

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