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Could Bruce Hector be the sleeper of USF’s draft class?

TAMPA — His collection of skills seems to ooze NFL draft jargon: hip swivel, burst, agility, leverage, active hands.

Over the past three or four months, most — or all — of these attributes have been affixed to USF defensive lineman Bruce Hector.

"Most people talk to me about my athleticism," the former Robinson High three-sport athlete said. "My hands, quick feet, good hips. My ability to get upfield — when they watch that on film they like that."

To be sure, the Bulls' 2017 sacks leader (seven) is neither the fastest or even fiercest of his team's draft prospects. Most would agree those titles belong to wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling and fellow interior defensive lineman Deadrin Senat, respectively.

But consider how Hector lined up at nose tackle and three-technique in the Bulls' four-man front. Ask his high school basketball coach about his gracefulness  girth aside — on the basketball court. Let his position coach — also Robinson's wrestling coach — tell you what a force of nature he could've been on the mat.

One might come away convinced that pound for pound, Hector could be the best overall athlete of USF's 2018 prospects.

"Ever since I've been here, Bruce has probably had the best hips on the team," Bulls junior defensive end Kirk Livingstone said. "Bruce can flip his hips."

Question is, can he flip the conventional draft board on its end? Hector (6-foot-2 7/8, 300 pounds) currently is ranked 25th among interior defensive line prospects (15 spots behind Senat) by draftwire.com, and 28th (five behind Senat) by walterfootball.com.

That makes him a fringe draft prospect or priority free-agent signing in the draft's immediate aftermath. No doubt, Hector, 23, has been studied and scrutinized at length, having participated in USF's pro day last month, the Bucs' local predraft workout last weekend, and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January.

Chances are, scouts saw the same thing former Robinson coach Mike DePue noticed when Hector arrived from Gulf High as a beefy junior in 2011.

"The first day he was with us we were doing some drills and we go, 'Feet. Look at the feet,'" DePue recalled. "Our old saying is, 'Quick feet are happy feet,' and boy he had some quick feet for a kid his size."

Related: No one's pushing around USF's Bruce Hector these days

Those feet rarely trotted off the field in two seasons. As a senior, Hector earned Class 5A first-team all-state honors, collecting 55 tackles and lining up at left guard for a Knights offense that averaged more than 200 rushing yards and reached the state semifinals.

He was a steady 270-pound contributor in two seasons as a starter for the Knights basketball team, averaging 4.7 points and 6.0 rebounds as a junior, when Robinson reached the second round of the state playoffs.

"When Bruce came to Robinson and came in the gym, the first time I saw him play I was like, 'Wow, that dude really moves well for a big guy," Knights coach Steve Smith said. "He wasn't a typical basketball big man. He moved well laterally, side to side, defensively."

Had the wrestling and basketball seasons not run concurrently, Hector might have been a heavyweight on the mat in the literal and figurative senses. And who knows what color belt he might brandish today had he stuck with karate, in which he dabbled a couple of years as a kid.

"Oh man, he could've been a state placer at his weight class," said Knights defensive line coach Tommy Montero, Robinson's wrestling coach the last 17 years.

"It's hard to find heavyweights that are that athletic and that fast. … He has all the hand movement. That's what he seemed like — a wrestler on the field. You see guys that have wrestled and have those hand techniques, that fight. That's what he looked like in the trenches."

Thing is, the draft can be as volatile as Hector is versatile, so he won't agonize over it. After spending the last few months in south Florida working with renowned athletic trainer Tony Villani, Hector said he'll follow the draft from his Tampa home.

Many presume if he can just get his foot in the door, foot speed will prevail from there.

"He's very agile and mobile," Montero said.

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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