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On emotional weekend, USF takes 2 of 3 from Houston

When the biggest USF baseball weekend of the season concluded Sunday, Bulls fans had been exposed to grief and guile, rocky beginnings and riveting finishes.

Their coach was absent one game. Their catalyst was absent all three.

Yet by dusk Sunday, the Bulls (34-10, 9-6) found themselves in a logjam atop the American Athletic Conference standings. By dusk Monday, they just might be ranked.

USF's 5-4 triumph Sunday against Houston (28-15, 9-6), their second come-from-behind victory against the Cougars in as many days, gave the Bulls their biggest series win of the season. Considering the game's subplots, and the weekend's general ebb and flow, it's likely no regular season series will turn out to be more critical.

"These are awesome," said junior right-hander Joe Cavallaro, who earned saves Saturday and Sunday. "But other than conference play, this is big for Pete Strzelecki."

Ah, Strzelecki. He's among myriad reasons this weekend was so huge. Let's break it down.

* Four nights after learning his father had died suddenly of a heart attack at age 52, Strzelecki took the mound Saturday -- a night earlier than scheduled -- so he could attend the funeral on Sunday. Here's the story from that emotional triumph.

* Coach Mark Kingston missed Sunday's game, to attend Kevin Strzelecki's funeral.

* The Bulls took two of three from one of the AAC's premier teams without junior SS Kevin Merrell, their top hitter and leadoff man. Merrell, nursing a foot strain, could return for next weekend's home series against East Carolina.

* USF had to rally from significant deficits in both their victories. They trailed 4-0 Saturday before storming back for a 7-4 win, and rallied from a three-run deficit with four runs in the seventh in Sunday's triumph. Senior DH Luke Borders, 4-for-7 with five RBIs in the two wins, provided the go-ahead RBI Sunday with a two-run double.

* Cavallaro had a three-inning save Saturday, and worked 1 1/3 innings Sunday. "I felt all right (Sunday)," Cavallaro said. "(Pitching) coach (Billy Mohl) asked me to go out and finish the game for him, so I just did what I could for the team."

* With the series win, USF is tied for first in the leage with the Cougars, UCF, Connecticut and Tulane.

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A day before dad's funeral, USF's Peter Strzelecki takes mound

The entire USF baseball team huddled around pitcher Peter Strzelecki upon his removal in the second inning Saturday. A day before his dad's funeral, Strzelecki started Saturday's game against Houston.


The entire USF baseball team huddled around pitcher Peter Strzelecki upon his removal in the second inning Saturday. A day before his dad's funeral, Strzelecki started Saturday's game against Houston.

He surrendered a home run on his eighth pitch of the night, then walked the next batter on five pitches. His command and composure mostly eluded him.

But by the end of USF starter Peter Strzelecki's 1 1/2-inning stint Saturday night, Bulls coach Mark Kingston called it one of the most valiant efforts he has witnessed.

"I could not have done it," Kingston said.

Four nights after losing his father suddenly to a heart attack at age 52, the Bulls redshirt junior from Lake Worth took the mound against American Athletic Conference front-runner Houston, then watched his team (33-10, 8-6) rally for a 7-4 triumph before an announced USF Baseball Stadium crowd of 992.

Scheduled to pitch in Sunday's series finale against the Cougars (28-14, 9-5), Strzelecki had asked to throw a night early, and Kingston obliged.

Both player and coach will attend Kevin Strzelecki's funeral Sunday.

"When a guy tells you he wants to do that, under those circumstances, you say absolutely," Kingston said.

Strzelecki allowed four runs (two earned) in his brief stint, walking three and scattering three hits. After issuing his final walk, pitching coach Billy Mohl walked to the edge of the mound, where he and Strzelecki embraced. …

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USF's Kofi Amichia drafted by Packers in 6th round

USF offensive lineman Kofi Amichia was drafted in the sixth round by the Packers on Saturday.


USF offensive lineman Kofi Amichia was drafted in the sixth round by the Packers on Saturday.

In the wake of Saturday's NFL Draft developments, one safely can presume Kofi Amichia has taken his last spin around USF's campus in his green 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix.

Amichia became the third Bull of the day to go off the board when the Packers picked him in the sixth round (212th overall selection).

Green Bay was among three teams Amichia visited in the months leading to the draft. His South Carolina-based agent, Austin Atkinson, said the Packers began inquiring about Amichia even before the Super Bowl.

"They have been showing interest the longest," Atkinson said.

Amichia's solid workout at USF's pro day in March followed an excruciating senior year, which included a dislocated right kneecap sustained during the Temple game.

Moreover, he might be the only player in the draft who played for five different position coaches in as many seasons.

"I've never coached a guy in my career that I could sit there and say I was his fifth coach in one career," former Bulls line coach Darren Hiller said.

"But the other thing is, he's a pretty intelligent football player. I mean, he's got a degree already (in information technology), but he's also a pretty intelligent football player as well."

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USF's Marlon Mack drafted by Colts, Rodney Adams to Vikings

USF career rushing leader was drafted by the Colts in Saturday's fourth round.


USF career rushing leader was drafted by the Colts in Saturday's fourth round.

The agonizing weekend wait for USF career rushing leader Marlon Mack finally ended Saturday when the Colts drafted the three-time 1,000-yard rusher in the fourth round with the 143rd overall pick.

Mack watched the draft from his Sarasota home, but wasn't immediately available for comment. The 15th running back drafted, Mack was taken with a Colts compensatory pick (from the 49ers).

Twenty-seven picks later, Bulls teammate Rodney Adams -- a Lakewood High alumnus -- was drafted by the Vikings, in the fifth round.

Mack becomes the first Bull taken before the fifth round since DB Kayvon Webster (third round, 2013).

"Explosive, that's the first word that comes to mind," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said moments after Mack's name went off the board.

"I think he can become a little bit more physical, he's got to continue to get stronger. But there were some plays where he just springs together multiple cuts like very few backs in this class can. …

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How will USF fare in the draft? We take 1 final guess

Don't be shocked if USF tailback Marlon Mack is taken on Day Two of the NFL Draft.


Don't be shocked if USF tailback Marlon Mack is taken on Day Two of the NFL Draft.

After months of cone drills and conjecture, visits and vertical leaps, ceaseless pontification about upsides and motors and hip swivels, we've reached this point.

The tipping point.

We know what you're saying: Just draft already and be done with it. We get it. The NFL Draft arguably has surpassed the Super Bowl as the planet's most overblown annual sports event. The very next mockup you see just might induce vomiting.

Well, take a swig of Pepto and bear with us just once more. Here, for the last time in 2017, is our USF-centric draft projection (in alphabetical order):

WR Rodney Adams
Adams recorded a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, presumably silencing those who underestimated his speed. His ball-security issues at USF did him no favors, and he'll have to add weight (he weighed 189 pounds at the Combine), but this Lakewood High alumnus' burst, agility and elusiveness will get him in an NFL camp. Projection: Free-agent signee

OL Kofi Amichia
We see Amichia as the second Bull to go off the draft board. This first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick possesses all the tools to flourish as an NFL interior lineman, with the ability to shift to tackle in a pinch. The fact he didn't miss a game last season despite dislocating his right kneecap at Temple in October probably has endeared him to a scout or two. Projection: Day 3 (late rounds)

S Nate Godwin
Like Nigel Harris (see below), Godwin arrived at USF's pro day prepared, and it showed (37-inch vertical, 19 reps of 225). Though he emerged from the gate slowly as a senior (due to a nagging hamstring injury), Godwin still made 38 career starts. We've always felt his speed was underrated, which leads us to believe he'll get a look in a camp. Projection: Free-agent signee

OLB Nigel Harris
This Hillsborough High alumnus showed up at USF's pro day chiseled (220 pounds) and prepared, and it showed in his performance (4.53 in the 40, 36-inch vertical). We've heard he also performed well at a regional NFL combine in Houston in mid-February, and got an invitation to the Bucs' local-players workout. Projection: Free-agent signee

RB Marlon Mack
We've been saying for a couple of months now that we project Mack as a draft sleeper, and that hasn't changed. We've spent the last three autumns watching this three-time 1,000-yard rusher brandish his size, flexibility, versatility and explosiveness. Now that scouts and front-office types have watched him, we believe a number of them will be inclined to snag him sooner rather than later. Projection: Day 2 (Round 2 or 3)

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NFL call could arrive for USF 'tough man' Kofi Amichia

Former USF left tackle Kofi Amichia (center) could emerge as a sleeper in this weekend's NFL Draft.


Former USF left tackle Kofi Amichia (center) could emerge as a sleeper in this weekend's NFL Draft.

Something about USF tackle Kofi Amichia didn't correlate. In pre-draft workouts, observers saw a behemoth with burst, a hulk with hip flexibility. 

Amichia would hoist 30 or more reps of 225 pounds on the bench, then crush the agility drills.

But where had this guy been against Navy? Against SMU?

"One team told me, 'When you look at his pro day numbers, he's a superior athlete and the film doesn't match the pro day numbers,'" said Austin Atkinson, Amichia's agent.

That's when the details -- gory ones, at that -- would surface. What the scouts saw on tape was a guy wincing through the final stretch of his college career, hoping that right kneecap wouldn't again slide out of place. In the absence of NFL-caliber potential, these evaluators were seeing NFL-caliber perseverance.

"He was playing on survival mode a little bit (last year)," former Bulls offensive line coach Darren Hiller said.

Today, that toughness, combined with a more stabilized knee and at least two head-turning pre-draft workouts, have elevated Amichia's NFL stock. The Georgia native, whose parents were born in Ghana, formally has visited four teams and has received overtures from several others.

He has worked out for the 49ers. The Redskins had him in for a visit that spanned several hours. The Packers began asking about him in early February.

"Most of 'em kind of say the same thing," Amichia said. "They just like my versatility I can bring."

If not taken on Day 3 of this weekend's NFL Draft, Amichia -- a first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick and winner of USF's Tough Man Award last season -- is a lock to sign a free-agent deal shortly after the seventh round. …

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USF men's golf team wins 3rd consecutive AAC title

The USF men's golf team claimed its third consecutive wire-to-wire American Athletic Conference tournament crown Tuesday.


The USF men's golf team claimed its third consecutive wire-to-wire American Athletic Conference tournament crown Tuesday.

On the same day a mild cold front wafted its way through the area, the warming trend within USF athletics continued.

Or more specifically, it climbed -- to scalding, scorching hot.

The Bulls now have claimed three American Athletic Conference titles in five days. The latest trophy was hoisted Tuesday afternoon on Innisbrook's Copperhead course, moments after the men's golf team completed a three-day, wire-to-wire triumph for its third consecutive league title.

"Our motto, to be quite honest with you for this last month, has been 'Do Our Job,'" said third-year Bulls coach Steve Bradley, who never has finished a day below the top of the conference tournament leaderboard during his USF tenure.

"If you do your job, the team will be just fine. And they did their job this week, the team did their job this week, and we came out champs."

USF's three-day, 5-over-par 857 was 15 strokes better than runners-up Houston and Cincinnati. Individually, junior Cristian DiMarco finished 1-under for the tournament and nearly claimed the individual crown, falling in a one-hole playoff to Houston's Michael Perras.

DiMarco's roommate, former Freedom High standout Jimmy Jones, finished a stroke back despite a partially torn tendon in his right index finger. A lifetime hockey player who said he put away his stick in December, Jones said his finger discomfort this week was "minimal."

"They're best friends, they live together, they're roommates," Bradley said. "For them to lead us the way they led us this week, you need efforts like that in order to win team championships."

Three shots off the lead entering Tuesday, DiMarco had a bogey-free final round, notching a birdie on the 575-yard, par-5 11th to go 1-under. But he failed to get up and down in the sudden-death playoff on No. 18 against Perras when a chip on his third shot didn't reach the green.

Jones, 3-under entering Tuesday, shot even par on the front nine before hitting three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back.

"Jimmy has played pretty well this month of April minus the N.C. State event (two weekends ago), because he had (the injury)," Bradley said.

"So I think Jimmy didn't really have a whole lot of expectations going into this week because he didn't really know until Friday night whether he was gonna play or not. So I think that kind of kept his mind off what could happen."

Senior Rigel Fernandes finished 5-over for the tournament to finish tied for ninth. Junior Priyanshu Singh finished 6-over to tie for 11th. Junior Claudio Correa, who struggled mightily on Day 1, followed Monday's 2-over 73 with a 72 on Tuesday and finished tied for 20th (10-over).

"To have two guys have a chance to win individually is certainly pretty cool," Bradley said. "But throughout the week they all contributed, so it was a huge team win for us. It was pretty awesome."

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Dismissed Duke football players headed to USF

Two former Duke defensive linemen dismissed from the Blue Devils program earlier this year have announced via Twitter they are transferring to USF.

DE Marquies Price and DT Brandon Boyce, both significant contributors for Duke as sophomores last fall, will have to sit out the 2017 season per NCAA transfer requirements. first reported the transfers Monday.

Price started 11 of 12 games last year, while Boyce played in eight after being suspended the first three contests for a disciplinary issue. Collectively, they had 30 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2016.

Both were let go in February for "failing to meet the standards of a member of the program," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said at the time.

Boyce was ranked the nation's 43rd-best defensive lineman by coming out of Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas. He was a two-time first-team all-state pick, first at Fort Lauderdale University (Class 4A) in 2013 and at Aquinas (7A) his senior season.

Price totaled five forced fumbles and nine sacks his final two seasons at Peach County High in Fort Valley, Ga. Ranked the nation's No. 36 weakside defensive end by for the Class of 2015, he enrolled at Duke in January of that year.

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USF lands 7-foot-2 Serbian Nikola Scekic

It appears USF has landed the biggest commitment -- literally -- of the Brian Gregory era to date.

Nikola Scekic, a 7-foot-2, 250-pound Serbia native who played half a season at New Mexico before leaving, announced late Sunday evening via Twitter he has committed to USF.

Scekic, who helped lead Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College to a juco national title this past season, is expected to be eligible right away. He was recruited primarily by new assistant Tom Herrion, and visited the campus earlier this month.

"I know (Herrion) and I trust him and I respect his work," said Scekic, who initially struck up a relationship with Herrion last season when the coach was employed by Jamie Dixon at TCU. "So I took a visit and everything looked really, really good."

Scekic becomes the seventh newcomer to join USF since Gregory's arrival, though only one of those has been confirmed by the school.

Scekic played sparingly (7.5 minutes per game) in 10 of UNM's first 13 contests two seasons ago before bolting in December 2015. At Hutchinson this past season, he started all 37 games, but averaged only 4.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 10.4 minutes. …

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USF men's tennis team wins 4th consecutive AAC crown

One of the most glorious weekends in USF tennis history ended Sunday with the top-seeded Bulls men rallying for a 4-1 triumph against UCF in the American Athletic Conference tournament final in Orlando.

The title -- the men's fourth in a row -- arrived less than 24 hours after the seventh-seeded women capped an improbable tournament romp with a 4-2 victory against top-seeded Tulsa in the women's championship match.

It's the first time since 2014 the USF men and women have swept the conference tourneys.

On Sunday, the men dropped the doubles point before earning four singles victories in straight sets. The clincher came at No. 2, where junior Justin Roberts completed a 6-4, 6-4 victory against Danny Kerznerman.

Sasha Gozun, Vadym Kalyuzhnyy and Jakub Wojcik also won in singles for the Bulls. Gozun, USF's 6-foot-5 senior No. 1 player, won two singles matches and a pair of doubles matches in the tournament en route to being named Most Outstanding Player.

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USF women's tennis team wins AAC title

The Bulls women's tennis team's improbable romp through the American Athletic Conference tournament culminated Saturday with a 4-2 triumph against top-seeded Tulsa in the title match at Lake Nona.

The No. 7 seed -- and a .500 team -- entering the tournament, USF (14-10) upset the three top seeds in as many days for its second AAC title and 13th conference crown overall.

Clinching Saturday's victory was No. 5 singles player Nicole Dzenga, who eked out a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory against Martha Matoula. No. 2 Vera Bessonova also won in three sets.

Earlier in the day, Dzenga had teamed with classmate Vanja Klaric for a 7-6 triumph at No. 3 doubles to help the Bulls earn the doubles point.

Saturday's triumph occurred on the heels of Friday's 4-2 victory against No. 3 SMU, and Thursday's 4-1 win against second-seeded Tulane. The Golden Hurricane and Green Wave both defeated USF in the regular season.

On the men's side, the top-seeded Bulls (16-8) rolled to a 4-0 semifinal triumph against Memphis, setting up Sunday's noon title match against third-seeded UCF. The match can be watched here.  

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Are 3 non-Saturday home games too many for USF?

USF receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11), Tyre McCants (8) and the rest of the Bulls will play three non-Saturday home games this year.


USF receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11), Tyre McCants (8) and the rest of the Bulls will play three non-Saturday home games this year.

Though we're accustomed to non-Saturday college football in these parts, the recent announcement that USF's home game against Tulsa has been moved to a Thursday night (Nov. 16) was a bit unexpected.

And perhaps a bit unsettling for Bulls fans.

It guarantees USF of three non-Saturday home games for the first time since 2008. In addition to the Tulsa tilt, to be televised on ESPN, the Bulls also will play nationally televised home contests against Illinois (Friday, Sept. 15) and Temple (Thursday, Sept. 21).

Toss in the Black Friday game at UCF (Nov. 24), and that's four total non-Saturday kickoffs for the Bulls.

While we fully understand the American Athletic Conference's need for non-Saturday contests to nationally showcase its product, is this a bit much? We're talking 43 percent of USF's home schedule that won't be played on the day traditionally set aside for college football.

Your thoughts?

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UCF's Scott Frost: Orlando is state's "best college town"

UCF sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton (10) and the Knights host USF on Black Friday (Nov. 24) this season.


UCF sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton (10) and the Knights host USF on Black Friday (Nov. 24) this season.

Eleven of the American Athletic Conference's 12 football coaches participated in Wednesday's annual spring teleconference (Charlie Strong had a previously planned meeting he couldn't miss). Here are some of the more significant items to emerge:

* UCF second-year coach Scott Frost took a not-so-subtle jab at those who might have underestimated his staff's recruiting chops. Only 16 months after the Knights' 0-12 debacle came to a merciful end, Frost's staff hauled in a 2017 signing class deemed the Group of Five's best by Rivals and 247Sports.

"We don't put much stock in ranking, but I think as a coaching staff, we spent a lot of time listening to people talk about how recruiting in Florida was gonna be tough with (coaching) changes at USF and FAU and FIU, and they never mentioned us," Frost said.

"And I think that made our coaching staff happy to turn out the type of recruiting class that we did. We have the best city in Florida to sell, we have the best campus in Florida to sell and the best university in Florida to sell, and I think that differentiates us." …

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USF's Malik Dixon to transfer

Bulls sophomore Malik Dixon, who appeared to be making a solid transition from safety to linebacker this spring, has left the program.

Dixon, who missed nearly the entire 2016 season due to a shoulder injury, announced his departure Wednesday via Twitter. He had missed the last week of spring practice -- including Saturday's spring game -- for what Coach Charlie Strong called a "family issue."

"After long talks and consideration with my family and close friends, I think it would be best for me to transfer schools," Dixon wrote. "I will be attending a Junior College at first and then go back to the D1 level and further my college football career after."

Initially a backup to FS Jaymon Thomas, Dixon had six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup against Towson in the '16 opener before undergoing shoulder surgery.

He becomes the second projected linebacker to depart in the Charlie Strong era, joining Cecil Cherry.

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Brian Gregory reportedly lands another USF commitment

Bulls men's coach Brian Gregory reportedly has received his second commitment from a prep school player, getting a pledge from Putnam Science (Conn.) Academy F Alexis Yetna.

Rivals national basketball analyst Corey Evans reported the commitment Wednesday.

A France native, Yetna -- listed at 6-foot-8, 215 pounds on the Putnam Science roster -- is a three-star prospect according to ESPN. He also reportedly had offers from Mississippi State, St. John's and Oregon State, among others. He visited USF last weekend.

"They definitely are bringing in a new style of play: a competitive, up-tempo system that is definitely something (Gregory) and his staff hit on," Yetna told Evans.

Yetna would increase USF's total of 2016-17 scholarship players to nine, presuming no one else transfers and the incoming players ultimately sign.

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