Willie Taggart taking his USF football team home to Manatee for a visit

Adell@bradenton.comMarch 4, 2014 

BRADENTON -- For Willie Taggart it's back to the future.

The USF head football coach wants to give his team a taste of success and decided there is no better place than his old high school.

So team practice will be held at Manatee High on Saturday.

It's the field Taggart used to spawn a career that saw him gain All-American honors at Western Kentucky after quarterbacking Manatee to back to back state championship games and a state title.

"I had been thinking it about for awhile and said why not. We want our guys to be winners and I felt like it would be good to get them into a winning environment," Taggart said. "Manatee is one of the best football programs in the state, plus it's getting the Manatee County community behind our football team and involved in what we are doing."

The two hour practice is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. and is open

to the public at no cost.

It will be USF's seventh practice of the spring. The program is allowed 14 practices and the spring game, slated for March 29, at Raymond James Stadium.

What fans will see is Taggart's blueprint for success. Things will be moving quicker and gingerly.

"We need to be able to change it up. We need to be able to move people," Taggart said. "There will be times when we want to slow it down and other times when we want to speed it up a little."

The Bulls struggled to a 2-10 record in his first year at the helm last season and a good part of that was because he did not have the personnel to run his offense.

All five starters on the offensive line return and they all are a lot bigger, which has injected optimism.

The average weight of the returning starters on the offensive line is 310 compared to 297 last season. Taggart credits that to the hard work they put in and a program set up by strength and conditioning coach Hans Straub.

"They look like they are supposed to look for Division I offensive linemen. They are bigger, stronger and faster," Taggart said. "But it's not just those guys. Our entire team has added weight and gotten stronger in so many areas. We had 52 guys get a personal record (for at least one of their strength tests)."

One of those linemen who added muscle and weight is center Austin Reiter from Lakewood Ranch. Heading into his senior season and third as a starter, Reiter added 13 pounds and is up to 286 pounds.

"We're putting in a lot more time after our workouts," Reiter said. "The mentality this spring is that everybody wants to get better. We are trying to go above and beyond what we normally do."

Taggart wants to run an offense similar to the kind Jim Harbaugh established at Stanford and currently uses as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Another guy who made a significant increase in strength this spring is linebacker Nigel Harris, who has put 15 pounds on his 6-1 frame and is now at 215. Harris started seven games last season as a true freshman.

Taggart is trying to develop a line of what he calls "people movers." The group will be under the tutelage of new hire Paul Wulff, the Bulls offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. He spent the last two years with the 49ers where he was senior offensive assistant under Harbaugh.

The Bulls had a lot of pre-snap problems last year that Wulff said was partly due to different lineups and going through three or four quarterbacks before settling on true freshman Mike White. The 6-4 signal caller also added 10 pounds and is up to 200.

It will also be a homecoming of sorts for USF linebackers coach Ray Woodie, former head coach at Palmetto and Bayshore.

"It speaks a lot about Taggart that he cares about the city and the area that he is from," Woodie said. "He's real excited about going there and working in a different environment. Overall, our strength and size is really up at all the positions. Our strength coach did a great job."

Local players who will be participating include Reiter, Derrick Calloway (Manatee), Jake Carlton (Lakewood Ranch) and Evan Wilson (ODA). The roster also includes Eric Mayes and Alex Mut (Charlotte).

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