TAMPA -- Willie Taggart has a personal mechanism to determine how much his USF football team has improved since last season.
"I measure things on how emotionally hijacked I get, and I haven't been emotionally hijacked this spring. Our kids are going in the right direction," said Taggart coming off a disappointing inaugural season as the Bulls head coach.
USF finished 2-10 and had one of the most anemic offenses in the country last season, which was hard for the former quarterback who electrified fans at Manatee High and Western Kentucky.
But this is a new year, and Taggart is optimistic to see improvement in the Bulls spring game, scheduled to kickoff at 4 p.m. Saturday at Corbett Stadium on the USF campus.
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"We don't have guys quitting and don't have guys complaining and that is huge, especially for me. I don't like
all that excuse-making." Taggart said. "Last year, we had a lot of guys quitting workouts or finding ways to get out of practice. We don't have that now."
With everyone familiar with Taggart's system, things are going efficiently. The most obvious change is in the size of the players; nearly everyone is bigger. But it's still a work in progress.
"We need some speed. We were a slow football team last year, and I was shocked," Taggart said. "We need speed and physicality, and it's coming. The biggest difference this year is that everybody knows where to go and what is going on, how we practice, what the plays are and what is the intent of the play."
Taggart also wanted to familiarize the fans with his team, which is a reason he requested the spring game be played on campus instead of Raymond James Stadium. He brought the idea up to new athletic director Mark Harlan, who agreed with the move.
"A lot of it had to do with the practice we had at Manatee High. That was really impressive. If we can get that many people there, why not here and have it here for our students," Taggart said. "A lot of folks that follow our football team don't get a chance to see our campus. More important, we are trying to get students fired up."
Nothing gets a fan base more excited than offensive fireworks, and USF is hoping to provide that this year with experience at quarterback, which the Bulls didn't have last year. There is experience at receiver and the offensive line, which is bigger, averaging an increase of 13 pounds per starter.
Taggart decided to divide up his squad and have a draft for the "Green and White" game. Mike White, who started the last six games of last season, will start for the Green team and backup Steven Bench for the White.
Manatee High graduate Derrick Calloway, who has been impressive this spring, was the first defensive lineman selected in the draft (Green).
"We don't necessarily have starters until the fall because of changes with new guys coming in," the coach said. "We've been practicing all spring with the ones with the ones. You go into the fall and never know when a guy is going to get injured. It's good to get everyone familiar with each other. The teams are balanced and competitive, and it will be fun."
Taggart said one person generating a lot of excitement is walk-on quarterback Evan Wilson from Out-Of-Door-Academy. He will be a redshirt freshman next season.
"Evan has been having a great spring and has caught a lot of attention. Every rep he has gotten he has taken advantage of and impressed," Taggart said. "When we switch him and put him at receiver he makes plays."
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Wilson started three years at quarterback for ODA, passing for more than 6,000 yards and 52 touchdowns. He will play for the White team.
The Bulls' offensive success rests heavily on three-year starting center Austin Reiter from Lakewood Ranch, who has added 13 pounds to his 6-3 frame and is weighing in at 286 pounds. He will play on the White team.
"He is Steady Eddie and keeps it going. Austin is much stronger and has a chance to have an outstanding season and pick up some postseason awards," Taggart said.
Lakewood Ranch graduate Jake Carlton (senior in 2014) will play tight end for the White team.
Sophomore receiver Alex Mut from Punta Gorda Charlotte will play for the Green team. The Bulls return 17 starters (10 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams).
USF plays its soccer games in Corbett Stadium, which has seats to accommodate about 1,000 people and other areas to sit on large grassy berms surrounding the field, according to the school.