TAMPA -- Things are happening fast for Austin Reiter, which is how he planned it.
His name has popped up as an American Athletic Conference first- or second-team selection in various preseason college football publications and is one of 44 players on the Rimington Trophy Watch List, which tracks prospects who may become the nation's top center.
The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder put himself on an accelerated track in 2009 when he left Lakewood Ranch High during the second semester of his senior year and enrolled at USF.
Now preparing for his redshirt junior season, Reiter credits that decision for having a major impact on his career. He is the Bulls' only returning offensive lineman who started 12 games last year.
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"It was a real smart idea to come here early because I was thrown in with everybody on the team. It was either swim or drown," Reiter said. "When you come in with the freshman class, they are in their own group and work out separately. I was thrown right into the mix and had no choice but to learn how the veterans did it. It was the best way."
The idea to enroll early was proposed by then-Bulls head coach Jim Leavitt. Reiter was told he would redshirt his first year, have a chance to start his second and be at least a three-year starter if he applied himself. Austin's dad, Richard, who played at Cincinnati with Urban Mey
Austin and his dad talk football a lot, but there is a basic message his father preaches.
"My dad always says push yourself to your limits and do what the coaches say," Austin Reiter said. "Everybody has to buy in. You can't have kids who want to do it their way."
Everything that Leavitt said has come to fruition. Reiter was a backup his redshirt freshman year and started as a sophomore last season. Now, the accolades are starting to come.
"I wasn't thinking about all of that (pre-season hype), but feel blessed that my hard work is paying off," Reiter said. "I am just trying to be the best at my position, improve my craft and win some games."
Reiter's grooming to be a high-level Division I center began as sixth-grader, when he worked for his father's construction company. As he got older, his chores got harder and longer. It helped mold him into the player he is today.
"First and foremost, Austin loves the game, which is a mentality you need to play on the offensive line. He is very physical and has great leverage," USF head coach Willie Taggart said. "His role is to win the battle on every play and has the ability to do that. But he is also a great kid. You can sit down a talk to him anytime."
Reiter credits the time working for his dad as instrumental in helping him become a better person and football player.
"When I was 13 or 14, I was swinging a sledgehammer and breaking up parking lots. It was good mental and physical conditioning," the 21-year-old said. "It was influential from a standpoint that you learn you don't want handouts in life, that it feels so much better when you work for something."
Taggart, the former Manatee High quarterback and All-American signal-caller at Western Kentucky, knows first-hand how important it is to have a quality center.
It's particularly true at USF because in his first year as head coach Taggart might not decide on his starting quarterback until the Bulls' first game Aug. 31 against McNeese State. It has made Reiter's skill and experience that much more important.
"Those two guys (center and quarterback) touch the ball on every play, and the ball is the most important thing out there," Taggart said. "The center nowadays is pretty much like a quarterback out there making a lot of calls. The quarterback has to be comfortable with his center, which is why we are fortunate to have Austin. He is one of our team leaders and he's always thinking of ways to get better."
After two disappointing seasons under Skip Holtz, Reiter badly wants to win and is excited about the energy Taggart has brought.
"Coach Taggart really has a drive to win. His whole presence since he has been here is to win, and that is something we need," Reiter said. "Everything he says and does is for the purpose to win football games. He has a great amount of enthusiasm and everybody wants to play for him."
The NFL is in Reiter's dreams, but now he is just concentrating on the upcoming season. If the NFL comes calling, he will be in better position than his dad.
"My dad went to the L.A. Rams in 1986, and they had a strike that year. He went and got a job and that was it because they weren't paying offensive linemen much in those days," Reiter said. "Now it's different. But that is a long term goal for me. Now I am focusing on the short term goal of winning games."