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USF journal: Jean-Mary bracing for limited linebacker corps

USF  coach Charlie Strong addresses the team after Tuesday's practice.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF coach Charlie Strong addresses the team after Tuesday's practice.

A day after Coach Charlie Strong reiterated his concern about the Bulls' linebacker depth, new coordinator Brian Jean-Mary quantified it.

Ideally, Jean-Mary said he'd like to suit up 10-12 linebackers each game, "just because they're so vital on special teams." But as it stands, only six scholarship linebackers are on the roster, including freshman Keirston Johnson.

Toss in a hybrid guy such as Sickles alumnus Josh Black or Jefferson graduate Juwuan Brown, and the number increases to eight. "And that's probably stretching it," Jean-Mary said after Tuesday's practice.

"But just because of injuries...and the ability to take some guys off the field and let 'em rest, we'd like to have eight guys."

Slightly more plausible is Jean-Mary's goal of a six-tackle rotation. The first four -- seniors Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector, junior Kevin Bronson and sophomore Marlon Gonzalez -- appear set, with some intriguing candidates behind them such as converted LB Mi'Cario Stanley.

Additionally, freshmen Kevin Kegler and Kelvin Pinkney are listed at 280 and 284 pounds, respectively.

"We feel like we have some guys there," Jean-Mary said.

"I believe that we have some young guys that's gonna step up and play a big role for us," Senat said. "They're actually gonna help us win some games this year. But it's up to us (veterans)...to actually teach them and lead them and show them the way that we do things." …

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Burglary case against former Bulls QB Steven Bench dismissed

Former USF quarterback Steven Bench was arrested in south Tampa  on Memorial Day weekend.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Former USF quarterback Steven Bench was arrested in south Tampa on Memorial Day weekend.

The burglary case against former Bulls QB Steven Bench, arrested Memorial Day weekend in south Tampa, has been dismissed, according to court records.

Bench, who played for USF from 2013-15, was arrested May 29 on charges that he used force to enter a car wash business on Kennedy Boulevard, activating an alarm. He then used an object to shatter out the front glass window in order to exit, according to the arrest affidavit.

He was charged with one felony count of burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, and a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief. Since then, restitution has been paid and, as a result, the victim indicated a desire not to pursue criminal charges, according to the State Attorney's Office.

The case was formally dismissed July 10.

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Preseason accolades keep pouring in for Quinton Flowers

USF senior quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) is the first player in program history to be named to four preseason national award watch lists.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF senior quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) is the first player in program history to be named to four preseason national award watch lists.

The preseason for Bulls QB Quinton Flowers may have formally ended Monday, but the preseason hype has been percolating for weeks.

It continued Monday evening, when the reigning American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year was named to the College Football America 2017 Yearbook Mid-Major Starting Lineup, the publication's version of an All-America team.

Flowers was the only Bull named to the team, which featured a first-team offense and defense, and five special-teams positions. We can only imagine the inclusion of only one Bull (not to mention that "mid-major" label) will go over well in Tampa.

Arguably the first bona fide Heisman candidate in program history, Flowers is the first Bull to be named to four preseason national award watch lists (Walter Camp, Maxwell, Johnny Unitas, Davey O'Brien).

Here's a segment from his interview following the Bulls' first preseason workout Monday.

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USF journal: Bulls healthy as camp commences

Arguably the most positive image from opening day of USF's preseason was the one that never materialized.

No crutches, no casts, not even guys doing rehab work on the side. On Monday, the Bulls appeared as healthy as they might be all season.

"They're all here," Coach Charlie Strong said following the two-hour workout, held on the Bulls' old practice fields just north of the current ones. "Our whole team is here right now, which is really good. We didn't have any casualties academically."

That included the incoming freshman class, Strong said. As for the veterans, five prominent ones held out of spring drills due to various injuries -- WR Tyre McCants, MLB Auggie Sanchez, LG Jeremi Hall and DEs Vincent Jackson and Kirk Livingstone -- all worked out Monday.

Sanchez, fully recovered from shoulder surgery, said he was "real rusty," but expected to be. McCants, sidelined by a hamstring ailment in the spring, had a solid workout according to QB Quinton Flowers.

"Tyre came out today, made a lot of great plays," Flowers said. "It was great to see him out there back to being himself." 

DON'T BLINK: Nearly seven months into his USF tenure, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's system still has no nickname. And no playbook. And certainly no lulls.

A top priority this preseason will be mastering a tempo in which -- ideally -- the Bulls will snap the ball 12 to 15 seconds after the previous play is whistled dead. "Coach Gilbert says that's the way he coaches guys and that's the way he coaches offense," Flowers said.

"Ever since he came in, he's been teaching us that, get the ball to the ref in the middle of the field, let 'em get the ball set. We're gonna get the signal one time and we're gonna keep rolling, keep rolling."

ODDS AND ENDS: Monday's workout marked the earliest a Bulls preseason has begun in the program's 21 seasons. ... Sanchez said he's encouraged by the bond he and new defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary are forging, but suggested it will take time to become as strong as the one he had with former coordinator Raymond Woodie, for whom he played four seasons. "It's improving every single day," Sanchez said. "We talk ball and I'm just kind of learning the defense now." ... Strong said RT Marcus Norman, currently listed as a starter, had "a really good spring." At left tackle, he said junior Eric Mayes is being pushed by 6-foot-6, 310-pound Virginia transfer Grant Polk.

AUDIBLE: "If we go out there and take San Jose (State) lightly...you were here for McNeese State?" -- Sanchez, offering a rhetorical response to a question about the Bulls battling overconfidence this season

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No discounting these seniors as USF preseason dawns

USF senior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez has started all 38 games over the last three seasons.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF senior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez has started all 38 games over the last three seasons.

The USF preseason formally kicks off this afternoon, promising to be unlike most of the 20 that have preceded it.

For one, this might be the earliest starting date in school history, for reasons explained here. Additionally, these Bulls will enter the Morsani Complex today equipped with more expectation, drive and experience than most of their predecessors.

"You see a lot of hungry guys, a lot of people working harder than they have ever worked," said fifth-year senior MLB Auggie Sanchez, among the stars of last season's 11-2 team that set a program record for victories. "We're not content with what we had or what we did last year."

Sanchez is one of 13 seniors listed as starters on the Bulls' post-spring depth chart, making this the oldest USF team since at least the start of the Willie Taggart era in 2013.

Seven of those upperclassmen are on defense, and four of those -- Sanchez, CB Deatrick Nichols, SS Devin Abraham and DT Deadrin Senat -- have at least 20 career starts.

"We've got a lot of older dudes, and that's the goal," Sanchez said. "We talk about it all the time in practice, all the time in weights. This is probably the most motivated team I've been on."


Green and grizzled
The seniors listed as starters on USF's 2017 post-spring depth chart. (Career starts listed in parentheses)

Offense
WR Ryeshene Bronson (16)
C Cameron Ruff (14)
LG Jeremi Hall (13)
QB Quinton Flowers (27)
RB D'Ernest Johnson (1)
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (24)

Defense
DT Deadrin Senat (24)
DT Bruce Hector (12)
DE Mike Love (9)
MLB Auggie Sanchez (38)
CB Deatrick Nichols (27)
SS Devin Abraham (26)
FS Tajee Fullwood (13)

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Tampa Bulls fall in national hoops tourney

Former USF men's basketball star Dominique Jones, the fifth-leading scorer in program history, totaled 85 points in three games for a USF alumni team in a national tournament.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Former USF men's basketball star Dominique Jones, the fifth-leading scorer in program history, totaled 85 points in three games for a USF alumni team in a national tournament.

The Tampa Bulls' quest for summer basketball's most lucrative prize ended late Friday evening.

The Bulls, composed solely of former USF men's players, fell to reigning two-time champion Overseas Elite 84-76 in the "Super 16" round of The Basketball Tournament (TBT) before an announced crowd of 1,041 at Brooklyn's Steinberg Center.

The game was televised live on ESPN2 with -- fittingly enough -- former Bulls coach Seth Greenberg providing analysis.

Overseas Elite, 16-0 all-time in TBT play, shot 66.7 percent from the floor (16-for-24) in the first half, and went nearly 50 percent (8-for-17) from 3-point range for the game. Six players scored at least eight points, led by former Arizona PG Kyle Fogg's 19.

Dominique Jones, who banked a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in the Bulls' second-round game, scored 26 to lead Tampa, which hit only 11 of 21 free throws and five of 20 3-pointers. Jones totaled 85 points in three tournament contests.

TBT, featuring a $2 million winner-take-all prize, attracts teams consisting primarily of former collegians and/or overseas professionals. The final of the 64-team event is set for Aug. 3 in Baltimore, and will be televised on ESPN.

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That was quick: Charlie Strong mentioned as Ole Miss candidate

New USF coach Charlie Strong spent the 1990 season at Ole Miss as receivers coach.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

New USF coach Charlie Strong spent the 1990 season at Ole Miss as receivers coach.

Bulls fans this morning are facing the sobering reality that having Charlie Strong as their coach comes with a downside: his upside.

At least one Ole Miss-based website already is trumpeting Strong -- still three days from his first preaseason practice at USF -- as the top candidate to replace Hugh Freeze, who resigned in disgrace at Ole Miss on Thursday night.

The Ole Miss-centric site on Rivals.com also lists Strong as a prime candidate. Others, such as this one, mention Chip Kelly and Les Miles as the likeliest candidates to land in Oxford.

 

Strong's expansive resume includes one year as Rebels receivers coach (1990).

Such will be the speculation surrounding Strong for as long as he possesses a parking space outside the Selmon Center. His sparkling coaching credentials (notwithstanding three rough years at Texas) is going to make him a prime candidate for nearly every Power Five vacancy that arises.

And if USF wins a conference title this year as expected, the Strong demand will only intensify. It's naive to believe otherwise.

For those wondering, here's the buyout information from Strong's contract.

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USF's Class of '18 commitment list now at 13

The Bulls continued gaining mid-summer recruiting momentum Wednesday, landing their 12th and 13th non-binding verbal commitments from the Class of 2018.

Venice DT Tyrone Barber and Lake Worth Park Vista Community ATH Jake Collins both announced via Twitter they intend to sign with the Bulls. Barber is a deemed a three-star prospect by 247Sports and Scout.com.

Collins (6-foot-1, 182 pounds) was ranked No. 18 on the Palm Beach Post's "Big Board" of that area's top college prospects. He said he projects as a nickel back or safety in college.

"I see myself becoming an amazing student-athlete at USF," Collins said in a text message Wednesday night. "It's an awesome program and an amazing school."

The Bulls have received three commitments in the last two days, and 12 in the last five-plus weeks. Not coincidentally, Coach Charlie Strong staged consecutive satellite camps and the monstrous Sling-n-Shoot 7-on-7 tournament on campus during that same time window.

Here's some Hudl footage of Barber (6-3, 275), who helped guide Venice to the Class 7A state semifinals last season.

And here are some clips of Collins.

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Full disclosure: My AAC preseason ballot

USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez (bow tie) and quarterback Quinton Flowers (left of Sanchez) pose with other American Athletic Conference players at the league's media day Tuesday in Newport, R.I.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez (bow tie) and quarterback Quinton Flowers (left of Sanchez) pose with other American Athletic Conference players at the league's media day Tuesday in Newport, R.I.

Count me among the 26 voters who put USF atop the American Athletic Conference's preseason media poll issued Tuesday.

Truth be known, I've pegged the Bulls as the league's team to beat since Charlie Strong's hiring. They could've polled me on media day, Memorial Day, even Valentine's Day, wouldn't have mattered.

USF has too much offensive horsepower, and a coach capable of resuscitating the defense. Moreover, aside from a couple of embarrassing off-field incidents (see LaDarrius Jackson, Adrian Palmore), the offseason has been mild.

Fact is, my ballot barely changed from the post-spring AAC rankings I released in early May. The only alteration: I moved Navy from fourth to second in the West, sliding each of the division's four other teams down a notch. I couldn't in good conscience keep the Midshipmen that low, not with Ken Niumatalolo's track record. 

East
1. USF
2. UCF
3. Cincinnati
4. Temple
5. East Carolina
6. Connecticut

West
1. Houston
2. Navy
3. Memphis
4. Tulsa
5. SMU
6. Tulane

Preseason conference champ: USF

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Football in July? AAC coaches not exactly hot for idea

The 12 American Athletic Conference football coaches pose with Commissioner Mike Aresco (bottom row, center) at the league's media day Tuesday in Newport, R.I.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

The 12 American Athletic Conference football coaches pose with Commissioner Mike Aresco (bottom row, center) at the league's media day Tuesday in Newport, R.I.

The longer college football's talking season stretches, the louder the sentiment seems to resonate.

The real season can't arrive soon enough.

Oh, but it can. And it is. What's more, some coaches aren't crazy about it.

Across the country, preseason practices for many schools will commence later this month. USF, in fact, starts Monday. SMU's players report July 30, but Coach Chad Morris purposely is refusing to start camp until Aug. 1.

"There's something about football practice in July that just gives me a bad taste," he said.

He might have to get used to it.

Now that the NCAA has eliminated two-a-days, teams need more time to get in the maximum 29 preseason workouts allowed. Additionally, the NCAA's football oversight committee is examining a proposal to spread the 12-game regular season over 14 weeks, to give more players time off during the season.

That would mean an earlier start to the regular season, thereby forcing preseason camps to commence earlier. This story from the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer explains the proposal. …

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Media picks USF to win AAC title

For the first time ever, the Bulls are the preseason choice — an overwhelming one, in fact — to win the AAC title.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

For the first time ever, the Bulls are the preseason choice — an overwhelming one, in fact — to win the AAC title.

For the second year in a row, USF has been picked by the league's media to win the American Athletic Conference's Eastern Division.

And for the first time ever, the Bulls are the preseason choice -- an overwhelming one, in fact -- to win the league title.

The poll was released Tuesday morning at the outset of the AAC's media day in Newport, R.I. USF, which returns seven offensive and nine defensive starters from an 11-2 team, was a unanimous choice to win the East and received 26 of 30 possible votes in league championship balloting.

"When you have the number of players we  have returning and then you have the top offensive player in the league (QB Quinton Flowers) returning, the numbers are gonna be there for you, so that's what gives you a chance to be picked," Bulls coach Charlie Strong said. …

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Five potential AAC media day story lines

USF, led by first-year coach Charlie Strong (center), should be a runaway favorite to win the American Athletic Conference's East Division when the league's media poll is released Tuesday.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF, led by first-year coach Charlie Strong (center), should be a runaway favorite to win the American Athletic Conference's East Division when the league's media poll is released Tuesday.

As a precursor to the American Athletic Conference Summer Kickoff and Media Days (which officially commences today), we're previewing various parts of the conference, from schedules to story lines to significant players. Today: five story lines that could prevail at Tuesday's media session.

1. Pitching the 'Power Six'
Unlike last summer, when the league's future seemed destined for limbo amid talk of Big 12 expansion, stability has prevailed. With the conference on solid footing for now, expect Commissioner Mike Aresco to trumpet his 'Power Six' mantra profusely. Aresco is sure to laud his league's across-the-board competitiveness against Power Five foes as rationale for the AAC becoming the sixth power conference. But a canyon of revenue disparity remains between the AAC and its peers in the power leagues, and until the next major round of realignment, we doubt the autonomous Power Five will split its monetary pie six ways.

2. Bulls a Unanimous Pick?
The only real suspense surrounding the conference's preseason media poll (which should be released around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday) is whether USF will be a unanimous pick to win the East Division. If the Bulls aren't, we may be inclined to suspect an operative from Moscow -- or Orlando -- tampered with the election. As for the overall championship? We see the Bulls as more of an overwhelming choice than a unanimous one.

3. Derby days ahead
No fewer than five teams enter preseason camp with bona fide quarterback competitions on tap. At Tulsa, coach Philip Montgomery will choose between sophomore Chad President and touted redshirt freshman Luke Skipper as a replacement for Golden Hurricane all-time leading passer Dane Evans. SMU's Chad Morris will oversee a derby featuring incumbent Ben Hicks, Arkansas transfer Rave Peavey and former Wisconsin signee D.J. Gillins. And in the East, new Temple coach Geoff Collins' roster features four quarterbacks who have combined for 11 collegiate pass attempts.

4. Edsall's encore
After a mediocre half-decade at Maryland (22-34 in four-plus seasons), Randy Edsall -- winningest coach in Connecticut history -- is back for his second stint with the Huskies. His rebuilding task will require time -- predecessor Bob Diaco left him with little -- but Edsall showed in his first go-round in Storrs what a little patience and perseverance will do (74-70 record, four consecutive bowl berths from 2007-10).

5. Stoking the 'Civil Conflict' (UCF vs. UConn)
On second thought, nevermind.

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USF lands 2 more football commitments

Exactly one week before USF's 2017 squad reports for preseason camp, the Bulls have picked up two commitments from the Class of '18.

Miami Central DE/OLB Dwayne Boyles tweeted late Sunday morning he intends to sign with the Bulls, roughly 30 minutes after Sleeper Athletes reported massive Hollywood Chaminade Madonna OG Sebastian Sainterling also has committed to USF.

The commitments -- both non-binding, of course -- are the ninth and 10th commitments for '18.

Sainterling (6-foot-2, 356 pounds) is deemed a three-star prospect by 247Sports, which also has him ranked 90th among state prospects. He has at least three SEC offers. 

Here's some of his Hudl footage.

Boyles (6-3, 225) reportedly also has offers from at least four other Group of Five programs including UCF and Tulane. Tito Benach of 247Sports considers him a sleeper in the '18 class.

Here's some of his highlight footage.

As for the current Bulls, they begin practice July 24. More details will be forthcoming.

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AAC preview: Ranking the conference's QB situations

For now, East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew (5) stands atop the Pirates' depth chart.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

For now, East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew (5) stands atop the Pirates' depth chart.

As a precursor to the American Athletic Conference Summer Kickoff and Media Days, we're spending the next few days previewing various parts of the conference, from schedules to story lines to significant players.

Today, we rank the teams according to their current quarterback situations. The more stability and proven production at the spot, the higher the ranking.

1. USF
Quinton Flowers, enough said. The two dudes behind him, Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun, appear pretty promising also.

2. Memphis
Six-foot-4 senior Riley Ferguson, arguably the conference's top QB draft prospect, threw for nearly 3,700 yards and a program-best 32 touchdowns last season. Considering three of his top four seniors (and nearly his whole offensive line) returns, Ferguson likely will flirt with 4,000 this fall.

3. Houston
Greg Ward Jr. (aka Houston's heart and soul) is gone, but Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen steps in. Say what you will about his turbulent tenure in College Station(including three pick-sixes in one game against 'Bama), there's zero substitute for experience, and Allen made 14 starts over two seasons. Moreover, senior Kyle Postma, who will challenge Allen in the preseason, has made 19 career appearances.

4. Cincinnati
For all the holes new Bearcats coach Luke Fickell must fill, he's got considerable experience behind center. Junior Hayden Moore has thrown for more than 3,600 yards, 20 TDs and 18 picks over the last two seasons while flip-flopping with Gunner Kiel, but is being pushed by Ross Trail. A 6-3 sophomore, Trail struggled in four appearances last season (six INTs, one TD), but was thrust into some tough situations (including the USF game, only his second career start).

5. SMU
Third-year coach Chad Morris' preseason derby could evolve into a three-player race. Sophomore Ben Hicks played in 12 games last season and may have the edge for now, but Arkansas transfer Rafe Peavey -- a former Under Armour All-American -- now is eligible, and juco transfer D.J. Gillins could be a wild card. A Wisconsin transfer, Gillins started Pearl River (Miss.) Community College's opener last year but suffered a season-ending injury in the game.

6. UCF
After a freshman season that ranged from solid to spotty, McKenzie Milton should take significant strides in 2017. His run game (104th nationally last season) can only improve, and he'll be protected by a veteran front. Knights fans should see more of the Marcus Mariota-type skill set that had Scott Frost enamored with Milton while the Knights second-year coach still was employed at Oregon.

7. East Carolina
Former juco transfer Gardner Minshew, who started two games and made five other appearances last season, is the No. 1 guy after a solid spring. Graduate transfer Thomas Sirk, a former Duke starter and co-MVP of the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl, ultimately will push him. Not a shabby QB situation for a club coming off a 3-9 season.

8. Navy
Junior Zach Abey did enough down the stretch last season (in place of injured starter Will Worth) and in spring practices to earn the starting gig. His triple-option chops will benefit from a strong offensive line (When is Navy not strong up front?) and an accommodating early schedule (FAU, Tulane) that will help him find his groove.

9. Tulsa
The two primary candidates to replace Golden Hurricane career passing leader Dane Evans are talented but unproven. Sophomore Chad President was the nation's ninth-ranked dual-threat quarterback by Rivals.com in 2014, but has thrown five career collegiate passes. Still, that's five more than 6-2 redshirt freshman Luke Skipper, who totaled more than 7,000 yards at Forney (Texas) High. On the upside, the rest of the skill spots are loaded.

10. Connecticut
New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, hired from Auburn to resuscitate the Huskies woeful unit, will oversee a preseason derby that could feature up to five candidates. Fifth-year senior Bryant Shirreffs has been the starter most of the last two years, but sophomore Donovan Williams started the final three games last fall. If new coach Randy Edsall wants to grow with his youngsters right away, he may turn to 6-5 freshman Jordan McAfee, who may have the most upside of the bunch.

11. Temple
Like Tulsa, the Owls are high on potential but virtually bereft of game experience. The four quarterbacks on the roster have combined for 11 college pass attempts.

12. Tulane 
Junior Glen Guiellette, who started 10 games last season, was beaten out in the spring by juco transfer Jonathan Banks. Yikes.

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Former USF, ZHS pitcher Austin Adams gets big-league call

Five years after being drafted, former USF and Zephyrhills High RHP Austin Adams has reached the big leagues.

Adams, a 26-year-old reliever, was promoted Friday from the Nationals' Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y. An eighth-round pick of the Angels in 2012, he was moved up with fellow right-hander Trevor Gott after LHP Sammy Solis was optioned to Syracuse, and Joe Ross was moved to the disabled list.

“I'm just so blessed, man,” Adams, who has worked more than 250 minor league innings (all in relief) told the Washington Post.

"I've been in the minor leagues for freakin' six, seven years now. Been up and down. And the inner struggles of, 'Am I good enough to do this?' And then finally understanding, 'Hey I can do this. I'm good enough to do this.' It's an awesome feeling. Absolutely.”

In 28 appearances for Syracuse, Adams struck out 53 in 36 innings, posting a 2.50 ERA. He broke through for USF as a junior in 2012, fanning 34 in 29.2 innings, posting five saves and a 1.82 ERA. 

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