Junior cornerback Quenton Washington leaned back in his locker at Raymond James Stadium, a grin washing over his face.
Washington and his teammates had just completed their 20th practice in 18 days since fall camp officially began Aug. 5. As soon as they showered and grabbed a quick sandwich on campus Sunday, the Bulls hopped aboard buses headed toward RJS for FanFest, the annual meet-and-greet session with fans and boosters.
When reminded that the Bulls have their first day off from practice today - the fall semester opens - is when Washington flashed a smile.
"It will be nice,'' said Washington, who has been slowed by a hamstring injury but says he is nearly 100 percent. "You get to put your feet up for a little while.''
In 12 days, USF will take the field at RJS for the first game under Coach Skip Holtz when Division I-AA Stony Brook pays a visit. Sunday's FanFest and today's off day from practice provide USF's only respite until the season opener.
While USF's stay in Vero Beach gave Holtz and his staff an opportunity to get to know the players better and create a pro-style camp atmosphere, Holtz said the next week and a half is critical.
"When I look at where this football team is on the field, I am excited about the progress we've made during Stage 4, but I still think we're going to need the next two weeks of polish to turn and get this football team where we need to be,'' Holtz said Sunday. "We need to improve in some key areas.''
The offense remains the biggest concern. After a lackluster performance in the team's first scrimmage Aug. 14 in Vero Beach, the offense performed better in Saturday's closed scrimmage on campus. Holtz said the receiving corps is starting to take shape, and that quarterback B.J. Daniels had an impressive outing Saturday running and throwing.
Not surprisingly, Daniels was one of the most popular Bulls at Sunday's FanFest, drawing long lines of autograph seekers. But the line to get Holtz's autograph was the longest, stretching from the south end zone to past midfield for more than two hours. University officials finally had to cut the line off after Holtz signed hundreds of autographs for nearly two hours.
"(The fans are) the reason I enjoy this day so much,'' Holtz said prior to giving his hand a workout. "It also means we're getting close to kickoff. As we call it - Stage 4 is over - and we are now beginning Stage 5, which really gets into our season.''
Lutz resident Scott Atkins and his son, Scott Jr., headed straight for the long line to get Holtz's signature when they arrived at FanFest. They later got freshman cornerback Terrence Mitchell, a standout at Hillsborough High last season, to sign a football and take a photo with Scott Jr.
"I'm excited,'' said Atkins, who earned a pair of master's degrees from USF and has been a season-ticket holder the past seven years. "I think Skip is bringing a lot of excitement. A lot of people see us as a dark horse, but I think we can have a good team.''
What did Holtz say to them when they finally got to the front of the line?
"Sorry you had to wait in the heat,'' Atkins said.
Following a brief news conference, Holtz seemed as excited to talk to the fans and they were to get his autograph during his first FanFest since taking over the program in January.
"He is genuinely the person you see,'' offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "Some guys will smile but be miserable out there, but that isn't him.''
In 12 days, Holtz finally has a chance to make fans smile for something other than being the new face of the program.
NotesHoltz announced he awarded walk-on running back/receiver Joel Miller, the player at the center of Jim Leavitt's ouster, a scholarship Sunday morning. ... Sophomore offensive lineman Josh Garvin has left the program to focus on dealing with personal issues, Holtz said. ... USF is holding a meeting for prospective walk-ons at 4 p.m. today at the main athletics building.