Bulls sophomore defensive Ryne Giddins picked up right where he left off last season, only this year there are a new set of circumstances.
This year, Giddins, who started two games while playing behind then-seniors Craig Marshall and David Bedford last year, has a starting role staring him directly in the face.
"He's certainly stepped his game up," USF defensive ends coach Vernon Hargreaves said. "There were guys in front of him last year, and the idea was to go take (their job) but it was a little bit of a luxury (to have Giddins as a backup). So now, he knows he has a chance to win the job and he's starting to perform that way. If he keeps working the way he is, he'll have it."
After an injury riddled and somewhat disappointing freshman season, Giddins, from Armwood High School in Tampa, started to make considerable strides in the second half of last season. He finished with 19 tackles and was third on the team with 3.5 sacks while playing behind Marshall and Bedford most of the year.
Giddins has carried his strong play over to the spring, leaping to the first-team on the depth chart along with senior Patrick Hampton, while drawing continuous praise from his coaches.
"Right now, I think he's doing everything," said USF coach Skip Holtz, who will watch his team conclude spring practice with a final scrimmage today on campus at 5 p.m. "He's got a great attitude, great work habits, but I think he can go from a guy who was a non-starter to a guy who is a real difference maker."
But despite being the favorite to start at defensive end, Giddins and Hampton are keeping a humble approach while being pushed by guys like senior Claude Davis and sophomore Julius Forte, who have also had a good spring.
"We don't look at it as the next two in line," Giddins said. "We have to compete. It's not about, 'Oh, just because I was second last year doesn't mean I'm going to be first'. I still have to fight for my starting position. I just thank God for the opportunity to be that starter."
"P-Hampton, he's a real good guy. That's going to be a guy that I'm going to lean on, he's going to lean on me and we're going to look for each other to make plays."
Said Hampton on stepping in to a bigger role: "It's definitely motivation, but it's also kind of like pressure. I haven't been in that position for a while now. I started a couple games last year, and Ryne started a couple games last year too, but we haven't really felt that pressure of being that guy."
To take that step to becoming a different-maker, as Holtz phrased it, Giddins said he's working on "technique to put me in a better leverage on the offensive lineman when he's got reach or I got him - keep that leverage."
And not that it's lacking, but Hargreaves said Giddins has to continue to focus on his consistency from play-to-play with the assumption of a larger role come next fall.
"Just his overall play - being able to play for extended periods of time, which is not sometime he had to do last year because we had David," Hargreaves said. "So now, if he has a chance to be the starter, he's probably going to play a few more plays a week. Just being able to fight through it and play a few more snaps is the biggest thing. "
Giddins, one of the highest rated recruits in program history when he signed with the Bulls in 2009, said he's ready to do whatever it takes to succeed on the field.
"I'm definitely willing to take on a challenge and step up and fill the shoes that they left for me," Giddins said. "That's what I'm ready to do, willing to do. I'm ready to put in the effort, the pain, the sweat, and tears. I'm willing to do it."