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University Beat

USF Preps for Miami Beach Bowl, Taggart Pays for Students' Tickets

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Mark Schreiner
/
WUSF 89.7 News
USF Football head coach Willie Taggart speaks with reporters about preparations for the Miami Beach Bowl at a news conference at the USF Sun Dome Tuesday.

The University of South Florida football team is headed to its first bowl game in five years next week, and some students will be going along as a result of head coach Willie Taggart's generosity.

The hope is that USF fans will make the 300-mile trip across the state to see the Bulls (8-4, 6-2 in the American Athletic Conference) take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (11-2, 9-0 Conference USA champions) in next Monday's Miami Beach Bowl.

The game is at Marlins Park in Miami at 2:30 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN.

Taggart is making the trip a little easier for 500 USF students, picking up the $20 price tag on their tickets.

All those seats have already been claimed, and at a press conference Tuesday, Taggart said it was his way of thanking fans for their support.

"For students that have to pay to go to school and have a lot of other things going on and take the time out to come down to Ray Jay (Raymond James Stadium) and support our football team, even when we were 1-3, I just wanted to show them we appreciate them," Taggart said. "They're a big part of this - you know, we were 5-1 at home, it's been awhile since we've been that way here."

"Yeah, it wasn't the biggest crowd, but they were loud - they made you hear them," Taggart added. "For us, to build this program and take it to the next level where we all want to take it, it's going to have to start from the inside (of the university). We've got to get everybody from the inside and everyone on the outside will come with us."

Taggart credited his players and coaches for sticking together after not just a cold start to the season, but a series of off-field incidents, including a trio of player arrests and the murder of former player Elkino Watson shortly after the team's season opening win.

"Throughout the whole thing, we've done a great job of keeping things in perspective," Taggart said. "You might say that's coach-speak, but that's helped our football team out tremendously - us worrying about us  and not everything on the outside.  What's going to happen is always going to happen and you can't get caught up in it."

Taggart also said he's trying not to get caught up in the fact that Monday's game will be a homecoming of sorts for him.

He was the starting quarterback in 1994 through 1998 for WKU, where he set 11 school records and his  jersey number is now retired. After graduating, he became an assistant coach for the Hilltoppers before serving as head coach from 2010 to 2012. He was hired at USF in December 2012 after posting a 16-21 record with two winning seasons at WKU.

But all the same, Taggart is trying to treat them like any other opponent.

"It's another game," he said with a laugh. "It's my alma mater and it's different, I guess, because of that and the relationship, but for me personally, just keeping everything in perspective."

Taggart recently agreed to a five-year contract extension with USF through 2020. Terms of the deal have not been announced.