- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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South Florida's Bobby Eveld is a true freshman walk-on quarterback who just beat Miami and who might make his first career start Saturday against Connecticut in a game to decide the Big East champion. He sounds as excited about all that as a guy getting ready to file his taxes.
Eveld may or may not repeat his performance against Miami. Rookie quarterbacks are prone to ups and downs, and the Huskies surely will try to pressure him into making mistakes. But he's not going to let his emotions take over.
"I'm not going to put too much pressure on myself," he said. "I like to calm myself down. I don't want to think about it as I'm a true freshman in a big spot. I'm just going to treat it like any other game."
Eveld showed his unflappability last week when the Bulls turned to him in the second half at Miami. Starter B.J. Daniels couldn't move on an injured quadriceps muscle, and South Florida was clinging to a 3-0 lead. On the fourth play of the second half, offensive coordinator Todd Fitch called for a bootleg pass to get Eveld into the flow.
"I saw it come out of his hand, and he zipped in there with no hesitation," Fitch said. "I said to myself, 'He seems confident.' He threw some balls in there and saw open receivers and did a great job of throwing it away when nothing was there."
Most impressively, Eveld led a nine-play, 81-yard drive to tie the game at 17 with two minutes remaining in regulation. He completed three clutch throws on the march and finished with a 1-yard sneak into the end zone. The Bulls won in overtime.
Eveld said after the big win that people he'd never met before came up to him and offered congratulations. Before last week, most people probably had no idea who he was.
Despite being 6-foot-5 and putting up good numbers for a strong high school program (Tampa's Jesuit High), Eveld only received offers from Division II and III schools far from home. He wanted to go to South Florida, but during his senior year then-coach Jim Leavitt told him he didn't fit the team's offensive system.
When Leavitt was fired in January, Skip Holtz and his staff scrambled to put together a recruiting class, and they had no backup quarterbacks on scholarship. They signed the athletic Jamius Gunsby but needed depth at the position. Eveld brought over some tapes, and they invited him in as a preferred walk-on.
"He went through a coaching change before his senior season, and that had some effect as he was kind of lost in the shuffle," Fitch said. "His arm strength was good but he doesn't have a cannon, and he's got good feet but they're not great.
"But when we watched the tape, we thought he was pretty good. I was surprised that he didn't have an [FCS] or Sun Belt or Mid-American Conference kind of offer."
When Gunsby got hurt in training camp, Eveld quickly assumed the No. 2 job and has never relinquished it.
"When I first saw him, I was like, 'Man, who is that kid?'" Bulls receiver Dontavia Bogan says. "When they said he was a walk-on, I was like, 'wow.'"
Eveld got some garbage time in games earlier this season and took plenty of practice reps as the second-stringer. He has taken more snaps with the first team in practice since Daniels got hurt against Louisville. Fitch calls him an attentive guy who soaks everything in.
Playing Eveld instead of Daniels changes the Bulls' offense. With Daniels, Fitch could call some zone-read plays and designed quarterback runs. Eveld is an excellent athlete; he starred as a baseball catcher in high school and was drafted in the 50th round by the New York Mets. But he's not the same kind of scrambler as Daniels.
"I'm able to run around, but usually I don't get far," he said. "I could probably avoid a couple of slow guys if I needed to."
Daniels has practiced this week but is still limited. Eveld might get the call in a pressure situation, and his best might not be good enough to beat UConn. But if it is and he's the toast of Tampa, don't expect his demeanor to change. In his mind, he's still the guy no Division I team wanted.
"I don't want it to really settle in," he said. "I don't want to start looking at myself as a really good quarterback because I might stop working as hard as I do."