South Florida's Grothe a natural under center

The only thing that's not old school about South Florida redshirt sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe is that he's not old. Name another player described as having "moxie," a word that ran out of eligibility years ago.

Yet Bulls coach Jim Leavitt plucked it out of thin air to describe how Grothe took over the offense last season as a redshirt freshman. He led South Florida to a 9-4 record, including a 24-19 upset victory at No. 7 West Virginia.

"I knew that he had the moxie to really be something special," Leavitt said. "And I saw it during two-a-days. How he was going to do, I didn't know. I knew he was a competitor. I knew he was a good football player. I don't want to give him too many accolades yet."

As Leavitt thought out loud, an earlier play popped into his head, from December 2005, when the Bulls prepared to play North Carolina State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

"We put our young guys out there and let them scrimmage," Leavitt said. "And Matt threw a seam route, got on top of the ball, to [wide receiver] Taurus Johnson. And I grabbed him right then, I said, 'Matt, you're going to get a great shot in the spring.' I knew right then that we got to really look at this guy. He's pretty impressive."

The 6-foot, 211-pound Grothe is a native of Lakeland, Fla. He threw for 2,576 yards with a 63.7 percent completion rate and also led the Bulls in rushing, with 622 yards and nine touchdowns. Some of those yards Grothe got by being fast. Some he got by putting his head down.

"I played against Matt in high school," said senior center Nick Capogna, who grew up in Clearwater, Fla. "I knew he was talented. I remember I was a senior linebacker -- I thought I was a good athlete back in the day -- and he was a sophomore, this little quarterback just running by me. 'Oh, God. Who the hell was that?' … He's a playmaker. You get him on the field, he starts making plays. He earned the respect. He's a tough kid. He was getting in D-linemen's face. They would say things, he's pushing them. You like blocking for a guy like that."

Grothe is not afraid to turn that mouth on his teammates.

"He'll let you know if you mess up," Capogna said. "That's what makes him a player. He's just got such a passion to win. That's the thing that's so unique."

And the older players are cool with it?

"You see him play," Capogna said. "how could you not?"

Grothe said his personality on the field has not wavered from the first time he played at age 6. He is proud of the moxie. But there's also another definition for the word: "know-how, expertise." Grothe believes that is his greatest asset. After a season as the starter -- he took over in the second game after senior Pat Julmiste suffered an injury in the opener -- the game no longer moves at fast forward.

"I've got a lot more weight," Grothe said Tuesday. "I've gotten faster. I weighed 190 at the end of last season. I weighed 211 this morning. … I feel 100 times better. I can't wait until the season starts."

Grothe said he gained 20 pounds while recuperating from the broken right fibula, which occurred in the first half of USF's 24-7 defeat of East Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl. The good news is that he had a doctor's pass out of winter conditioning. The bad news is that he had to report at 5 a.m. with his teammates, anyway. And watch.

"I used to be so tired after conditioning that I went back to sleep," Grothe said. "This year, sitting there and not doing something for an hour and a half, I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep."

Leavitt wants Grothe to do what all coaches want all young quarterbacks to do: Protect the ball. Grothe threw 15 touchdowns last season, but he also threw 14 interceptions.

"He tried to force too many things at times, because a number of times it works," Leavitt said. He left unsaid that a number of times it didn't.

Grothe is a quick study. By his second start last season, he felt comfortable enough to mix humor into his huddle lectures.

Late in the 24-17 victory over Central Florida, Capogna said, Grothe came in and quoted the college football movie, "The Program": "Let's put the women and children to bed and go look for dinner."

The laughter relaxed the Bulls and they went on to win the game. To have a redshirt freshman quarterback come into the huddle in his second start and crack a joke takes more than a little you know what.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.