USF Fans, do I have a treat for you. Yesterday, I sat down with Mike Love about his evolution from high school to where he is now preparing for the NFL draft. With his tremendous frame of 6-4, 266 lbs, plus with this highlight tape, it is not hard to see why teams are “loving” Love. He came to the program under the radar and has helped USF launch back into the national spotlight. Without further ado, here is my interview with Mike.
Nick: You’re a local Florida player from Countryside, tell me what did you like the most about growing up there?
Mike: I would say my favorite part about growing up in the Clearwater area is the beach. Every weekend, me and my friends, would go down to the beach for the day. We were young so we would go down to the beach and hang out there all day. Maybe go to the Pier and stay there all night. Sometimes they had little shows during the night. Relatively, Clearwater isn’t that big of a city. So, I liked how close everything was. Those were my favorite things about it.
Nick: When was the moment that you realized you were really good at playing football?
Mike: I would say my sophomore year. Because in my Freshman year, I went out to play receiver. If you had seen me in high school, you wouldn’t think defensive end. I was very skinny and lanky. I looked like a Slim Jim. But they moved me to defensive end. I was like, I don’t know if this is for me. But I continued to play it and I got moved up my freshman year to varsity. My sophomore year, I finished with 10 sacks and I ended up getting my first offer. That’s when I started to take things seriously. My coaches sat me down and said, “Hey you got your first offer”. I was like, “Oh wow”, because I wasn’t really expecting anything after that year. They said more offers will probably keep coming in. That’s when I realized football was my destiny.
Nick: What made you choose USF as your school?
Mike: Growing up, my mom worked at USF and my high school coaches: Patrick St. Louis played there and Jared Davis was a grad assistant there. So I had been there once before for a quick visit when St. Louis took me, and I really liked it. It was close to home and close to my mom. Trying to go all the way to another state would be hard for her to come and watch some of my games. So I wanted her and my family to come and support me. What a better feeling than to be in my hometown where your family can come watch you play. Really, just the closeness of it. I’m a family man. I really love my family so I had to stay home.
Nick: You have had some great moments here, what were some tough moments you have had to persevere through?
Mike: I would say my injuries. When I found out I was having a 3rd operation on my knee that was probably one of my toughest moments. I told my athletic trainer that my knee was bothering me, and he just told me to get an MRI and it was probably nothing. That’s when they told me I would be out 6-8 weeks on crutches. It crushed me, but I never looked down on it. I continued to rehab and get back at it. It all worked out today though. I’m 100% and I feel great.
Nick: Some people in the media view bowl games as meaningless exhibition matches? How do you and the team view bowl games?
Mike: We view it, ever since I’ve been to the first bowl game down in Miami, as another opportunity to show the country what we are about. We never looked at is as a fun game or a playoff game. It was just another game to show people that we could have been in a better bowl game and this is who we are as a program.
Nick: Take me into the dreaded UCF game. From a player’s perspective what hurt more: losing to UCF or losing the way the team did?
Mike: I would say the second one. When our offense went out and scored and was ready to kick the ball off. Our defense was ready to go and get a three-and-out to go to overtime. Them taking that kick back was the hardest part because we had a plan to stop them, but it didn’t work. Even though we got the ball back with plenty of time, we couldn’t complete the game. We know we had it, but we just couldn’t finish.
Follow up Question: Do you guys feel you could beat anyone after that game?
Mike: Yes. After that game it was tough because we knew who the better team was, but they just finished. I still think we were the better team.
Nick: My favorite play of yours was in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl when you came around the edge and forced the game winning fumble on Jake Bentley, subsequently ending USF’s bowl drought. How did it feel knowing that you etched your name in this program in such a big way?
Mike: It was a great feeling to see us win and see the reaction from all of us because the bowl game in Miami, we had lost. Then we had lost our coach (Taggart) during the postseason. So it was just a great feeling for us to come out on top. Going from 2-10 to 11-2, that was our goal. That was one of the greatest feelings we had ever felt because all our hard work finally showed. Finishing out 11-2 against an SEC team showed us who we really are.
Nick: So, let’s switch gears. Focusing more on the draft, what are your greatest strengths heading into the draft?
Mike: I would say my get-off, my speed, and my motor. I would also say my awareness. I’m very aware of what’s going on around me. I can understand schemes.
Nick: Obviously, USF went with a new coaching philosophy by going out and getting Charlie Strong and Brian Jean-Mary. How has he prepared you for the draft?
Mike: They prepared me really well before the season. We have a great head coach. I talk to him some days, even today, and we talk about stuff like getting better every single day and you have to trust the process. There is going to be some days where you don’t get the time that you want. It’s all about trusting and not getting frustrated.
Nick: Is there a piece of advice from any of your coaches, high school and here, that has always helped you and will continue as you prepare for the draft?
Mike: Yeah, I would say my high school coaches Jared Davis, coach Springer and St. Louis got me to be the player I am today. They helped me get from high school into college. They’re always texting me, “Keep it up” and other nice words of advice. Also, coach Cogdell, my d-line coach, at USF, he knows the game and he talks to me all the time about stuff.
Nick: Where do you see yourself fitting on an NFL roster?
Mike: Well, I play defensive end now, but some scouts told me they could see me in a 3-4. I told them that I’m training to be both a linebacker and a defensive end, with my hand in the dirt. So I’m pretty much training to be versatile. Whatever scheme scouts or general managers or teams see me as I’ll play.
Nick: Have any teams reached out to you?
Mike: Yeah, I’ve talked to a couple when I was at the Gridiron Showcase. I was talking to a lot of scouts over there. We had some pretty good conversations. At the Gridiron showcase, all 32 teams were there and I was able to talk to most of them.
Rapid Fire questions:
Nick: What is your favorite pre-game meal?
Mike: I like pasta. I like the real heavy stuff. I like pasta with a piece of chicken breast on the side.
Nick: What is your favorite thing to do outside of football?
Mike: I like to go out and eat with my teammates, sometimes we go back and play some 2K. I’m starting to read more and am liking to read now.
Follow up question: who is your best friend on the team?
Mike: I would say Kevin Bronson. He’s also my roommate.
Nick: Is there a NFL player you try to model your game after?
Mike: I like Ja’Deveon Clowney and Khalil Mack.
Nick: Do you have any concluding remarks that you want to say to Bulls Nation?
Mike: I just want to say thank you for everything. It was a pleasure and I look forward to my next journey and put you guys on. I’ll never forget my time here.
It was an honor to talk with Mike about his future. No matter what happens with Mike coming up here, we support him. Thank you Mike for all the great years you have given Bulls Nation and good-luck no matter what you do. Bulls Nation will always remember you.