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USF seniors reflect as college careers wind down

TAMPA - When Jerrell Young arrived on the University of South Florida campus five years ago, he remembers the message then-coach Jim Leavitt gave to all the freshmen, letting them know their collegiate career would be at an end before they knew it. It was a realization Young, the Bulls' senior safety, and the 16 other seniors on the football team began to experience as they went through preparations for their final regular-season game as members of the program. "I was just thinking about that earlier in the locker room," senior offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren said after Monday's practice. "I was sitting down next to Mike Walsh and we were talking about it. He was like, 'Man, it's crazy. It seems like just the other day we were starting, just coming up for camp.' I was like, 'Yeah, you're right. It's just about that time.' "It's kind of surreal. It's kind of one of those things that you hoped would happen but hoped would never happen. It's kind of crazy."
The 17-member class was honored during a ceremony before Thursday night's regular-season finale against No. 22 West Virginia, which was not complete at press time. Among the highlights of their tenure at USF were 29 wins, five shy of the best four-year mark for any USF class, and three consecutive victories in bowl games. The majority of the group also will leave USF as college graduates, with 12 expected to have completed the necessary coursework for their undergraduate degrees by the end of the semester. Their final season has been frustrating, with a program-worst four-game losing streak and losses in six of seven games following a 4-0 start, which put them in a position of needing a victory over the visiting Mountaineers just to become bowl eligible. But USF coach Skip Holtz commended the 17-member group for its character and leadership, which he believes shined throughout the course of the year in the face of adversity. "I have great respect for them for the way they have helped lead this football team," Holtz said. "It's easy to lead when you're winning. It's easy to lead when those four plays go your direction and you're 9-1 and top 10 in the country. Everybody's willing to lead at that point. "But who wants to lead when everybody kind of gives up on you, when everybody kind of throws there arms up, when people don't believe in you, when you haven't been able to get it done? That's when the real leadership comes through. "That's why I have such great respect … for what they've had to endure and what they've had to go through, because it has not been easy to lose games on the last play of the game when you work so hard and put your heart, your soul and your effort and just everything into it and you come up short. You've got to roll your sleeves up and you've got to go do it again next week, and each and every week this football team has showed up to play." Senior offensive lineman Chaz Hine was hoping that leadership would be present Thursday, when the Bulls had a chance to send the seniors out on a positive note. A win not only would give the group a win in its final home game but also would likely extend the season, with a trip to a postseason bowl game being the reward. "I think the team understands what's happening and what's going on," Hine said, "but leaders need to step up and they need to speak to players and they need to motivate players, and seniors and the leaders on the team need to show and teach the younger guys what it's all about and how we hopefully move past what's happened in the past and move forward with a positive energy."

aadkins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7616
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