While the Bulls remain focused on winning out and going to a bowl game, four USF players are assured that their seasons will continue after the season finale at Houston.
Seniors Kawika Mitchell, Chris Daley, Marquel Blackwell and Greg Walls were all selected Tuesday to play in the 2003 Rotary Gridiron Classic in Orlando.
“This is a well-deserved honor for all of these players,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said.
Mitchell received another honor, as he will also participate in the 2003 Hula Bowl in Hawaii Feb. 3.
“That’s a great tribute for first this football team and then also to Kawika,” Leavitt said. “The notoriety wouldn’t come to Kawika necessarily. The success of the team helps, and certainly, he’s done his part. I think it really helps the program.
“I’m sure the trip to Hawaii will have special meaning for Kawika with his father and brother living there.”
Mitchell leads the parade of Bulls into the postseason, as the middle linebacker has racked up 16 tackles for loss, No. 1 in the nation.
For Daley and Walls, the recognition was unexpected, as neither had even begun thinking about making off-season plans.
“Not at all,” Daley said. “I was just thinking I wanted to finish the season playing well.
“Things kind of fell into place.”
Walls agreed with Daley, noting that any thoughts of his future will only serve to take his mind off the present.
“It came to my mind, but I haven’t thought much about it,” Walls said. “If I start thinking about other things, it’ll only distract me.”
Walls trails only Mitchell on the Bulls in tackles for loss with 13, with four of those coming on sacks. Walls also picked up his first career interception Saturday in the second quarter vs. East Carolina.
Daley has 23 tackles with two sacks in 2002 after breaking the school record for sacks with 9 1/2 last season.
Mitchell’s appearance in the Hula Bowl will give USF representation in all four major postseason All-Star games. Mitchell is the first USF player to make the trip to Hawaii for the Hula Bowl, which has been played since 1947.
Kicker Bill Gramatica, currently with the Arizona Cardinals, played in the 2000 East-West Shrine Game and Kenyatta Jones and Anthony Henry participated in the next to last Blue-Gray All-Star Game in 2000.
USF has had at least two players in the Gridiron Classic since its inception in 1998 through 2001, starting with Trevor Hypolite, Chad Barnhardt and Ivan Alicot up to Jimmy Fitts and Anthony Williams.
The 2003 Gridiron Classic will be at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando Jan. 25 as a Team Florida plays Team USA.
“It helps people see we’re placing players in all different All-Star games,” Leavitt said. “We have had some in the Blue-Gray, the Gridiron and now the Hula Bowl.
“The publicity of it all throughout the country, you hope it helps. And you’re seeing a lot more of those things year after year.”
Taking their place
With consecutive victories against their future Conference USA brethren Southern Miss and East Carolina, the Bulls (5-2) have been garnering more attention as a team.
In cbs.sportsline.com’s weekly ranking of all 117 Division I-A teams, USF has leapt 15 spots from 76-61 in the span of two weeks.
However, the Bulls’ upward movement has been enough to catch the Golden Eagles, who are perched at 49.
Southern Miss tumbled seven spots following its 16-13 defeat at Raymond James Stadium, but reclaimed one spot with a 23-14 triumph against Cincinnati.
USF’s remaining C-USA foes don’t stack up as well in the ranking. Memphis (2-5, 1-3 in C-USA) sits at No. 81, while Houston (3-4, 1-3), the Bulls’ opponent in their season finale, finds itself at No. 88.
However, USF still holds one marquee contest with No. 22 Bowling Green at Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 16.
The Falcons are one of eight teams still undefeated in Division I-A after escaping with a 48-45 overtime win against Western Michigan Saturday.
The Bulls next play Nov. 2 at home vs. Division I-AA opponent Charleston Southern.
USF can also be found in a couple other polls.
In cbs.sportsline.com’s Non-BCS Top 10 from Oct. 14, the Bulls stood in seventh place.
The poll is designed for teams, other than Notre Dame, not in one of the six conferences (Big Ten, Pac-10, Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big XII and Southeastern) guaranteed automatic berths in a BCS bowl game.
In a similar poll conducted by espn.com, the Bulls occupy the eighth slot.
“If the Bulls keep winning, the independent just might go bowling,” said the espn.com poll.
Bowling Green stands atop the mountain at No. 1, with 6-1 TCU the lone C-USA team in front of USF.
Anthony Gagliano covers USF football and can be reached at email@example.com