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Young player makes impact on struggling defense

Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 1, 2012 08:11



True freshman defensive lineman Eric Lee made his first career start Saturday against Syracuse and had six tackles in the game.

Though the USF football team’s defense may have seen better days — having given up three potentially game-winning drives in the last six games and being largely responsible for USF’s six-game losing streak — some younger players have been making the most of their opportunities.

The most recent new face on the USF defense is true freshman defensive lineman Eric Lee, who made his first career start of the season against Syracuse and accounted for six tackles in the team’s 37-36 loss.

An injury to incumbent starter junior transfer Tevin Mims opened a spot in the lineup for the true freshman, who said he had one week to prepare for his first start.

“I was able to step up, and throughout the week I was getting reps and practicing,” he said. “And I had a blocked (extra point) earlier in the season, which gave me a little more assurance in my play.”

Much like redshirt freshman Thor Jozwiak, who made his first career start on the other side of the ball in the same game, Lee said the experience was unique.

“It was breathtaking, going into the game, and you were like, ‘Oh snap,’ I get so many reps tonight,” he said. “Not everybody gets to play D-I football, especially start, so it was an honor and I was appreciative. It was a great feeling being able to do more and contribute,” he said.

On a defense that has had few reasons to be optimistic — one that has allowed 23 or more points in its last seven games — coach Skip Holtz said Lee’s success despite his youth was a point of encouragement.

“He made some mistakes, but he made them a million miles an hour,” Holtz said. “He flew around and he made some plays. I think he’s a bright spot right now.”

Lee’s career at USF began early, when he enrolled in the 2012 spring semester as an early enrollee and got a chance to practice with the team during USF’s spring practices. He said the extra time allowed him to be more prepared for the starting role.

“I wanted to get a head start on the incoming freshmen,” Lee said. “So going through the process I learned a lot of things, and the transition was a lot easier. Being where I am now, I’m glad that I came in early.”

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Lee hails from Daphne, Ala., where a majority of his family lives, and has had to adjust to living more than 500 miles away, he said.

“That was probably the most difficult thing about making the move,” he said. “My mom probably took it the hardest, but I’m slowly transitioning, and now it’s easier. I’m getting used to living in Tampa — I don’t have to go back home every three weeks or so.”

As for his mother, Lee said he would get a chance for a reunion when the Bulls head to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats the day after Thanksgiving.

“My mom is actually coming up for Thanksgiving,” he said. “So hopefully she’ll bring some good food and we can spend some time together.”

Lee and the Bulls defense will look to break their recent slump when they take on the Connecticut Huskies. Both teams are vying to win their first conference game of the season.

The game kicks off at Raymond James Stadium at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

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