Making a name, staking his claim

When freshman Johnny Peyton came to USF, there were lofty expectations. After a quiet start to the season, USF’s most explosive wide receiver is beginning to show what all the fuss was about.

“The Terrell Owens of this team?” said the 6-foot-5, 185-pound receiver from Pasco High school after he learned USF quarterback Pat Julmiste compared him to the star receiver of the Philadelphia Eagles.

But if making big plays makes Peyton similar to Owens, Julmiste may have a point.

Even without a reception in his first three games, Peyton has set a new USF freshman record with 356 receiving yards. He has two touchdowns and has caught passes of 50, 56, and 77 yards. With 14 grabs, Peyton averages 25.4 yards per catch.

But does Peyton have the outspoken personality Owens is known for?

“Johnny is a wild guy,” Julmiste said. “You need some of that sometimes on the team — especially on the offensive side of the ball — because it gets us going. Oh yeah, he’s the most confident.”

USF coach Jim Leavitt has been hesitant to throw too much praise Peyton’s way.

“Peyton is still learning,” Leavitt said before the East Carolina game. “He’s starting to get a grasp of it all. He has a lot of talent and ability. If he works harder and understands it all, then there’s a lot more. He’s still young.” It could be that Leavitt doesn’t want the acclaim going straight to the freshman’s head.

“The T.O of the team though, man?” Peyton said. “He’s got me thinking though. That is my favorite wide receiver.”

Peyton got his first career start against UAB when junior Joe Bain went down with a groin injury. He has started two straight games.

The Bulls travel to Cincinnati this weekend for a game laced with bowl implications. The Bearcats look to get their sixth win of the season and become bowl eligible. The Bulls likely need to win their next two games for a shot at the postseason.

Peyton knows USF will have to win in conditions the team isn’t used to, with forecasts showing temperatures dipping into the 60s.

“I just don’t know about this cold weather this week,” Peyton said. “I’m going to Sports Authority. I’m going to have a mask and two under armors — one white, one green. I’m going to get hand warmers. I’m going to be right. As long as you’re moving you’re alright, but if you’re standing still, it’s not pleasant.”

Cold or not, Peyton hopes to catch a lot of passes and Julmiste intends on finding him.

“Having a great guy like Johnny Peyton,” Julmiste said, “he could be double covered and I’ll still try to give him a shot at it because he’s a great athlete. He goes up and gets it.”

Though Peyton is just beginning his career, it seems that along with his confidence is a sense of urgency to earn a bowl berth.

“Right now we’re trying to get to our first bowl game and we do feel we’re going to make it,” Peyton said. “No doubt about that in my mind. I mean, of course I’m confident. I’m always confident. The T.O. of the team, though? I guess you could say that.”