Sophomores lead the way

Six weeks into its most successful season ever, the No. 5 USF football team has found that youth has its advantages.

At 11 years old, USF has the youngest program ever to achieve a Top-5 ranking, and, between sophomores Matt Grothe, George Selvie and Nate Allen, some of the best performances of the season have come from underclassmen.

“They’re doing a good job,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “They’re just going and practicing real hard, and learning the game plan and doing all those things. You always recruit toward that, but you never know how it’s going to turn out. We’re just happy they’ve been able to come along as fast as they have.”

Possibly the biggest impact for the Bulls this year has come from defensive end George Selvie. After posting 84 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2006, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound sophomore has made national headlines this year, recording 30 tackles and leading the nation in sacks (10.5) and tackles for a loss (17.5) after five games.

According to Selvie, a major reason for the younger players’ success this season is the leadership provided by the veterans on the team.

“The younger guys play for the seniors,” Selvie said. “As a young guy I try to let them show me what to do. I really look up to them.”

Defensive back Nate Allen, another underclassman, is also making big plays for the Bulls this year. In the Bulls’ 26-23 overtime win at Auburn, Allen led the team in tackles (seven), had an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The performance earned him the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded weekly for the nation’s best defensive performance. Like Selvie, Allen – who is tied with Ben Moffitt for the team lead in interceptions (three) – attributes his success to the leadership he receives on the field.

“The whole secondary really helps me,” Allen said. “(Auburn) was really like my first big game like that and everyone was just talking to me, telling me just to focus and that they put their pants on just like we do, so just go out there and play the game.”

As a member of the Bulls’ defensive backfield, Allen gets to take advice from seniors Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins, who, with a combined 69 starts, are one of the nation’s most experienced cornerback tandems. It hasn’t taken long for the young safety to make an impression on the seniors.

“I know he’s going to be one of the great ones here,” Williams said of Allen. “He’s a hard worker and always comes to practice ready to go.”

Quarterback Matt Grothe – an underclassman himself – has led the Bulls to a 5-0 start this season and also feels a lot of the success can be attributed to the team’s veterans, whose leadership possesses an almost contagious quality.

“(The success of the underclassmen) just shows how well our seniors have rubbed off on the younger guys,” Grothe said. “We have a lot of good leaders on the team this year, and it shows, because the younger guys have kind of taken that role too.”

As the Bulls continue toward their goal of a Big East championship, they will look for contributions from every player – young and old. But as the senior players finish their careers at USF, they feel comfortable leaving the team in the capable hands of such a talented group of underclassmen.

“They’ve had a huge effect,” Williams said. “I think it’s important for the young guys to step up and show that they can really play. I know once (the seniors) are gone they’ll continue to grow and step up and carry this team.”