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Choosing a different battlefield

Don’t tell Bulls coach Jim Leavitt, but the main reason star defensive end George Selvie came to USF was his aversion to practice.

After receiving only one scholarship offer from a Division I school, Selvie considered following his father’s career path by enlisting in the Navy.

“I gave him the entrance test for the Navy, I was a recruiter, and he did OK, but it wasn’t what I wanted for him,” said Selvie’s father George Sr., who spent 20 years in the Navy and retired a first class petty officer. “I told him he had to practice a little more and he said ‘I’m not studying that much.’ and became serious about football.”

The lone scholarship offer came from USF, and after a visit to the campus Selvie quit preparing for a naval career to focus on football.

“Well, I’m certainly glad he didn’t go into the Navy,” Leavitt said. “You know how much I like practice, so I’m glad he chose to pursue football instead of practicing for (the Navy).”

Following a rookie year that included being named a Football Writers Association of America/Scripps Freshman All-American, Selvie focused his summer training sessions on creating havoc in the backfield.

The work paid off as the 6-foot-4-inch, 242-pound Selvie become the most prolific pass rusher in team history.

In less than two years, Selvie has already matched Stephen Nicholas’ team-record 20 sacks and is 14 tackles for a loss shy of breaking another record held by Nicholas, a fourth-round selection of the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. Selvie set the Bulls’ single-season record for sacks in six games and his 14.5 this year total more than nine teams in the NCAA, including Nebraska.

He is listed as the top defensive end in his class by and was the only sophomore named to the American Football Coach’s Association All-American team.

All this coming from a player who came into the year unsure if he was able to perform one of the most basic drills of a defender: Tackling.

“I came a long way, I couldn’t tackle at all,” Selvie said. “They said the most improved player was George Selvie and I was like ‘What are you talking about’ and they said they were talking about tackling because I couldn’t do it.”

While playing at Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, Selvie focused on trying to protect quarterbacks instead of mauling them.

“He came in as a ninth-grader and wanted to be the center on the offensive line,” Pine Forest coach Jerry Pollard said. “(Former) Alabama coach (Mike) Schula was in recruiting (Selvie’s friend) offensive lineman Mike (Johnson). While he’s a good player, I told Shula he’d fire his assistants because they weren’t getting the best player and it turned out they all got fired.”

As other teams felt he was undersized for an offensive lineman, the Bulls were drawn by his constant energy and after one visit to his home; Leavitt offered Selvie a place on his team.

“He played so hard that I’d take him no matter what,” Leavitt said. “(The coaching staff) sent me up there to see him because I had to make the decision if he was big enough for us. I went up there and I had him stand up in his living room and I said ‘Why did you send me up here?’ I told George ‘I just hope you’ll come to South Florida because we want you bad.'”

Upon his arrival in 2005, Selvie used his redshirt season adjusting to defensive end, a position better suited for his speed – Selvie runs a 4.72 40-yard dash.

Although he wasn’t playing, he utilized his time in the weight room and won USF’s Overachiever Award for excellent work in the team’s strength and conditioning program.

During his first year on the field, Selvie quickly proved he could tackle, finishing third with 84, along with 5.5 sacks.

“He works so hard and practices and plays like an All-American. If you want someone to go out and earn it, George fits that bill to the T,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “He is one of the hardest-working guys and he is one of the more intense guys and practices the hardest.”

The 20-year-old followed his debut season with arguably the most dominant performance of any defender in the NCAA.

Selvie led the nation in tackles for a loss since recording six against Elon in the opener and needs just one more in the Sun Bowl to break Western Michigan’s Jason Babin’s record of 31 set in 2002.

“George has played football all of his life and has done well but this year he’s been amazing and his talent has really come forward,” Selvie’s mom Twana said. “I didn’t know he had all of that in him.”

His performance on the field hasn’t gone unnoticed, as Selvie was in Charlotte, N.C., Monday attending an awards banquet after being named a finalist for the Bronko Nargurski Award for the nation’s top defender.

Selvie is also among the eight candidates left for the Ted Hendricks Award for the top defensive lineman.

After the stellar campaign, Selvie is unsure of how he’ll follow it up.

“It’s going to be tough next year,” Selvie said. “Some people might fall off, but I realize I have to top this year and that’s going to be hard to do. Someone asked me that and I said ‘I don’t know.'”

During the offseason, he hopes to add bulk to his frame, something that has been a struggle for Selvie all his life, and work on conditioning at his parents home in Pensacola.

“I don’t know how he doesn’t gain any weight because he eats me out of a house and home,” George Sr. said. “He says I train him too hard so he doesn’t want me to go in the garage with him when he’s working out. He says I train him like I’m still training military people.”

Selvie would rather be on the football field practicing instead of a naval base.

“He has done a great job because he has a great focus and work ethic, besides his natural talent,” Leavitt said. “He has a number of steps to take if he wants to get to the NFL but he can do it.”