Verpaele ready to take the field for USF

The offseason for a typical South Florida football player — from the time he plays in a bowl game until the first spring practice — is a little less than three months.

For senior safety Danny Verpaele, on the other hand, the 2006 offseason lasted more than 15 months. After a sophomore season that saw him make 39 tackles and start in five games, he looked like he would have two strong seasons left at USF.

Verpaele, however, would not get a chance to take the field in 2007.

“I was excited to get back to work after the ( bowl game,” Verpaele said. “We were coming off a strong season and I was ready to contribute.”

He was forced to sit out the entire 2007 season for violating team rules. It was something that could have broken his spirit.

Instead, Verpaele used the season to improve himself.

“I didn’t think about it or try to take it in a negative way,” he said. “I just tried to stay positive in every way I could and thought about every way I could get better.”

The return of Verpaele is a morale booster for a defensive unit that lost seniors Mike Jenkins, Trae Williams, Ben Moffitt, Woody George and Richard Clebert.

He said he hopes to provide some of the senior leadership that departed after the 2007 season.

“I think we’ve got a bunch of leaders on this defense,” Verpaele said. “It’s nice to have that trust from the coaches because if they don’t trust you, they’re not going to play you.”

USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham is one of the many coaches who seem excited over Verpaele’s return.

“Danny is like a coach on the field,” Burnham said. “He knows the system and he’s really going to help us out this season.”

USF defensive backs coach Troy Douglas agrees.

“He really is like a coach on the field,” he said. “He’s always asking the right questions in the meetings, and him and (senior safety) Carlton (Williams) know how to get everybody lined up in the right spots. That’s what’s so impressive about him: his knowledge.”

Verpaele plans on using that knowledge to give the Bulls a boost in their secondary.

“It’s exciting to get back out there on the field,” Verpaele said. “I’m just excited to get back out there and play and help my teammates.”

Verpaele will have a lot of rust to shake off. He had also missed the 2005 season with a broken foot. Although it would have been easier to just walk away from the game, Verpaele decided to use the lessons of sitting out both seasons to turn this year into a positive.

“If you sit there and dwell on certain things you’re not going to get anywhere,” he said. “Mentally, it was really tough, but it’s also something you’ve done your whole life, which is play football.”

Douglas thinks Verpaele had the right frame of mind.

“Life is about overcoming adversity. You’re going to get knocked down,” Douglas said. “Life is about how you deal with that and how you get back up.”

He also said Verpaele showed great character by keeping his head up while things were down.

“He’s been back and forth and back again,” Douglas said. “It’s really a tribute to him as a young man — his desire, his determination to succeed in life. That’s what life’s all about.”

Verpaele is, however, coming back to a team much different from the one he left. He was forced to watch from the sidelines as the Bulls went from unranked and unnoticed to the No. 2 team in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.

Even though the pressure to win is higher than ever before, Verpaele said he still has one goal in mind, and that is being team-oriented.