Two Bulls savor Shrine Game opportunities

Two Bulls savor Shrine Game opportunities

Published Jan. 18, 2012 3:58 p.m. ET

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For the University of South Florida Bulls, the 2011 football season finished on a distinct sour note in December: a three-game losing streak that left the team without a bowl berth for the first time since 2004.

But two Bulls seniors have enjoyed the chance this week to write a different ending to their collegiate careers.

Safety Jerrell Young of St. Petersburg and offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren of Panama City have been invited to play in this week's East-West Shrine Game, practicing under the watchful eye of head coaching icon Bobby Ross and gearing up for the Saturday kickoff at Tropicana Field.

It's not hard to find either player on the crowded practice field this week at Shorecrest Preparatory School. Young sports No. 1 on his jersey, and his 6-foot-1, 209-pound stature as a defensive back makes him stand out in the pack; Warren is a burly 6-foot-4, 329 pounds with dreadlocks flowing beneath his helmet.

Both hope to stand out for their aggressive, smart play and ability to pick up new systems on the fly — something the scores of scouts and NFL personnel gurus on hand are looking for as they size up potential NFL draft picks.

Both players made strong enough impressions during the season, but a good showing here — both in practice and during the game — could bolster their appeal to any number of teams.

Young finished his USF career with five interceptions and 138 tackles in 46 games, including a personal-best 51 tackles with two pickoffs in the disappointing 5-7 campaign of 2011. He received All-Big East second team honors.

Warren, meanwhile, started in 31 of 38 games he played for USF, and his excellent run-blocking helped the Bulls lead the conference in rushing. That earned him a stop on the All-Big East second team, too.

"It's been good — the main thing out here is just trying to get my brand out, get my name out, with all the scouts here," Young said. "Everybody here has a childhood dream of playing in the NFL. That's the main goal, but for me and Jeremiah, it's also about getting the logo of University of South Florida seen and let people know this program is on the rise."

The Bulls got off to an excellent start this season, opening with an electrifying (a lightning storm interrupted the game) 23-20 win over the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame. In fact, they were 4-0 before the bottom fell out with four consecutive losses and the disappointing final stretch of one win in the final four games.

Still, Young attributes some of the problems to the youth of the team, with only six starting seniors in 2011. He foresees substantial improvements in 2012. In the larger scheme of things, he's immensely proud of how USF has made big strides nationally for such a young program.

"We've only been around for 15 years, and in a short period of time we've made a big impact," he said. "Everybody has started to realize what USF has got going. Just the fact that in the NFC Championship Game, we have two guys starting — (linebacker) Jacquian Williams and (defensive end) Jason Pierre-Paul (for the Giants). It's special that we have an opportunity to make things happen out there."

The most special thing so far this week to Young? "Just getting around to know the other guys," he said. "Everybody was one of the best on their team and the best at what they did since high school. And they're just trying to measure up talent, improve and make our names known out here."

Young has also enjoyed having the chance to play for Ross.

"You hear about him and then you finally meet him — it's eye-opening," he said. "Coach Ross and Bobby Bowden are the kind of names that ring bells. They're known everywhere. And just the chance to sit down and take in what he's saying has been great."

Ultimately, he hopes this week in his hometown will lead to new home, the NFL.

"I know I can compete, that's not a question," he said. "I just need an opportunity to prove myself. I've been doing this since I was 5 or 6. I know I have the athletic ability that God blessed me with."

Warren said one of the highlights of the week was visiting children at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa last Sunday.

"It's a blessing and a pleasure to be in this game," he said. "Dealing with the Shriners Hospital for Children — I respect everything they do, and I wish them nothing but the best. Just spending time with the kids was incredible, kind of awe-inspiring."

He's also excited about being surrounded by so many top college players.

"These are some of the best guys from all over the nation," he said. "To be able to be in the competition with them and be able to play is really nice."

He's especially savored the time comparing notes with other offensive linemen.

"It's been great sitting down and talk to another lineman and say, ‘I pull this way,' and he says, ‘Well, I do it this way, you should try it to help you stay square,' " he said. "Being able to take little hints really does help."

It's all part of the East-West Shrine Game experience, giving two Bulls standouts a possible helping hand to the their dream jobs.