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Pierson puts on a USF spring show

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

TAMPA -- Memo to Arkansas and Southern Miss and Oklahoma and East Carolina and every other South Florida opponent this fall.

Shurron Pierson is coming, hard and fast. Very fast.

Don't say you weren't warned.

Pierson, a shuddering combination of breathtaking speed, brute strength and determination to smear the quarterback, spearheaded the defensive charge in the USF spring game Saturday before an estimated 4,000 at Raymond James Stadium. His Green team lost to the White 14-7, but that's beside the point.

Pierson, a junior-to-be, had four sacks. He and defensive mates -- despite the first-stringers being split between the teams -- demonstrated the Bulls could have a ferocious front seven this fall.

"Isn't (his speed) something?" coach Jim Leavitt said of Pierson, who bench presses a team-best 480 pounds. "A defensive end with 4.4 (second 40-yard dash) speed. He's a guy that has a chance to be a real impact player."

Pierson (6- feet- 3, 245 pounds) had a school-record 10 sacks last fall in his first year of eligibility. The opposite end, Chris Daley, had 9.5 sacks. Pierson's teammate at Wildwood High, defensive tackle Cedric Battles, had three sacks Saturday.

"If we put it all together, we're going to be a force to reckon with," Pierson said.

In fairness to the offense, the defense's dominance was in part because for the first three quarters, to protect them from injury, defenders only had to get their hands on quarterbacks for a tackle.

Quarterback Marquel Blackwell (White) was 16-of-32 for 285 yards, including a touchdown and interception. After a scoreless first half with a combined 13 punts, Blackwell broke through late in the third quarter. He bought time in the pocket and found freshman Willie Williams, the beneficiary of a major coverage breakdown, for a 46-yard score.

Ronnie Banks and David Mullins, competing for the No. 2 quarterback position, played well. Banks, a sophomore, was 14-for-27 for 135 yards, including one TD (an 11-yard slant to Chris Iskra) and one INT.

"I felt more confident than last year. My understanding of the offense is much better and I'm making much quicker decisions," Banks said. "I think I proved I'm the No. 2 quarterback and can be our No. 1 (in 2003), but that's up to the coaches."

Mullins (5-for-12, 58 yards), a freshman who enrolled this semester, threw a beautiful 49-yard touchdown to Williams after taking Blackwell's place for the fourth. He also plowed through hard-hitting safety Javan Camon on the two-point conversion.

"He's fearless," Daley said of Mullins.

An ebullient Leavitt sprinkled kudos in nearly every direction afterward. Among those who earned his praise: sophomore receiver Bruce Gipson (game-high five catches for 69 yards); Williams, whose two catches went for long touchdowns; redshirt freshman receiver Marcus Edwards (three catches, 26 yards); and freshman defensive end/linebacker Terrence Royal, who had two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

"Terrence Royal obviously is a force out there," Leavitt said of the Wharton High graduate, who enrolled this semester.

Also, Leavitt said Blackwell, Daley, receiver Ryan Hearn and linebacker Kawika Mitchell were chosen team captains.

NAGURSKI TROPHY: The FWAA announced the watch list of candidates for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded annually to the nation's top defensive player, and a host of state players are on it. Florida: Ian Scott (tackle) and Todd Johnson (back). Miami: William Joseph (tackle), Jerome McDougle (end) and Jonathan Vilma (linebacker). Florida State: Kendyll Pope (linebacker).

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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