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Leavitt: Fans can make a statement
By GREG AUMAN
Published December 6, 2005
TAMPA - Jim Leavitt understands that USF is building a reputation with its first bowl appearance, and the way fans show up for the Dec. 31 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte will be as telling as how his team fares against North Carolina State.
"It's real important for us to travel well," Leavitt said. "It sends a real message out there. That is a real key, a major key, how (USF) and its fan base can travel. It sets a precedent for the next number of years. I can't say that enough. Huge exclamation point."
Leavitt recalled the first time he went to a bowl with Kansas State. The Wildcats took 18,000 fans to the Copper Bowl, the school's second bowl appearance. USF has been allotted 12,500 tickets, and the first two days of sales had more than 1,500 tickets sold.
The Bulls have never been allotted more than 3,000 tickets for any road game, so it's difficult to say how strong a showing they'll have. Saturday's game drew 45,274, the largest at Raymond James Stadium and the third time this season the Bulls topped 40,000.
"It's a huge point on bowl teams. We're fortunate to have a 10-hour drive," Leavitt said. "Your credibility as a program on the rise, you have to travel extremely well. If we brought up 20,000 people, that would make a statement across the country as powerful as can be. If we can bring up more than 10,000, that would be a big statement. Everybody, their kids, aunties, grandmother, extended family, get a caravan. Green and gold needs to just engulf Charlotte."
Leavitt concedes that Bulls fans will be outnumbered in Charlotte, where the University of North Carolina drew more than 30,000 to last year's game. N.C. State, 170 miles from Charlotte, drew more than 50,000 for six of its seven home games, and Will Webb, executive director of the bowl, said the proximity played a large role in the Wolfpack's selection.
"We're a young bowl ... we still need a team that's got a great fan base," he said Sunday.
Leavitt challenged fans to make that advantage as small as possible for N.C. State, enjoying USF's first postseason game.
"It's going to be like a home game, and you can imagine how many fans from N.C. State will be there," he said. "We've been in that situation before. I think it creates more excitement. ... We need a bunch of Bulls up there to balance it out a little bit."
PEYTON INJURED: Sophomore receiver Johnny Peyton, who leads the Bulls with three touchdown receptions, was on crutches Monday with a boot on his right ankle, which he badly sprained late in Saturday's 28-13 loss to West Virginia. Leavitt did not know when Peyton, a Pasco graduate, would be able to return to practice. Leavitt said he'll use next week's practices to try a few position changes as a preview of spring practice. Among the shifting will be freshman defensive end George Selvie getting a look at center, where he could challenge for the starting role next fall.