Leavitt puts jitters aside for rivalry

By Times staff writers
Published December 30, 2005

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It took a little convincing, but coach Jim Leavitt finally caved.

Defensive coordinators Rick Kravitz and Wally Burnham pushed and pushed Leavitt, and in the end one factor forced USF's ninth-year coach to take one fast ride.

"I said to him, (N.C. State coach Chuck) Amato didn't do it," Kravitz said. "Heck, we've got to top the Wolfpack in something."

Thursday, the Bulls went to Lowe's Motor Speedway, where players and coaches and even athletic director Doug Woolard were invited to take a three-lap ridealong at the Richard Petty Driving Experience in stock cars at speeds of 160 mph.

For Leavitt, the ride was a little revenge, because earlier in the day Amato beat Leavitt in the tire changing competition. Amato finished changing one tire in 12 seconds. It took Leavitt 24 seconds.

"When I knew Amato didn't go, I knew I had to," Leavitt said after his ride on a 1.5-mile track. "It was fun, but I sure wouldn't have signed up for that."

Leavitt said after Wednesday's practice that he would not take the ride but would help change tires if asked, but after most of his players had gone, some more than once, he donned the racer suit, helmet and neck brace and rode in a four-car set with receiver Amarri Jackson.

"I really didn't think he'd go," defensive ends coach Rich Rachels said. Defensive end Terrence Royal was first to take the ride, a quick drive that took the breath away from the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Tampa native.

"That was fast," Royal said. "I know I've never gone that fast before when I wasn't on a plane."

Senior running back Andre Hall, who said he was looking forward to his ride almost more than playing in the bowl game Saturday, also had his need for speed fulfilled.

"I think I almost wet my pants," Hall said. "I got stuck to the seat in (the car). My legs became paralyzed and I couldn't move my legs for nothing. Man, I just want to go again."

Other players, including quarterback Pat Julmiste, climbed out of the mock stock cars a little weak-legged.

"That wasn't for me," Julmiste said. "Next time I have to be somewhere fast, I'll just be late."

STAYING HOME: Sophomore receiver Johnny Peyton, who leads the Bulls with three touchdown receptions, did not travel with the team and will not play Saturday. Leavitt said the decision had to do with an ankle injury sustained in the Dec. 3 loss to West Virginia, but Peyton had looked fine in practice this week.

Academic and disciplinary problems have kept Peyton in the coaches' doghouse this season, and despite being the team's top returning receiver, he was kept out of the starting lineup. After catching two touchdowns in USF's opener against Penn State, the Pasco graduate has one since, in the Oct. 1 loss at Miami. Leavitt said freshman Marcus Edwards would step in as the top backup to Jackson at the X receiver spot.

As a senior at Pasco, Peyton was suspended from his final home game for violations of team rules.

- GREG AUMAN, Times staff writer, and MIKE CAMUNAS, Times correspondent