USF player ruled ineligible

Safety Jeremy Burnett won't play Saturday for undisclosed reasons.

Published December 20, 2006

The football team flew to Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday for Saturday's Papajohns.com Bowl against East Carolina without a top defensive player. Senior strong safety Jeremy Burnett, a Jefferson graduate who started all 12 games and ranked fifth on the team with 71 tackles, was ruled ineligible. USF didn't specify a reason, but Monday, coach Jim Leavitt said one player might not play because of failing a class. With Burnett out, the Bulls will start sophomore Carlton Williams, who started eight games at free safety. Danny Verpaele will start at free safety.

Stepping up

For all the optimism entering the season about Jose Fernandez's recruiting class, the player who has stepped up most during the women's basketball team's 8-2 start has been junior forward ChiChi Okpaleke.

The Tampa Bay Tech graduate made her first start of the season Dec. 7, when Fernandez wanted a smaller lineup, and she responded with eight points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes.

In Sunday's loss to No. 12 Vanderbilt, the 5-foot-11 Okpaleke came off the bench and played a career-high 35 minutes, sparking the Bulls with 13 points and nine rebounds.

As for the freshmen, they're still finding themselves as 6-5 center Stephanie Sarosi went scoreless in 22 minutes Sunday and forward Porche Grant (three minutes) was the only other one to play against Vanderbilt.

This and that

- Tuesday morning, USF surpassed 5,000 tickets sold for Saturday's bowl game. And though that's only half of the 10,000 allotted to USF, it should be able to exceed the 5,200 sold for last year's bowl. Even if USF must pay for 5,000 unsold tickets, at $30, it won't cost nearly as much as last year, when it had to buy $380,000 in unsold tickets.

- The women's basketball team will give a free ticket to any fan who buys one adult ticket to tonight's game against Jacksonville and donates a new, unwrapped toy.

- It's way early, but nationalchamps.net published its "early bid" 2007 top 25 in football with USF at No. 25. Freshman quarterback Matt Grothe, the Big East Rookie of the Year, ranks 25th on the Heisman watch list.

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.