September 27, 2007

Center of attention

The most prolific pass rusher in the nation always figured he'd be snapping the ball to quarterbacks instead of chasing them.

So did his coach.

USF sophomore George Selvie moved to defensive end only because the Bulls believed the switch gave him the best chance to contribute immediately. He now leads the nation with 8.5 sacks through his first three games of the season.

"I really think his best position is center," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "In high school he was tremendous there. He could have come in and played center for us and handled the football really well. He gets up on the linebackers and does a lot of good things there."

Just about every quarterback in the nation would love to see Leavitt move Selvie back to offense, but it's too late now. The guy who moved around for much of his childhood finally has found a home on the defensive line.

"I wanted to play offense in college," Selvie said. "Now I love defense."

But it wasn't his first love.

Selvie signed with USF as a lightly recruited offensive lineman. He enjoyed playing a position that suited his unselfish approach to the game. Pensacola (Fla.) Pine Forest High coach Jerry Pollard still remembers the day Selvie walked into his office as a 6-foot-1 freshman. Pollard fully expected someone with Selvie's combination of size and athleticism to ask to play quarterback, running back, linebacker or some other glamour position. Pollard instead heard this son of a military man continually saying "Yes, sir," and "No, sir" while volunteering to play center.

"That was very impressive to me," Pollard said. "You normally don't get kids with his makeup coming here and telling you stuff like that. They're all quarterbacks the first day."

Selvie relished the challenge of lining up against guys who were 50-75 pounds heavier, but his lack of size hurt him during the recruiting process. Selvie said USF was the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship.

It didn't help that hurricane season hit the Florida Panhandle so hard during Selvie's senior year that Pine Forest played only eight games despite advancing to the playoffs. The shortened schedule limited Selvie's opportunities to impress college recruiters.

Pollard tried his best to get college coaches to give Selvie a second look. When Alabama coach Mike Shula recruited Pine Forest offensive lineman Mike Johnson a former four-star prospect who now starts at right tackle for the Crimson Tide Pollard joked that Shula would have to fire his offensive line coach in a couple of years for not pursuing Selvie as well.

As it turned out, Shula himself was fired.

"Their offensive line coach didn't think George was big enough," Pollard recalled.

Neither did just about anyone else. It's tough to blame Alabama or any other school for overlooking Selvie. After all, how many big-time programs pursue centers who weigh 230 pounds?

KING GEORGE
USF defensive end George Selvie has more sacks and tackles for loss than any other player in the nation even though the Bulls have played fewer games than most teams. Here's a look at the nation's top players in each category.
Player School GP Sacks Avg.
George Selvie USF 3 8.5 2.83
Chris Long Virginia 4 6 1.5
Jonal Saint-Dic Michigan State 4 6 1.5
Will Davis Illinois 4 5.5 1.33
Greg Middleton Indiana 4 5 1.25
Jeremy Thompson Wake Forest 4 5 1.25
Brandon Graham Michigan 4 5 1.25
Player School GP TFL Avg.
George Selvie USF 3 15 5.0
Joe Mortensen Kansas 4 9 2.25
Shawn Crable Michigan 4 9 2.25
Jonal Saint-Dic Michigan State 4 8 2.0
Maurice Evans Penn State 4 8 2.0
Will Davis Illinois 4 7.5 1.88
Darrell Robertson Georgia Tech 4 7.5 1.88
Hilee Taylor North Carolina 4 7.5 1.88
Selvie's teammates knew better.

When Selvie played defensive end during Pine Forest's practices, he occasionally would line up against Johnson, who saw enough potential in Selvie that he also tried talking the Alabama coaching staff into signing him.

"His body type is misleading because he kind of looks like a basketball player, but if you really look at how much he bench-presses and squats, all the muscle mass is there," Johnson said. "He's just never been a bulky type of guy."

Only USF had the foresight to offer Selvie a scholarship and see how his game might develop once he added some muscle to his lanky 6-4 frame. And not even Selvie himself could have predicted he'd be this good this soon.

After being redshirted in 2005 and winning a team award for overachieving in the Bulls' strength and conditioning program, Selvie started all 13 games last season and ranked fourth in the Big East with 15 tackles for loss.

"It's a blessing," said Selvie, now at 245 pounds. "I am surprised. I didn't think I'd come out this fast and have this much of an impact."

Perhaps it shouldn't have come as such a shock.

Selvie's father served 20 years in the U.S. Navy as part of a career that led the family to move four times during Selvie's childhood before they settled in Pensacola. All those changes of address forced Selvie to learn how to adapt to new surroundings. No wonder he adjusted so quickly to the college game.

In the second game of his USF career, Selvie matched a school record by collecting five tackles for loss in a 21-20 victory over Florida International. He broke that record and tied another school mark earlier this month by recording six tackles for loss and four sacks in a season-opening 28-13 triumph over I-AA Elon. Selvie had five tackles for loss again last Saturday in a 37-10 rout of North Carolina.

"He's one of those explosive guys you make sure you get a hat on and not let him disrupt you," West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said, "because he can be very disruptive."

Rodriguez knows that as well as anyone.

Selvie first made a national name for himself last November when USF traveled to West Virginia. Selvie scored on a 9-yard fumble return and collected eight tackles 3.5 behind the line of scrimmage in the Bulls' 24-19 upset of the seventh-ranked Mountaineers.

"It really did a lot for our confidence," Selvie said. "They were No. 7 in the nation then, it was the last game of the season (for USF) and they were possibly going to a BCS game, so we knew then that we could play against any team in the nation."

Both teams have even more at stake in Friday night's rematch. WVU is undefeated and ranked fifth in the nation with legitimate hopes of playing for the national title. No. 18 USF also owns a perfect record and will be playing in front of its first home sellout crowd since the Bulls moved into the 65,567-seat Raymond James Stadium in 1998.

"This is the game of the century for South Florida," Selvie said.

West Virginia has reason to believe it has learned quite a bit about how to stop Selvie. During the offseason, the Mountaineers hired two former USF assistants offensive coordinator Rod Smith and offensive line coach Greg Frey who ought to have first-hand knowledge of the Bulls' defense. Then again, Selvie also has learned a thing or two during the past year. He has adapted well to the demanding methods of new USF defensive line coach Dan McCarney, who had spent the past dozen seasons as Iowa State's head coach.

McCarney has helped Selvie make the transformation from promising freshman to legitimate star.

"Last year as a redshirt freshman, I was just getting in the groove of things," Selvie said. "It's just a matter of going out and playing football and not being afraid to mess up. I'm going out there and having fun."

His success doesn't surprise Johnson, who has remained close friends with Selvie two years after their high school. Johnson watched his old Pine Forest teammate at USF's 24-7 PapaJohns.com Bowl triumph over East Carolina last year in Birmingham, Ala. And Johnson estimates he left about 15 voice mails for Selvie during USF's 26-23 overtime victory over Auburn, which Johnson's parents attended.

"I had to block him a few times in high school and knew what kind of talent he had and what he was capable of," Johnson said. "We tried to get college recruiters to figure it out. Luckily South Florida did, and they're getting a lot of payback for it."

Selvie's current teammates also appreciate him.

"I'm excited and happy for him because Selvie works so hard," USF nose tackle Richard Clebert said. "Twenty-four/seven. You see the way he plays in a game, that's the way he is in practice."

Conventional wisdom indicates Selvie shouldn't have too much of an impact against West Virginia, which has run the ball 72 percent of the time this season while boasting the nation's second-ranked rushing attack. But Selvie's performance against the Mountaineers last year shows that he's much more than a pass-rushing specialist.

"I consider myself a run stopper," Selvie said. "I love playing the run better than playing the pass because I love to be physical. Football's not about finesse. It's about hitting people in the mouth."

Each time Selvie hits someone in the mouth, all those college recruiters who ignored him should consider it a slap in the face.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




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