ST. PETERSBURG — As soon as Louisville picked up its sixth win to become bowl eligible Nov. 26, Josh Bellamy started quietly hoping for a chance to come home for the holidays.
"I was praying that whole two weeks that we would make it to this bowl game," said the former standout at Gulfport's Boca Ciega High who leads the Cardinals with five touchdown receptions entering Tuesday's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl against Southern Miss at Tropicana Field.
Bellamy wanted a trip to St. Petersburg so much, he pulled against his close friends who played for USF against Connecticut on Dec. 4, knowing a Bulls loss would help Louisville earn a trip to the Trop. (Connecticut won on a last-minute field goal.)
"If they would have won that game, we never would have been here," Bellamy said after practice last week at St. Petersburg Catholic.
"I was rooting for Connecticut."
Bellamy's path to Louisville first took him to Butte (Calif.) Community College for two years. He hoped to play close to home at USF but wound up signing with its Big East rival.
He has 27 catches for 372 yards in his first season at Louisville; though in the past eight games, he has been limited to 12 catches for 107 yards and one score.
The only other time he has been in Tropicana Field was for his high school graduation, and he's hoping for a big game Tuesday with lots of friends and family looking on.
"I couldn't get enough tickets," said Bellamy, who lined up 21 from teammates before sending friends to Ticketmaster.
Gift bags: Among the items players from both teams will get are an Xbox 360, Oakley sunglasses and backpack and a bowl mini-helmet.
In Town: Southern Miss arrived Saturday, three days after Louisville.