ST. PETERSBURG — Four years ago, Theo Wilson called the chance to play football at Tropicana Field a "once-in-a-lifetime chance."
Okay, maybe twice in a lifetime. On Saturday, Wilson gets to do it again, as USF plays Memphis in the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl. The last football games played at the Trop were a high school tripleheader in August 2004, "The Battle of the Bay." Wilson, then a quarterback at Dunedin High, rushed for two touchdowns and threw for two in the opener, a 44-12 victory against St. Petersburg.
The Rays' Dick Crippen wondered that day if Wilson were faster than outfielder Carl Crawford. On Monday, Wilson remembered how fast he felt on the FieldTurf artificial surface.
"A lot faster," he said. "But I was about 20 pounds lighter then, too."
Wilson, a receiver who has played primarily on special teams, remembers how it was hard to run through the clay infield, so he was excited when coach Jim Leavitt told the team the dirt would be gone, with new turf sewn in on the infield for Saturday's game.
Wilson wasn't the only Bulls player who was at the Trop that day. WR Ed Alcin and Chamberlain lost to Armwood.
"We were the first high school team to play there, and we won, so we sent a statement," Wilson said.
Focus on Memphis RB: USF began its final week of practices Monday for the bowl game.
Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said the focus would be on Memphis RB Curtis Steele, who has rushed for 1,175 yards and seven touchdowns.
"We have got to dominate their offensive line," Burnham said. "If we don't do that, we'll be in trouble."
Bonding by BOWLING: The Bulls had a team chemistry building exercise Sunday night, with players and coaches bowling at University Lanes near USF's campus.
QB Matt Grothe was singled out by Leavitt for bowling a team-high 208. Leavitt said the Bulls were "hanging around 110 to 120, which is pretty sad."
"I'm glad (Leavitt) pointed that out, because he was talking to everybody about how he was going to beat everybody," Grothe said. "I heard Coach Leavitt bowled a 168 three times in a row, but some of the other guys were saying he bowled a 101, so I don't know. But, it was fun."
Times correspondent Joe Rienzi contributed to this report.