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A Bull feels old friends' pain

The phone calls between Boston and Darren Bishop's apartment have been more frequent lately. His friends are hurting and Bishop listens to their fears and frustrations, hoping he can help even a little.

And while he's listening, sometimes he can't help thinking: It could have been me.

Bishop, a junior wide receiver for South Florida's first-year football team, easily could be playing for Boston University's last-year team. If it weren't for his timely transfer to USF, he could be wondering _ just as his ex-teammates are _ if he would ever play football again.

BU officials announced two weeks ago the Division I-AA Terriers, 0-8 and in a rapid downward spiral, will be dropped after the season. Bishop, who transferred in January, is on the outside looking in. But the news hit him hard.

"I don't think you can ever spend three years at a place and put your time in and work so hard somewhere and not feel bad about something like that," Bishop said. "I still have a lot of connections there. I didn't leave because I didn't like the team, per se. I just didn't like the direction they were headed."

Bishop, who saw BU go from 9-3 his redshirt season in 1994 to 3-8 in 1995 and 1-10 in 1996, wasn't certain the program was going to be dropped. But he did know he didn't like that the Terriers were growing accustomed to losing. So the Lakewood High graduate gave up his scholarship to come home and help start USF's program, with his younger brother _ freshman linebacker Kevin Bishop _ at his side.

The Bulls, though competitive at 3-5, haven't exactly hit I-AA like a thunderclap. But the atmosphere, Darren Bishop said, is entirely different from what it was at BU.

"We're working toward the future," he said. "Instead of staying on a down slide, I wanted to be on a team on the rise and say I was part of the beginning.

"It's more the fact that you can say you're part of the ascent instead of the descent."

It matters little to Bishop that he will have only two seasons with the Bulls and won't be around when they make the leap to I-A. He just wants to contribute.

He was held back early in the season by a sore hamstring and didn't get a reception in USF's first three games. But he since has 12 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown.

Possibly his biggest contribution came in the locker room after the Western Kentucky game, when the Bulls had fallen to 1-3 and lost their third straight. Not usually one to be demonstrative, Bishop got up after getting his first four catches of the season and implored his teammates _ the vast majority freshmen and sophomores _ to find a way to turn it around.

The next week, USF beat Morehead State 33-17 for its first victory over a I-AA opponent.

"He's not very vocal," receivers coach Frank Hernandez said. "I was very proud of him in the sense that he spoke up. That's when his leadership was evident."

Usually, though, Bishop stays quiet. He said he doesn't even give much advice to his heavily recruited younger brother, who was the 1996 Times Pinellas County Player of the Year while at Northeast. Darren Bishop, who sat out his senior season in high school because of a knee injury and had to walk on at BU before earning a scholarship, gets less attention than his brother but said he prefers it that way.

This week, for the first time, a classmate recognized him as a football player. Bishop didn't like it.

"I just think there's two distinct parts of my personality, the student and the individual that plays football. I approach both of them completely differently. I never relied on football to help me through school. School comes first.

"The school's going to take me through the future. It's not going to be football. I think getting hurt (in high school) had a lot to do with that (realization). I had to rely on my academics to get accepted into Boston University."

Bishop's commitment to academics is evident. He is an English major. Thursday night he was inducted into USF's chapter of Golden Key, a national honor society.

He may never be a star and that's fine with him. Bishop believes he is moving forward, along with the rest of his new teammates. But he also knows _ even considering his hard work _ he is a little bit lucky.

So when his friends from Boston call, Bishop speaks little of his new life, choosing to listen instead.

"I really feel bad talking to them," he said. "It's kind of a one-sided conversation. I don't talk about how things are going down here.

"It just shows the two sides of what college football can be. It can be real positive or it can be real disheartening."