Six months ago, Jeremiah Warren was officially on notice.
When USF took the field for spring drills, coach Jim Leavitt did not allow the offensive lineman to practice, a harsh, not-so-subtle measure levied with the hope Warren would focus on his classwork and improve his grades enough to be eligible in the fall.
"It was kind of a gut check," the 6-foot-4, 320-pound redshirt sophomore said. "It woke me up, for real."
Now, Warren not only is eligible, he's expected to make his first career start tonight against Wofford at left tackle, part of a young line that remains a question mark. Four starters from last season are gone, but coaches are encouraged by the progress of players such as Warren.
"Jeremiah has always been very talented. He has all the tools. He's big, strong, physical," co-offensive line coach Larry Scott said. "Mentally, he really clued in over the last semester. He took care of business in the spring, had a great summer training. It's about time.
"For offensive linemen, it's about their second or third year when the light really starts to turn on. They understand the tempo, the pace, all that's expected of them. It's starting to flicker for him. He's continuing to work hard."
Warren's path to the starting lineup has been marked by academic adversity. He signed with USF in 2006 out of Panama City's Bay High but fell two points short of a qualifying score on an entrance exam. He earned that score and joined the Bulls in January 2007 but didn't see the field until last season, as a reserve in seven games.
After getting his grades up in the spring, the 21-year-old knew there were opportunities for new starters on the line. But he had to compete with junior Jamar Bass, a coveted junior college transfer who signed in February.
"They told me we had a new guy coming in and he was good. I knew I had to beat him out," Warren said. "I've been trying to show I can be that guy. Just trying to stay intense, stay ahead of the game, study my handbook, make sure I knew my plays and whatnot."
Warren is USF's biggest lineman at 320 pounds, but he has actually dropped about 20 pounds since last year, which helped his footwork. And he ranks among USF's top five overall in bench-press (410 pounds) and squat (585).
Leavitt has focused on pitting his No. 1 offense against his No. 1 defense during practice, which for Warren meant going up against All-Americaend George Selvie.
"Going against George Selvie every day has really helped him," Leavitt said. "Those two guys have worked each other pretty good. It's caused Jeremiah to really step up his game quite a bit. He's worked very, very hard. Missing spring ball is tough, but he had a great summer and a great camp."
With three players expected to make their first starts on the line tonight, the position is hardly settled for USF. And if the Bulls want to get Bass on the field at left tackle, Warren could also play left guard, where former walk-on Chaz Hine also will get his first start tonight.
Given the uncertainty that he faced in the spring, the idea of earning his first career start is overwhelming to Warren.
"I'll be ecstatic," he said. "I won't know how to act. It's like a dream come true."
Holding Warren out of spring football could have limited his progress as a player. But it had the opposite effect, his turnaround in the classroom coinciding with his best focus and consistency in his tenure with the Bulls.
"We're football coaches, but it's always good to see a young man mature and develop into a college student-athlete," Scott said. "He picked it up off the field, and you can see the results on the field."
Times writer Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.