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Strong confirms Justin Burke will call plays in Gasparilla Bowl

Meantime, the Bulls coach said quarterback Blake Barnett's status remains day to day
USF coach Charlie Strong joins his players for some sand volleyball during the Gasparilla Bowl's "Beach Invasion" Sunday on Treasure Island on Sunday. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
USF coach Charlie Strong joins his players for some sand volleyball during the Gasparilla Bowl's "Beach Invasion" Sunday on Treasure Island on Sunday. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
Published Dec. 16, 2018

Four days before the Gasparilla Bowl, Bulls coach Charlie Strong confirmed published reports that 31-year-old tight ends/special teams coach Justin Burke will serve as interim play-caller Thursday night against Marshall.

"He has been with me a long time," said Strong, who first hired Burke as a graduate assistant at Louisville in 2011. "We just sat down and talked about it as a staff, and I just made that decision."

Strong briefly addressed reporters following the bowl's two-hour "Beach Invasion on Treasure Island, where the Bulls engaged in assorted activities (including volleyball as well as belly-flop and doughnut-eating contests) by themselves.

The Thundering Herd were supposed to join them, but had weather-related travel delays and didn't leave Huntington, W.Va., until late Sunday afternoon, a bowl official confirmed.

Strong also indicated QB Blake Barnett remains day-to-day after suffering lower-leg injuries in USF's Nov. 17 loss at Temple and missing the regular season finale against USF.

Barnett joined teammates on the beach in flip-flops, but participated in no activites. MLB Nico Sawtelle, absent the last six games with a shoulder injury, joined the team for the beach trip and played volleyball, but Strong suggested his game status also remains iffy.

"It's still a process for them each and every day," Strong said. "We've still got what, three or four days before we play the (bowl) game, so we'll see if they're gonna be ready to go."

Regardless of who takes snaps against the Herd, Bulls fans could see an offensive wrinkle or two in the wake of offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's recent departure for McNeese State.

"They will, they definitely will," S Jaymon Thomas said. "Something different."

ODDS AND ENDS: With the NCAA's early signing period set to commence Wednesday, Strong said his staff's waiting on a handful of players to make a decision. USF currently has 18 non-binding commitments. "I don't know if we get to 25, but we're gonna get enough to where we can still have some (scholarships) so that, when we go into the spring, we can maybe find one or two more," he said. … Bulls and Herd players are set to visit Busch Gardens on Monday afternoon. … Former Bulls DB Craig Watts Jr., who transferred to Valdosta State earlier this year, won a national title Saturday when the Blazers (14-0) topped Ferris State, 49-47, in the Division II championship. His 70 tackles for the season ranked third on the team.

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