While many are aware that Mardy Gilyard is a native Floridian and will be playing in his home state Thursday, there are several other Bearcats who will also be back in that familiar climate. Defensive back Pat Lambert is from St. Cloud (near Orlando), punter Patrick O'Donnell comes from Wellington (near Palm Beach), offensive lineman C.J. Cobb hails from Jacksonville and ditto for defensive lineman Ricardo Mathews.
All of the Florida 'Cats have fans on the way, even though most have a way to drive. (Florida's a pretty long state as those of us that flew into Orlando to drive to Miami for the Orange Bowl can attest to.)
As for the Jacksonville to Tampa loop....
"That's about a two and a half hour drive," said senior Ricardo Mathews. (Actually, I think it's more that that, but Ricardo's got about a 100 pounds on me, so I play along.)
"I wanted to have a lot of people come, unfortunately I don't have enough tickets," Mathews said. "Everybody else got me for all of my tickets and everything, so I couldn't get any extra tickets. I do have a lot of support coming because a lot of people are willing to sacrifice their day to come see me. They're driving down to pay for a ticket from South Florida."
So, in addition to the previously advertised caravan of #1 clad Gilyard fans, you can look for a smattering of #90 jerseys also. Mathews knows this is arguably UC's toughest test going against the speedy Bulls on their home turf.
"It's real big for the simple fact that I'm going back to my home state," said Mathews. "That's where I've been playing football all my life. I'm used to all the terrain-the hot weather. Personally, I like hot weather over cold weather."
In addition to playing in hot weather, Mathews has been playing hot. Along with Alex Daniels, Walter Stewart and Derek Wolfe, Mathews is one of the "unsung" guys from previous years making an impact this season. He's already recorded career highs in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks and the Bearcats have seven games to play. Though recruited by Mark Dantonio, Mathews has been a regular contributor to the defense since Brian Kelly took over.
Now, he gets to smell the "salt air" again with hopes of driving a USF player or two into the new Florida sod that's been laid down at Raymond James Stadium.
"I'm playing with a lot of people that I played with (in high school)" said Mathews. "That's going to be special too because I get to face them at a higher level."
Thanks to this being a marquees match-up between two ranked teams, USF will be pulling out all of the stops. Where the upper bowl of Raymond James is typically empty for college games (they share the field with the Buccaneers) they've been deep discounting tickets to fill it. They've also declared this a "sea of green" game to blanket the bowl with a green backdrop. To all of this, Ricardo Mathews just shrugs his shoulders.
"We don't go to worry about the scenery, we go to play," said big, braided #90. "I'm going to let the team's actions speak."
Where Mathews has had three years of looking at and chasing USF's Matt Grothe around, he'll now have to set his sights on running down #7 on the Bulls (on the offensive side) B.J. Daniels. Daniels has wins over Florida State and Syracuse under his belt, along with a deadly combination of good legs (two 100-yard-plus rushing games) and a deep ball.
"Yeah, he's a real athlete," said Mathews with a grin. "I've been watching film on him well over a week now. He's real quick and fast and he likes to scramble out of the pocket a lot. He's going to be a real threat to us because of the option factor on their team. You've got a lot of fast people back there."
Fortunately for Mathews and the other defensive lineman, fellow senior Curtis Young is slated to return for this game. Young's missed the last three games and his timing couldn't be better for his return. As good as the D-line has played lately, they're even better with Young in his stance with them.
"He's a big individual," said Mathews. "Strong too. Curtis has that experience. (He's got) size, speed, everything. It makes it easier for me because he can throw somebody else off lined up against me and I can make a tackle, I can make a sack. We feed off each other."
For Mathews, Young and the rest of Bob Diaco's attack crew, dinner begins around 7:45 Thursday.