Even when he wasn't playing last year, Sharif Finch was a positive influence on the Temple football program. Finch tried to play through pain in both knees but was shut down after appearing in four games.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end from Henrico High in Richmond, Va., was granted a medical redshirt and has returned this season to be a major part of an improving defense.
Finch leads the Owls with 11.5 tackles for loss. He has 5.5 sacks and trails only Jacob Martin and Quincy Roche, who each have a team-high six.
In Temple's most impressive win of the season, Thursday's 34-26 victory over Navy, Finch had 3.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks. He was named the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the week.
"It is great to see all the hard work comes to fruition," Finch said after Tuesday's practice. "It is a great honor, but I won't say too much about it."
When it comes to talking about himself, Finch never wants to say much. He leads in the same way, more by his action than his words, but make no mistake, his leadership is greatly respected.
"Sharif is a great leader," junior safety Delvon Randall said. "He brings energy every day to practice. Even when he is banged up, he will come to practice and try to get the best out of everyone."
On Friday, Temple (4-5, 2-3 American Athletic Conference) will visit Cincinnati (3-6, 1-4) in a key game between AAC teams vying to earn six wins and become bowl-eligible.
"It would mean the world to me, being on a team that is bowl-eligible four straight years," Finch said.
Bowl or no bowl, his Temple career is winding down, so Finch has become reflective.
"You've got to cherish every moment you are with your teammates," he said. "I don't have much time left, time is running out, and I am just enjoying my time with my teammates."
The Temple coaching staff has given Finch time off when he needs it, even though Finch insists he is 100 percent.
"Sharif is a warrior," said senior wide receiver Adonis Jennings, who had five receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns against Navy. "He is a freak, 6-4, 250, and you look at him and say, 'Oh man, this guy has to be a baller.' "
Then after pausing, Jennings added, "I am happy he is back and making the impact he is."
Finch, who almost always exhibits a positive attitude, was down, as you might expect, when his season was cut short last year. Temple went on to win the AAC, and, while he was happy for his team, Finch was disappointed that he couldn't contribute.
"It was pretty tough watching the games on TV or being in the stands and not being able to play with my guys out there on the field," Finch said. "Coming back, I am happy now that I am contributing and I am out here leading."
Three things to watch in Temple-Cincinnati
These are the two lowest-scoring teams in the AAC, with Temple averaging 22.3 points and Cincinnati averaging 20.6, but both are showing signs of life. Temple has averaged 30 points in its last four games and Cincinnati had a season-high 458 yards of offense in last week's 17-16 win over Tulane.
Who can get off to a better start? Temple has been outscored by 44-26 in the first quarter. The Bearcats have been outscored by 86-40 in the opening quarter.
Cincinnati is last in the AAC with just nine sacks, and if Temple quarterback Frank Nutile is given time, he has shown an ability in his first two starts to pick apart defenses with his accuracy.
By the numbers
9.7: Average number of tackles per game for Cincinnati linebacker Jaylyin Minor, who leads the AAC.
71.1: Completion percentage of Temple quarterback Frank Nutile in the last two games, his first career starts.
4: Interceptions by Temple strong safety Delvon Randall, which is tied for the lead in the AAC.