NEWPORT, R.I. — Temple's football team might not have a more inspirational leader than Sharif Finch.
A year ago he was sidelined for the season after the fourth game because of an undisclosed injury.
The redshirt senior defensive lineman was back in the spring, not participating full-tilt but doing enough to make an impact.
Although he has become a leader even when not playing, Temple will need the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Finch on the field.
After quarterback, the Owls' second-biggest position of need could be the defensive line. Finch can play inside or outside, but he's more suited for his size at defensive end.
Last year, Temple got 32.5 tackles for losses, with 18 combined sacks, from defensive ends Haason Reddick and Praise Martin-Oguike as the Owls won the American Athletic Conference championship.
Reddick was a first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals, while Martin-Oguike signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent.
Geoff Collins has appreciated the leadership of Finch, but the first-year Temple coach can't wait to see him on the field.
"I turned on the Penn State game two years ago and there were great players in that game, and Sharif Finch was arguably the best player on the field that game," Collins said during AAC football media day Tuesday. "Getting him back is huge."
In Temple's 27-10 win over the Nittany Lions in the 2015 season opener, Finch had a 26-yard interception return that set up the go-ahead score.
When Finch wasn't on the field this spring, he was often tutoring the younger players.
"His leadership ability, love for his teammates, how hard he works, and his ability to come off the edge throughout the spring was obvious," Collins said.
Finch, who was a standout at Henrico (Va.) High, has appeared in 40 games for the Owls, with 13 starts. He has been a special-teams standout and enters the season as the NCAA's active leader with five blocked punts.
Finch had been relatively healthy before last season, when he was granted a medical redshirt, giving him a fifth season this year.
"I am fine right now, feeling 100 percent," he said. "It is the best I have felt since I got to Temple and I am bigger and stronger."
The key for Finch is his quickness. Temple will need it to replace the production of Reddick and Martin-Oguike.
Finch isn't overly vocal, but his presence commands respect.
"From the moment he walked in in 2013 you just knew he was different," said offensive tackle Leon Johnson. "Even though he missed a large part of last season, he did a great job working with the young guys."
Finch will continue working with the young players, but he is needed more than ever this season, especially to put heat on opposing quarterbacks. He enters the season with 16 career tackles for losses, including six sacks.
Finch, who has already earned a bachelor's degree in communications, understands how important he can be to the team, serving not only as a mentor but also as an on-field example.
"I feel I bring a lot to the table from an experience standpoint," he said. "I can play defense, special teams, I am feeling fine and ready to go and do whatever my team needs."