tampabay.com

Recruits shrug off turnover

Despite coaching changes, Bulls don't lose a commitment.

By GREG AUMAN
Published February 8, 2007


TAMPA - Even out of its context, Jim Leavitt was elated.

But given the past month, given that four assistants left his staff and the Bulls didn't lose one commitment, the resulting 28-member class left Leavitt beaming Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm really proud of our staff," he said. "We've gone through so many different things. ... They did a fabulous job really just holding on to a lot of guys. ... There's so much to sell with the University of South Florida right now."

For recruiting coordinator Carl Franks, the class was remarkable in its efficiency. Schools are allowed 56 official recruiting visits by the NCAA; after rescheduling two weekends as the team mourned the death of freshman Keeley Dorsey last month, the Bulls used only 25 visits. Of those, 21 recruits signed with USF.

"I've never been anywhere where you had 84 percent," Franks said. "Just having 25 visits is very unusual. Losing two weekends and having the guys stay with us and be willing to change dates to come here, it really speaks to the strength of our program."

Wednesday brought few surprises. In last-minute decisions, the Bulls lost out on Belle Glade tackle Jatavious Jackson Florida State and Lauderdale Lakes defensive end Patrick Grant (Louisville) but beat out West Virginia for Starke defensive tackle Corian Garrison, as well as several BCS schools for Jacksonville tackle Thomas Edenfield.

Like most USF classes, it's nearly all in-state, with unusually little from area schools, Boca Ciega's Josh Bellamy the only high school signee from Hillsborough or Pinellas counties. Gulf quarterback Alton Voss was the only signee from the North Suncoast.

The strength looks to be a group of four running backs, headlined by former Sarasota star Mike Ford, a five-star recruit according to Rivals.com who enrolled last month. Add Bellamy, 240-pound Richard Kelly of South Sumter and Fort Myers' Tyson Butler, who rushed for 1,928 yards and 27 touchdowns, and USF should have more balance - and pop - in its offense this fall.

"It could end up being one of our strengths next year, after being one of our biggest weaknesses before," Leavitt said.

USF's class ranked sixth out of eight Big East schools, according to both major recruiting sites, with Scout.com ranking it 49th nationally (its best showing since 2004) and Rivals.com ranking it 58th, slightly up from last year.

USF announced 25 signings, and former Plant linebacker Donte Spires was left off only because his paperwork was missing a guardian's signature. Former USF quarterback Carlton Hill, a four-star recruit according to Scout.com, will rejoin the team this summer after a season in junior college, and the additions also include former Riverview linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, who transferred from Iowa State last month.

The Bulls expect to lose some recruits to grades; last year's class saw nine signees fail to qualify academically, three of whom enrolled in January and are included in the current class.

The class is strong enough that one member, Boca Raton tight end Mike McGowan, agreed to defer his enrollment until January, where he'll count toward USF's 2008 total.

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com.