TAMPA — Coach Willie Taggart has said the University of South Florida football program, which has endured three consecutive seasons without a bowl game, can’t be rebuilt overnight.
The Bulls needed toughness on both sides of the ball. They needed touchdown-makers. Most of all, they needed talented depth.
Wednesday’s 28-player haul filled all of those needs.
And although it won’t take the place of victories on the field, USF registered a big win. According to a consensus of analysts, USF had the highest-ranked recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference, while finishing in the top 45 nationally.
“I think that’s big for our fans,’’ Taggart said of USF’s recruiting rankings. “It’s big to see some progress. That’s how it should be here at USF. That’s part of building it back up where it should be.’’
Taggart methodically filled his war chest for months, enjoying his first full season of recruiting at USF. Still, there were a few 11th-hour presents.
Jesuit defensive end/linebacker Vincent Jackson, making his announcement in Arlington, Texas, where he will participate in Friday’s International Bowl, selected USF over Virginia and Missouri.
Immokalee running back D’Ernest Johnson picked USF, joining his high school teammate, four-star recruit Jimmy Bayes. Sickles linebacker/defensive end Josh Black, who considered Marshall, stayed home to play for the Bulls.
Meanwhile, Niceville wide receiver Tyre McCants, who reportedly got late offers from Georgia and Florida State, kept his word and stayed with USF.
Bayes was the first recruit to fax his letter of intent at 7:01 a.m.
“He’s one of those kids the entire Bull Nation is going to love,’’ Taggart said. “This kid understands that word ‘commit.’ He has been selling the USF football program from Day One. That’s the kid of commitment we needed for this football program.’’
The Bulls also attracted Sarasota Booker running back Marlon Mack, Fort Myers Dunbar wide receiver Ryeshene Bronson, DeLand offensive tackle Ben Knox and Sarasota defensive end Eric Mayes, each of whom achieved a four-star ranking from one of the major recruiting services.
Mack had committed to Louisville.
For the Bulls, Wednesday was a needed boost following Taggart’s initial season, which produced only a 2-10 record and 11 offensive touchdowns. Taggart mostly played with a roster inherited from the Skip Holtz era. For the past 12 months, though, USF coaches have recruited Taggart-style players.
“We needed playmakers and we got some playmakers,’’ Taggart said. “I think it’s big, too, that of the 23 high-school players we signed, 19 of them were in our camp. So we’re very familiar with them. We want that kind of thing every year.’’
USF went heavy on attracting players from the Tampa Bay area, getting 11 overall. Two were early enrollees – Iowa Western Community College and Pasco High defensive back Jamie Byrd, who could have an immediate impact, and East Lake cornerback Devin Abraham, the Pinellas County player of the year who is the son of former Bucs cornerback Donnie Abraham.
The Bulls also signed Sickles offensive tackle Zach Hudson, the grandson of former Chamberlain coach Billy Turner, Jefferson linebacker Juwuan Brown, Plant cornerback Mazzi Wilkins and Tampa Bay Tech cornerback Tajee Fullwood.
“That’s how it has to be at USF,’’ Taggart said. “We have to do a good job in our backyard. Sign them, then develop them.’’
The Bulls have Mike White, who started five games as a true freshman, and Stephen Bench returning at quarterback. Taggart said it will be a healthy competition. USF signed one quarterback, dual threat prospect Quinton Flowers of Miami Jackson. At 6-feet, 210 pounds, he doesn’t have the rangy size of White.
“Neither does (Seahawks quarterback) Russell Wilson or Johnny Football (Manziel),’’ Taggart said. “Those guys are football players. Flowers is tough, smart, one of those highly competitive people. We hope he’s like Russell Wilson and Johnny Football. We’re banking on that.’’
South Florida Signings
Player Pos. Ht. Wt. School
Devin Abraham* CB 5-9 175 East Lake
Jimmy Bayes ATH 6-3 185 Immokalee
Josh Black LB 6-2 225 Sickles
Rohan Blackwood DE 6-5 220 Nature Coast
Ryeshene Bronson WR 6-3 180 Fort Myers Dunbar
Juwuan Brown LB 6-2 210 Jefferson
Jamie Byrd* DB 5-11 190 Iowa Western CC (Pasco)
Stanley Clerveaux WR 6-3 185 North Miami
Elkanah Dillon TE 6-5 225 Ocala Vanguard
Quinton Flowers QB 6-0 210 Miami Jackson
Tajee Fullwood CB 6-2 175 Tampa Bay Tech
Michael Galati OG 6-3 283 Bradenton Manatee
LeGrande Harley LB 6-1 230 Georgia Military College
Demetrius Hill* DE 6-3 235 Fort Scott CC
Nick Holman LB 6-2 230 Madison, Ala. (Bob Jones )
Zach Hudson OT 6-5 285 Sickles
Vincent Jackson DE/LB 6-2 235 Jesuit
D’Ernest Johnson RB 5-10 180 Immokalee
Ben Knox OT 6-6 260 DeLand
Marlon Mack RB 6-0 195 Sarasota Booker
Eric Mayes* DE 6-5 240 Sarasota Booker
Tyree McCants WR 5-11 200 Niceville
Nick Nataro TE 6-4 240 Estero
Deatrick Nichols* CB 5-10 180 Miami Central
Marlon Pope* TE 6-4 265 Hattiesburg, Miss. (Gulf Coast CC)
Kendall Sawyer CB 6-1 180 Lehigh Acres
Michael Smith OG 6-3 294 Miami Central
Mazzi Wilkins CB 6-0 160 Plant
*-already enrolled at USF