Bulls land big DT in McClain
USF's usual recruiting style has been to cultivate relationships with prospects this time of year, then round up their commitments with a big weekend or two of official visits in January. So for Jim Leavitt to have as many commitments as he does before Christmas -- as many as 19 scholarships accounted for out of the 24 or 25 available -- it shows USF is going after players with confidence in their ability to judge talent.
The latest to add to the list is a big one, in Pensacola defensive tackle Terrell McClain. He's 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, somebody the Bulls have been on for a while. McClain's a good example of how well-connected USF's staff can be -- Greg Gregory handled the initial courtship, but the Bulls had a strong tie in that McClain's mother went to high school at Leto with defensive line coach Bernard Clark. It's a dream of a coincidence, and while McClain calls Pensacola home, he calls Tampa his hometown, with grandparents still in town.
It's also a good example of USF being persistent on a recruit who was strongly considering Alabama. The Tide has hurt itself by not finding a head coach before the pre-holiday contact period ended -- the interim coach and assistant have been making visits, but they can't even speak with authority as to whether they'll be in Tuscaloosa this fall, so it must be hard to sell kids on being there. McClain said he had planned on waiting until his official visit in January to announce his pledge to USF, but his coach told him if he'd already decided, to tell USF, rather than see his scholarship go to someone else willing to commit to the program.
In talking Monday night with Jim Leavitt after practice, I get a strong sense that cornerback Mike Jenkins might be playing his last game with the Bulls on Saturday. Jenkins has submitted his name to the NFL's advisory board for underclassmen considering early entry to the draft in April, and while running back Andre Hall and linebacker Stephen Nicholas did the same thing in the past two years, it sounds like Jenkins is a different situation. Leavitt said all he can do is relay the information to his players, but said Jenkins -- perhaps USF's fastest player -- was "looking pretty strong" into the possibility of leaving. When I talked to Bradenton Southeast coach Paul Maechtle on Monday, he said he hadn't talked with Jenkins, but Leavitt had talked to him about Jenkins' interest in leaving after his junior season. His speed is a great measurable, something the NFL truly values, but nobody knows what Jenkins will need to hear to be comfortable leaving after this season.
Leavitt spoke at length about how comfortable he is with his defensive secondary with or without Jenkins -- Trae Williams returns on the other side after leading the Big East with seven interceptions, and backups Ryan Gilliam and Jerome Murphy played extensively this season. Add in three experienced returning safeties in Danny Verpaele, Carlton Williams and Louis Gachette, plus a promising and versatile player in Tyller Roberts, and the secondary will be one of USF's most experienced positions next season, even without Jenkins. The Big East also should lose its top passers in players like Pittsburgh's Tyler Palko and, perhaps, Louisville's Brian Brohm, should he too decide to leave for the NFL.