Junior college recruits a key part of USF class
On Wednesday, USF coach Jim Leavitt will unveil what should be the highest ranked recruiting class in his program's short history, and for the second year in a row, a big reason is a strong group of junior college prospects who will return to Florida to play for the Bulls.
A year ago, USF signed four Floridians from junior colleges, with Kion Wilson emerging as the starting middle linebacker and defensive end Craig Marshall finishing fourth on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss.
This year's group should include five junior college signees, all but one from Florida, including a five-star defensive end in Deerfield Beach's Jason Pierre-Paul. Three rank in Rivals.com's national junior college top 100 -- no other school in the country has three that rank as high as Pierre-Paul (6th), Riverview linebacker Jacquian Williams (21st) and Apopka tackle Jamar Bass (62nd).
Just two years ago, the Bulls had no scholarship players who had played football in junior college, but this fall, that number should be nine. Of this year's group, just one -- former Hillsborough defensive tackle Leslie Stirrups -- had signed with USF out of high school, but the Bulls have found success targeting in-state recruits who were forced to go away from home to junior colleges in Mississippi and Kansas and now want to play closer to home.
Junior college players are better equipped to step in immediately as starters, and Leavitt has several key holes to fill, especially on defense, where five senior starters graduated, and on the offensive line, which started four seniors in 2008.
Aside from kicker Maikon Bonani, USF had little contributions from true freshmen last fall, and the impact from junior college players this fall should allow the Bulls to redshirt more freshmen this fall as well. Williams will compete for a starting outside linebacker position, and Bass and California's Carlos Savala have a shot at two wide-open starting tackle positions.
The junior college trend should continue next year, as two junior college recruits -- defensive end Claude Davis and offensive tackle Justin Green -- have already committed toward USF's 2010 recruiting class.
WATCH LIVE: USF's official site, GoUSFbulls.com, has an ambitious plan for covering today's recruiting news, with a free "Signing Day Live" program, running eight hours of live video coverage, complete with highlights of signees and interviews with assistant coaches, all leading up to Leavitt's news conference at 4 p.m.
The Times will have live updates, analysis and interviews throughout the day on its college blogs.
BANQUET: USF's baseball and softball teams have their annual Leadoff Banquet on Feb. 12 at the Pepin Hospitality Centre. Coaches Lelo Prado and Ken Eriksen will be there to introduce their 2009 teams, and previous guests have included Yankees stars Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, Rays manager Joe Maddon and former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer. Tickets are $75 per person or $600 per table, and fans can call the Bulls Club at (813) 974-4223 for more information.
THIS AND THAT: USF will honor longtime athletic director Dick Bowers at halftime of Friday's home basketball game against Marquette. The Bulls will raise a banner to remember Bowers, who was USF's athletic director from 1965-82, died in November at age 77. ... USF softball opens its season with five games this weekend, hosting the Louisville Slugger Tournament. The Bulls host tournaments in each of the next three weekends and won't play a game out of the state until March 20.