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Plant QB Jordan McCloud commits to USF

Plant quarterback Jordan McCloud has committed to USF.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Plant quarterback Jordan McCloud has committed to USF.

If you thought the weekend was huge for USF recruiting, Monday's news nearly upstaged it.

Plant dual-threat QB Jordan McCloud, whose brother Ray Ray is Hillsborough county's No. 2 all-time rusher (and a Clemson wideout), announced via Twitter on Monday he intends to sign with the Bulls.

In a text message, McCloud, an offseason transfer from Sickles, said the USF coaching staff and the school's proximity to his home were the biggest factors in his decision. "Wanted to a join a great place (on) the rise," he said.

A three-star prospect per 247Sports, McCloud is the Bulls' 12th commitment since Friday, and 26th from the Class of '18. NCAA rules limit schools to 25 signees annually, but as we reported Sunday, those numbers can be manipulated.

Ranked 20th on the HomeTeam 100, McCloud won an intense summer quarterback derby at Plant, which was set to hold its first preseason practice Monday afternoon.  Lankier (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) than his brother, he also reportedly had offers from such schools as Iowa State, Maryland and Colorado State.

He's the second bay area player from the Class of '18 to commit to USF. Ironically, Sickles' Jontrey Hunter, who likely replaces McCloud as Gryphons quarterback, is the other.

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Verbal barrage: Bulls land 11 commitments during weekend

USF coach Charlie Strong has received non-binding verbal commitments from eight rising high school seniors since Friday.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

USF coach Charlie Strong has received non-binding verbal commitments from eight rising high school seniors since Friday.

We have no way of determining whether USF's flurry of commitments -- 11 since Friday -- is in any way unprecedented.

For now, we'll just call it uncanny. Maybe even unreal.

The Bulls received five non-binding commitments each Saturday and Sunday. A pair of three-star offensive tackles -- Daytona Beach Mainland's Adonis Boone and Pensacola Catholic's Ethan Watson -- began the Sunday surge.

"These runs are few and far between, but certainly happen," said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports. …

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USF journal: Cornerback-heavy defense shines

Plant High alumnus Mazzi Wilkins (right) has been lining up with USF's first-team defense at cornerback.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

Plant High alumnus Mazzi Wilkins (right) has been lining up with USF's first-team defense at cornerback.

If the first week of workouts are any sign, the Bulls' 4-2-5 base defense will feature cornerbacks on the field in triplicate.

On Sunday, the result was interceptions in triplicate.

Three veterans -- CB Deatrick Nichols and free safeties Jaymon Thomas and Tajee Fullwood -- all had picks in situational work. …

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Bulls get flurry of weekend commitments

Suddenly, USF is picking up non-binding commitments at a pace nearly as brisk as its offense.

On Saturday alone, the Bulls got four commitments before 4 p.m.: Sarasota Booker WR Talik Keaton, Davie Nova OLB Shaun Peterson Jr., Jacksonville Ribault S Devon Matthews and Havana East Gadsden ILB Randal Copeland.

Toss in the commitment of Port Charlotte man-child DT Devin Leacock Friday, and that's a quintent of commitments so far this weekend. USF now has 19 total commitments from the Class of '18.

Of the five most recent pledges, only Keaton (three stars) has received a star evaluation from 247Sports. Leacock, however, is a five-star force in the weightroom.

The reigning Class 2A state weightlifting champion in the heavyweight division, he had a 435-pound bench press and 365-pound clean-and-jerk at the state meet. Here's some lifting footage from his junior season.

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Bristol blog: Charlie Strong making rounds at ESPN

USF coach Charlie Strong is appearing on various ESPN TV/radio programs today.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF coach Charlie Strong is appearing on various ESPN TV/radio programs today.

Bulls coach Charlie Strong is spending the day in Bristol, Conn., appearing on a variety of TV/radio platforms as a part of the ESPN "Car Wash." We'll post some of his more notable sound bites as the morning/afternoon progresses. (And here's his complete ESPN itinerary.)

Mike and Mike (with Mike Golic and Trey Wingo)
On his Texas experience: "I didn't have enough wins, we didn't get it done. But the thing it did was, I benefited and I grew as a head coach from that experience. ... I'm a better football coach now."

On whether the College Football Playoff should expand to eight teams: "If you go to eight, then everyone's gonna say it should be nine or 10. ... If that's gonna happen, then you need to start practice a little earlier, so (the season) doesn't spill all the way into the end of January. ... We have our guys, they are in summer school. So if you have 'em, your strength coach has 'em for summer conditioning, so do it like the NFL: Go ahead and start playing early, and not preseason games, go play games and let 'em count. So now, it doesn't really extend the season."

First Take
On recruiting against the likes of Florida, FSU and Miami: "You're not gonna go in and beat Florida, you're not gonna go in and beat Florida State, you're not gonna go in and beat Miami. And then other schools will come in and steal one or two. But there's enough players where...if you evaluate the right way, you're gonna be able to get the players that fit your program."
 …

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USF journal: Transfer Grant Polk impressing at left tackle

USF's offensive line goes through some 11-on-11 work near the end of Thursday's practice.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF's offensive line goes through some 11-on-11 work near the end of Thursday's practice.

After three shorts-and-helmets workouts in searing afternoon heat, Bulls coaches finally get a look at their team in pads Saturday morning.

But they've seen enough already to make a couple of tweaks up front.

Virginia transfer Grant Polk likely will run with the first team at left tackle, and third-year sophomore Billy Atterbury will slip inside to guard when the Bulls take the field for a closed workout Saturday morning.

A backup to Eric Mayes on the post-spring depth chart, Polk (6-foot-6, 310 pounds), was a Class 7A first-team all-state pick at Punta Gorda Charlotte in 2014, and redshirted the following year at Virginia. He joined USF for fall camp last year and sat out per NCAA rules.

"Had a really good summer. Trimmed down some weight, his flexibility increased," offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said after Thursday's practice. …

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Quinton Flowers' post-football dream? Firefighter

USF senior quarterback Quinton Flowers said he would like to become a firefighter and/or enter coaching when his playing career is finished.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF senior quarterback Quinton Flowers said he would like to become a firefighter and/or enter coaching when his playing career is finished.

While researching our story on Quinton Flowers' Heisman Trophy candidacy, the Bulls senior quarterback mildly surprised us when he shed some light on his post-football aspirations.

"I would like to be a fireman," Flowers revealed during a one-one-one interview in the Selmon Athletics Center lobby last month. "If that doesn't work out, I'd like to be a coach because I would like to stay in football."

Flowers said the aspiration is steeped in his passion for helping others. Before losing his mother, Nancy, to cancer as a junior in high school, he said he told Nancy when he became financially secure that he'd buy her a house and "help people that's on the street."

Fearing strangers would take advantage of his generosity, Nancy had other advice. "She was like, 'Don't do that. ... Don't just give your money away that you work hard for, because they had the same opportunity that you had,'" Flowers recalled.

"So that's why I was thinking about firefighting. Helping people...I would just like to help people."

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USF Football Fan Day set for Aug. 12

USF defensive lineman Garry Cadet greets a young fan during last year's FanFest. This year's USF Football Fan Day will be held Aug. 12 at the Sun Dome.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

USF defensive lineman Garry Cadet greets a young fan during last year's FanFest. This year's USF Football Fan Day will be held Aug. 12 at the Sun Dome.

Good news for Bulls fans: This year's Football Fan Day will start with an added fan-friendly gesture by Coach Charlie Strong.

A two-hour public practice.

Details of Fan Day, set for Aug. 12, were released Wednesday. It will begin with the open practice from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Morsani Football Complex, before moving to the Sun Dome. Unlike the past couple of years, this year's event will feature only the Bulls football team.

Admission and parking are free.

Once inside the Sun Dome, fans can get their pictures taken with Strong, and get autographs from Bulls coaches and players. The lone stipulation: Student-athletes will sign only the team schedule posters provided at the event. Fans will not be permitted to bring any items to be signed by the team.

A gear sale also will be held, as well as a USF Apparel Showcase, with models showing off new items available for the 2017 season at the USF Team Store.

Here's the schedule:

11 a.m.-1 p.m. Practice (Morsani Football Complex)
1 p.m. USF gear sale*
2 p.m. USF Apparel Showcase
2:15-4 Autographs with football team (and photos with Coach Charlie Strong) …

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USF journal: Jean-Mary bracing for limited linebacker corps

USF  coach Charlie Strong addresses the team after Tuesday's practice.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF coach Charlie Strong addresses the team after Tuesday's practice.

A day after Coach Charlie Strong reiterated his concern about the Bulls' linebacker depth, new coordinator Brian Jean-Mary quantified it.

Ideally, Jean-Mary said he'd like to suit up 10-12 linebackers each game, "just because they're so vital on special teams." But as it stands, only six scholarship linebackers are on the roster, including freshman Keirston Johnson.

Toss in a hybrid guy such as Sickles alumnus Josh Black or Jefferson graduate Juwuan Brown, and the number increases to eight. "And that's probably stretching it," Jean-Mary said after Tuesday's practice.

"But just because of injuries...and the ability to take some guys off the field and let 'em rest, we'd like to have eight guys."

Slightly more plausible is Jean-Mary's goal of a six-tackle rotation. The first four -- seniors Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector, junior Kevin Bronson and sophomore Marlon Gonzalez -- appear set, with some intriguing candidates behind them such as converted LB Mi'Cario Stanley.

Additionally, freshmen Kevin Kegler and Kelvin Pinkney are listed at 280 and 284 pounds, respectively.

"We feel like we have some guys there," Jean-Mary said.

"I believe that we have some young guys that's gonna step up and play a big role for us," Senat said. "They're actually gonna help us win some games this year. But it's up to us (veterans)...to actually teach them and lead them and show them the way that we do things." …

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Burglary case against former Bulls QB Steven Bench dismissed

Former USF quarterback Steven Bench was arrested in south Tampa  on Memorial Day weekend.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Former USF quarterback Steven Bench was arrested in south Tampa on Memorial Day weekend.

The burglary case against former Bulls QB Steven Bench, arrested Memorial Day weekend in south Tampa, has been dismissed, according to court records.

Bench, who played for USF from 2013-15, was arrested May 29 on charges that he used force to enter a car wash business on Kennedy Boulevard, activating an alarm. He then used an object to shatter out the front glass window in order to exit, according to the arrest affidavit.

He was charged with one felony count of burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, and a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief. Since then, restitution has been paid and, as a result, the victim indicated a desire not to pursue criminal charges, according to the State Attorney's Office.

The case was formally dismissed July 10.

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Preseason accolades keep pouring in for Quinton Flowers

USF senior quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) is the first player in program history to be named to four preseason national award watch lists.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF senior quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) is the first player in program history to be named to four preseason national award watch lists.

The preseason for Bulls QB Quinton Flowers may have formally ended Monday, but the preseason hype has been percolating for weeks.

It continued Monday evening, when the reigning American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year was named to the College Football America 2017 Yearbook Mid-Major Starting Lineup, the publication's version of an All-America team.

Flowers was the only Bull named to the team, which featured a first-team offense and defense, and five special-teams positions. We can only imagine the inclusion of only one Bull (not to mention that "mid-major" label) will go over well in Tampa.

Arguably the first bona fide Heisman candidate in program history, Flowers is the first Bull to be named to four preseason national award watch lists (Walter Camp, Maxwell, Johnny Unitas, Davey O'Brien).

Here's a segment from his interview following the Bulls' first preseason workout Monday.

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USF journal: Bulls healthy as camp commences

Arguably the most positive image from opening day of USF's preseason was the one that never materialized.

No crutches, no casts, not even guys doing rehab work on the side. On Monday, the Bulls appeared as healthy as they might be all season.

"They're all here," Coach Charlie Strong said following the two-hour workout, held on the Bulls' old practice fields just north of the current ones. "Our whole team is here right now, which is really good. We didn't have any casualties academically."

That included the incoming freshman class, Strong said. As for the veterans, five prominent ones held out of spring drills due to various injuries -- WR Tyre McCants, MLB Auggie Sanchez, LG Jeremi Hall and DEs Vincent Jackson and Kirk Livingstone -- all worked out Monday.

Sanchez, fully recovered from shoulder surgery, said he was "real rusty," but expected to be. McCants, sidelined by a hamstring ailment in the spring, had a solid workout according to QB Quinton Flowers.

"Tyre came out today, made a lot of great plays," Flowers said. "It was great to see him out there back to being himself." 

DON'T BLINK: Nearly seven months into his USF tenure, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's system still has no nickname. And no playbook. And certainly no lulls.

A top priority this preseason will be mastering a tempo in which -- ideally -- the Bulls will snap the ball 12 to 15 seconds after the previous play is whistled dead. "Coach Gilbert says that's the way he coaches guys and that's the way he coaches offense," Flowers said.

"Ever since he came in, he's been teaching us that, get the ball to the ref in the middle of the field, let 'em get the ball set. We're gonna get the signal one time and we're gonna keep rolling, keep rolling."

ODDS AND ENDS: Monday's workout marked the earliest a Bulls preseason has begun in the program's 21 seasons. ... Sanchez said he's encouraged by the bond he and new defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary are forging, but suggested it will take time to become as strong as the one he had with former coordinator Raymond Woodie, for whom he played four seasons. "It's improving every single day," Sanchez said. "We talk ball and I'm just kind of learning the defense now." ... Strong said RT Marcus Norman, currently listed as a starter, had "a really good spring." At left tackle, he said junior Eric Mayes is being pushed by 6-foot-6, 310-pound Virginia transfer Grant Polk.

AUDIBLE: "If we go out there and take San Jose (State) lightly...you were here for McNeese State?" -- Sanchez, offering a rhetorical response to a question about the Bulls battling overconfidence this season

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No discounting these seniors as USF preseason dawns

USF senior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez has started all 38 games over the last three seasons.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF senior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez has started all 38 games over the last three seasons.

The USF preseason formally kicks off this afternoon, promising to be unlike most of the 20 that have preceded it.

For one, this might be the earliest starting date in school history, for reasons explained here. Additionally, these Bulls will enter the Morsani Complex today equipped with more expectation, drive and experience than most of their predecessors.

"You see a lot of hungry guys, a lot of people working harder than they have ever worked," said fifth-year senior MLB Auggie Sanchez, among the stars of last season's 11-2 team that set a program record for victories. "We're not content with what we had or what we did last year."

Sanchez is one of 13 seniors listed as starters on the Bulls' post-spring depth chart, making this the oldest USF team since at least the start of the Willie Taggart era in 2013.

Seven of those upperclassmen are on defense, and four of those -- Sanchez, CB Deatrick Nichols, SS Devin Abraham and DT Deadrin Senat -- have at least 20 career starts.

"We've got a lot of older dudes, and that's the goal," Sanchez said. "We talk about it all the time in practice, all the time in weights. This is probably the most motivated team I've been on."


Green and grizzled
The seniors listed as starters on USF's 2017 post-spring depth chart. (Career starts listed in parentheses)

Offense
WR Ryeshene Bronson (16)
C Cameron Ruff (14)
LG Jeremi Hall (13)
QB Quinton Flowers (27)
RB D'Ernest Johnson (1)
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (24)

Defense
DT Deadrin Senat (24)
DT Bruce Hector (12)
DE Mike Love (9)
MLB Auggie Sanchez (38)
CB Deatrick Nichols (27)
SS Devin Abraham (26)
FS Tajee Fullwood (13)

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Tampa Bulls fall in national hoops tourney

Former USF men's basketball star Dominique Jones, the fifth-leading scorer in program history, totaled 85 points in three games for a USF alumni team in a national tournament.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Former USF men's basketball star Dominique Jones, the fifth-leading scorer in program history, totaled 85 points in three games for a USF alumni team in a national tournament.

The Tampa Bulls' quest for summer basketball's most lucrative prize ended late Friday evening.

The Bulls, composed solely of former USF men's players, fell to reigning two-time champion Overseas Elite 84-76 in the "Super 16" round of The Basketball Tournament (TBT) before an announced crowd of 1,041 at Brooklyn's Steinberg Center.

The game was televised live on ESPN2 with -- fittingly enough -- former Bulls coach Seth Greenberg providing analysis.

Overseas Elite, 16-0 all-time in TBT play, shot 66.7 percent from the floor (16-for-24) in the first half, and went nearly 50 percent (8-for-17) from 3-point range for the game. Six players scored at least eight points, led by former Arizona PG Kyle Fogg's 19.

Dominique Jones, who banked a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in the Bulls' second-round game, scored 26 to lead Tampa, which hit only 11 of 21 free throws and five of 20 3-pointers. Jones totaled 85 points in three tournament contests.

TBT, featuring a $2 million winner-take-all prize, attracts teams consisting primarily of former collegians and/or overseas professionals. The final of the 64-team event is set for Aug. 3 in Baltimore, and will be televised on ESPN.

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That was quick: Charlie Strong mentioned as Ole Miss candidate

New USF coach Charlie Strong spent the 1990 season at Ole Miss as receivers coach.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

New USF coach Charlie Strong spent the 1990 season at Ole Miss as receivers coach.

Bulls fans this morning are facing the sobering reality that having Charlie Strong as their coach comes with a downside: his upside.

At least one Ole Miss-based website already is trumpeting Strong -- still three days from his first preaseason practice at USF -- as the top candidate to replace Hugh Freeze, who resigned in disgrace at Ole Miss on Thursday night.

The Ole Miss-centric site on Rivals.com also lists Strong as a prime candidate. Others, such as this one, mention Chip Kelly and Les Miles as the likeliest candidates to land in Oxford.

 

Strong's expansive resume includes one year as Rebels receivers coach (1990).

Such will be the speculation surrounding Strong for as long as he possesses a parking space outside the Selmon Center. His sparkling coaching credentials (notwithstanding three rough years at Texas) is going to make him a prime candidate for nearly every Power Five vacancy that arises.

And if USF wins a conference title this year as expected, the Strong demand will only intensify. It's naive to believe otherwise.

For those wondering, here's the buyout information from Strong's contract.

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