Strong, staff salvage 18-player class
On the eve of Groundhog Day, many expected Charlie Strong to emerge from the recruiting trenches and see only a shadow of prior USF recruiting classes.
But by late afternoon, he had salvaged an 18-player group most likely will deem an over-achievement, considering his woefully late start.
"I have to congratulate our coaches for the job they did in the short period of time that they had," said Strong, whose hiring was announced Dec. 11. "The work they did, just relentless."
Before dusk Wednesday, a class ranked near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference only a few days before had jumped to fifth and sixth in the 247Sports and Rivals.com rankings, respectively.
Propelling the group was a surprise signature from Armwood DE Jabreel Stephens (a previous Louisville commitment), a letter of intent from Jacksonville Lee three-star OL Demetris Harris, and a trifecta of signatures from Class 6A state champ Miami Carol City.
All three Carol City players -- S Naytron Culpepper, WR Kevaughn Dingle and S Donelle Thomas -- are deemed three-star recruits by 247Sports.
"You look at it, and you really don't know until you get that paper coming in on that fax machine of really what you're gonna get, but we were able to really get some good ones today," Strong said.
Other nuggets from Strong's signing day wrapup:
* While clearly happy with the day's developments, Strong's message carried an all-things-considered disclaimer. USF's class still will finish well outside the top 50 in all the major recruiting rankings.
"What happened this recruiting cycle is that we just walked in too late," he said. "You look at some that had already made their commitments or they had visited somewhere, and then we come trying to rush in at the last second, trying to sell ourselves and sell the program.
"So what we know we have to do now is get in this bay area and just lock in. Knowing the ones we want to get and let's go get 'em and let's lock 'em down early."
* Strong, bent on fortifying the line of scrimmage, signed eight linemen (four offense, four defense) if you include TE Frederick Lloyd of Tift (Ga.) County.
"You look at our line now, we have a lot of returners coming back, but we still have to always address it and that's where you start at," he said.
"You're always gonna be able to find skill guys, especially in this state. And I always look at it too that big guys beat up little guys, so you always need the big guys to really get going."
* Ten of the 18 recruits were defensive players. "We have to play much better defense than what we played last season," Strong said.
* Strong was quick to deflect much of the credit for Wednesday's south Florida recruiting triumphs to secondary coach Corey Bell, a Miami native and former head coach at two Miami high schools. He also praised Shaun King's bay area recruiting efforts, once jokingly referring to him as "super recruiter."
* Strong said his next order of business is filling the final two spots on his staff. Spring practice begins March 6, he said.
ATH Duran Bell, Hillsborough
S Naytron Culpepper, Miami Carol City
WR Kevaughn Dingle, Miami Carol City
DL Darrien Grant, Bradenton Southeast
OG Demetris Harris, Jacksonville Lee
LB Keirston Johnson, Jacksonville Lee
DL Kelvin Kegler, Madison County
S Mekhi LaPointe, Armwood
TE Frederick Lloyd, Tift (Ga.) County
OG Jean Marcellus, Jefferson
WR Jernard Phillips, Miami Central*
DL Kelvin Pinkney, Sarasota Booker
CB Nick Roberts, Orange Park Oakleaf
WR Randall St. Felix, Miami Dr. Krop
CB Bentlee Sanders, Tampa Catholic
OL Jeremiah Stafford, Citra North Marion
DE Jabreel Stephens, Armwood
DB Donelle Thomas, Miami Carol City