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Recruiting: UCF gaining ground on USF in the bay area?

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Tue. July 24, 2012 | Matt Baker | Email

Recruiting: UCF gaining ground on USF in the bay area?

TAMPA — As the on-field rivalry between UCF and USF prepares to heat up when they become conference mates in July 2013, the I-4 rivalry has already boiled over on high school football fields and campuses across Tampa Bay.

UCF has invaded the Bulls’ backyard. The Knights are poised to land their first USF targets in Tampa Bay in a decade. Two other in-state recruits have committed to UCF over the Bulls.

One of the area’s top talents, Armwood receiver Alvin Bailey, has ruled out the Bulls but is still considering UCF. USF fans on message boards are worried their rivals have invaded the Bulls’ biggest recruiting grounds.

“I think the (USF) fan base’s concerns about how UCF is recruiting there are valid, for sure,” said Chris Nee, a Florida recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.

UCF and USF battling for the same recruits is nothing new. Since 2006, 53 players signed with either school after landing offers from both, according to Rivals: 27 signed with the Knights, and 26 signed with the Bulls.

One star even signed with both schools. Coming out of Deerfield Beach High in 2007, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul inked with UCF but went to junior college instead. Two years later the future New York Giants all-pro starred at USF.

But in vying for hometown players, the I-4 corridor has traditionally been a one-way road: From Orlando to Tampa.

“As much publicity as UCF is getting this year, USF has been raiding the Orlando area the past few years,” said Josh Newberg, a recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com.

From 2006-12, USF landed six of the eight Orlando-area players who chose either school but had offers from both, according to Rivals. Since the site began tracking recruiting in 2002, only one local player — Largo offensive lineman Dan Veenstra (2002) — spurned a USF offer to join the Knights.

But cracks could be showing in the Bulls’ wall around Tampa Bay. East Lake quarterback Pete DiNovo and Tampa Bay Tech athlete Richard Benjamin had offers from USF but committed to the Knights this month.

After visiting the Orlando campus last week, Freedom defensive back Nate Godwin said he’d put the Knights in his top four with USF, West Virginia and Iowa State if they offered him a scholarship. Bailey, the Armwood receiver and Rivals’ No. 132 national prospect, lists the Knights alongside programs like Notre Dame, Florida State and Auburn.

“They’re really recruiting their tails off,” said defensive end Jordan Sherit, a four-star Hillsborough High prospect with offers from both programs. “They’re valuing this area more than any other.”

Recruits point to a handful of reasons why UCF is gaining on the Bulls locally. No. 1: The facilities, which include an indoor practice facility, private dorm rooms, an on-campus stadium and amenities ranging from pizza shops to a GameStop.

“If I was to go there, I wouldn’t even leave campus,” Freedom’s Godwin said.

The Knights’ move to the Big East erased the stigma of being outside of a BCS conference. Benjamin said he wouldn’t have considered UCF if it stayed in Conference USA.

New Knights assistant Kirk Callahan has Tampa Bay ties as an Armwood graduate and the son of Hawks coach Sean Callahan. That helped UCF land offensive lineman Aaron Evans from Seffner last month. But Callahan is more than just a name. After stints as a graduate assistant under great recruiters Urban Meyer at Florida and Butch Davis at North Carolina, he is proving he can recruit as his own man.

But recruits and analysts say UCF’s most important recruiter could become DiNovo.

“By us committing, it kinda opened up some doors to some kids,” DiNovo said. “That kind of opened their eyes.”

DiNovo is a popular quarterback who helped lead Team Tampa to a 7-on-7 national championship. That all-star lineup includes prospects Sherit, Godwin, Miami commit Travis Johnson and East Lake junior receiver Artavis Scott — all of whom DiNovo talked into recent UCF visits.

“I only knew so much about UCF,” said Lakewood safety Shaquem Griffin, another Team Tampa member who claims an offer from the Bulls. “But Pete told me and my brother about it, and the more he told us, the more excited I got.”

Rivals ranks the schools’ 2013 recruiting classes nearly even: UCF is No. 60 nationally, one spot ahead of the Bulls.

Newberg says, though, that USF is winning the recruiting war, and DiNovo and Benjamin are offset by the Bulls’ efforts in Orlando.

“Get Alvin Bailey,’’ he said, “and now you have my attention.”

Despite UCF’s Tampa Bay invasion, the Bulls are having one of their top local years ever. Four area players — Plant linebacker Mitchell Wright, Jesuit offensive lineman Cameron Ruff and Robinson linemen Bruce Hector and Conner Rafferty — have already committed. USF hasn’t signed that many local players since 2009.

The Bulls, unofficially, have offered 32 area prospects, 17 more than UCF.  

USF continues to raid Orlando, too. Bulls commit Asiantii Woulard (Winter Park) was just named ESPN’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback Tuesday, and Orlando Freedom receiver Jeff Badet is expected to announce his USF commitment on his birthday next week, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“You have to remember in recruiting, there are highs and lows,” 247’s Newberg said, “and right now UCF is riding a high.”

The Bulls have six months until national signing day to change that.

Staff writer John C. Cotey contributed to this report. Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

Catching up
UCF appears to be making strides in Tampa Bay this season, but the Knights have narrowed the recruiting gap with USF over the past three years.

2005-09
USF
Average recruiting class rank: 50
Three-star recruits: 51
Four-star recruits: 9
Five-star recruits: 1
Times ranked higher than UCF: 5

UCF
Average recruiting class rank: 65
Three-star recruits: 34
Four-star recruits: 2
Five-star recruits: 0
Times ranked higher than USF: 0

2010-12
USF

Average recruiting class rank: 58
Three-star recruits: 43
Four-star recruits: 5
Five-star recruits: 0
Times ranked higher than UCF: 1

UCF
Average recruiting class rank: 62
Three-star recruits: 44
Four-star recruits: 5
Five-star recruits: 0
Times ranked higher than USF: 2

Source: Rivals.com

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