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The surreal recruiting odyssey of Robinson senior Connor Rafferty commenced in his backyard before meandering through Buffalo, bayou country and, finally, Birmingham.
Rafferty, who committed to USF last summer when Skip Holtz was still coach, signed with Division I-AA Samford on Wednesday. A 6-foot-3, 280-pound left tackle, Rafferty was among seven Robinson athletes -- including five football players -- to sign letters of intent Wednesday morning.
"I felt more comfortable there than any other school I visited," said Rafferty, a dual-enrollment student (4.2 weighted GPA) who recently made a midweek visit to Samford.
His courtship with USF was well chronicled. On Wednesday, Rafferty confirmed that shortly after Willie Taggart was hired to replace Holtz, he was encouraged by new Bulls recruiting coordinator Walt Wells to explore other options during a late-night phone call a few Sundays back.
His offer, however, never was formally rescinded. "I kind of expected it because when (Taggart) came in...I had a feeling I was going to have to look around at other places anyway," Rafferty said.
His exploration took him around half the United States. Shortly after reports of his phone call from Wells surfaced, Rafferty had offers from Buffalo, Eastern Kentucky, Samford and Louisiana Tech -- Holtz's new school.
"Holtz really was such a great guy for us," said Rafferty's dad, Robin. "I really think it was between Holtz and Samford. In the end, he just kept going back to Samford."
Taggart and the Bulls weren't completely shut out in Port Tampa. Two-way Knights lineman Bruce Hector, a first-team Class 5A all-state pick, signed with the Bulls. Other Knights signees Wednesday included RB Martin Ruiz, who signed with I-AA Youngstown State. He'll become the first member of his immediate family to attend college, older brother Marcus said.
"I haven't been this happy since the birth of my child," Marcus Ruiz said.
2013 Robinson signees
Bruce Hector, football (USF)
Cody Hodgens, football (FIU)*
Cory Johnson, boys soccer (Coker)
Justin Madison, football (Iowa State)
Connor Rafferty, football (Samford)
Martin Ruiz, football (Youngstown State)
Ruthie Seleznick, girls soccer (Rice)
*--Will be a preferred walk-on