TAMPA — When Bucs assistant Ron Cooper moved across town to become USF's defensive backs coach last week, the hope was that his experience — especially in three years working with elite corners at LSU — would give the Bulls and coach Willie Taggart much-needed recruiting help for 2013 at cornerback.
It didn't take long for Cooper to make good on that, as junior college CB Howard Wilder, a 6-foot, 185-pound standout at Pierce College in Los Angeles, committed to the Bulls on Tuesday, choosing USF over Wisconsin, Kentucky, Missouri and Houston.
Wilder enjoyed an official visit to USF in December the weekend Taggart was hired, but he wasn't ready to commit until learning that Cooper, his future position coach, worked with a pair of Thorpe Award winners and high first-round picks in Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne, as well as All-American Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu.
"That explains everything," Wilder said, asked why he chose the Bulls. "They were my best fit."
USF struggled with pass defense in 2012, and its cornerbacks didn't account for either of the team's two interceptions, a total that matched the low among 124 Division I-A programs. What's more, starters Kayvon Webster and George Baker were seniors, leaving the Bulls without any successors with significant experience.
That makes Wilder a key addition. He'll compete with another junior college standout, Torrel Saffold, who enrolled last week, as well as promising but unproven returning players like rising senior Josh Brown and sophomore Kenneth Durden. One sign that USF's coaches think highly of Wilder: He'll wear the No. 6 jersey that Webster wore in his Bulls career.
With three weeks left until national signing day, USF's biggest recruiting needs remain quarterback and running back. The Bulls must soon decide if they'll hold out for Winter Park QB Asiantii Woulard, who has twice committed to USF and subsequently backed out and is now being courted by Kentucky, Clemson and UCLA.
If the Bulls decide they can't get Woulard a third time on signing day, the likely target is St. Thomas Aquinas star John O'Korn, who is currently committed to Houston and picked up an offer from Syracuse this week. USF already has a commitment from Fort Lauderdale's Mike White, who led University School to a state championship last month.
THIS AND THAT: LB Sam Barrington and Webster were back on USF's campus Sunday at the Tampa Shriners Hospitals for Children, visiting as part of the leadup to Saturday's East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field. The two have been busy improving their stock as potential draft picks, working out in Miami at Bommarito Performance Systems, where former Bulls like Jason Pierre-Paul, Jerome Murphy and Carlton Mitchell trained before being drafted. … New defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan is a players' coach who makes defense simple and fun, said former NFL LB Ricky Hunley, who was his linebackers coach with the Bengals (2005-07) and Raiders (2011). "You've got good athletes. You don't want to slow them down," Hunley said. "You want them to play fast and use their God-given ability to make (stuff) happen."