TAMPA — Two weeks on the job and USF football coach Skip Holtz picked up his first big victory Friday, convincing coveted Hillsborough High cornerback Terrence "T-Rex" Mitchell to back out of a commitment to Florida State and join the Bulls when national signing day comes on Wednesday.
It's just one player — albeit a player ranked as the No. 7 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com — but recruiting can often build a momentum of its own, especially in the frenzied final days before signing day.
"It's a big, big coup for South Florida, for Carl Franks and Skip Holtz and the whole gang," Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said Friday afternoon. "I am surprised, but pleasantly surprised, since both of my degrees are from South Florida. It's the kind of commitment that could sway other guys."
Holtz's recruiting priorities have quickly shifted from securing the Bulls' existing commitments to making the most out of the final scholarships available this season. There aren't as many as most years — USF had just 14 scholarship seniors this past season — but his newly assembled staff has worked furiously in the past week to address key needs:
• Mitchell isn't the only cornerback the Bulls could lure from a top-tier school. Frostproof's Nickell Robey, a Georgia commitment who had second thoughts after the Bulldogs changed defensive coordinators, made a midweek visit to USF and is considering the Bulls, even as he makes a visit to Southern Cal this weekend. And Gainesville cornerback Devont'a Davis, a Miami commitment, is visiting USF this weekend as well.
Oral commitments are not binding until a scholarship offer has been signed.
• With almost no depth at quarterback behind starter B.J. Daniels, USF is bringing in Jamius Gunsby, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound passer from LaGrange, Ga., who said he plans to orally commit on his visit. Two weeks ago he visited Florida, which offered him a scholarship before his senior season. On Friday, the Bulls pulled a scholarship offer from Bradenton Manatee's Brion Carnes, who had committed to USF before coach Jim Leavitt's firing but was visiting other schools.
• USF is working to hold onto three offensive line commitments: New Jersey's Jake Kaufman, Alabama's Quinterrius Eatmon and Miami Central's Jose Jose. The Bulls return every offensive lineman from 2009, but these recruits should help offset a core group of senior starters in 2010.
• Two positions that remain areas of concern are receiver and linebacker — USF lost out on Carnes' Manatee teammate, receiver Ace Sanders, who committed to South Carolina on Thursday. Depth at linebacker is an issue, but Mark Snyder, expected to be Holtz's defensive coordinator, is pursuing Hollywood Chaminade teammates Hans Louis and Ruben Narcisse, who are also considering Snyder's old school, Marshall, as well as West Virginia.
• Holtz has released two previous commitments from Leavitt's days who had limited windows with the Bulls — former FSU tackle Daron Rose, who had just one year of eligibility, and former Boca Ciega star Josh Bellamy, who would have had two years at USF. Bellamy is headed to Louisville, while Rose might wind up at Division II North Alabama, where Terry Bowden coaches.
• Despite the smaller group, USF already has what looks to be a top 50 class. Scout.com had it rated No. 47 nationally and Rivals.com had it No. 53, with both rating it fourth in the eight-team Big East.
NOTE: USF has rescinded the scholarship offer for this year to former Dunedin High running back Daris Bellamy, the first player to commit to the Bulls' Class of 2009. Bellamy did not qualify academically out of high school, so he attended Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia in the fall. He raised his grade point average and entrance exam scores and has been cleared by the NCAA. Dunedin coach Mark Everett said he was disappointed by USF's decision, given that it signed Bellamy last year and placed him at the prep school with the hopes of joining the Bulls this summer.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.