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JUCO players help USF land its best recruiting class

TAMPA

Today, coach Jim Leavitt will unveil what should be the highest-ranked recruiting class in his program's short history, and for the second year in a row a big reason is a strong group of junior college prospects who will return to Florida to play for the Bulls.

A year ago, USF signed four Floridians from junior colleges, with Kion Wilson emerging as the starting MLB and DE Craig Marshall finishing fourth on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss.

This year's group should include five junior college signees, all but one from Florida, including a five-star DE in Deerfield Beach's Jason Pierre-Paul. Three rank in Rivals.com's national junior college top 100; no other school in the country has three who rank as high as Pierre-Paul (sixth), Riverview LB Jacquian Williams (21st) and Apopka T Jamar Bass (62nd).

Two years ago, the Bulls had no scholarship players who had played football in junior college, but this fall that number should be nine. Of this year's group, just one — former Hillsborough DT Leslie Stirrups — had signed with USF out of high school, but the Bulls have found success targeting in-state recruits from junior colleges in Mississippi and Kansas who now want to play closer to home.

JUCO players are better equipped to step in immediately as starters, and Leavitt has several key holes to fill, especially on defense, where five senior starters graduated, and on the offensive line, which started four seniors.

"You're getting a more mature kid than out of high school, players that are physically and mentally more ready to contribute right away," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said Tuesday. "One of the first priorities is immediate needs, and we felt like this was what we needed to do with this class."

USF had few contributions from true freshmen last fall, and the impact from junior college players this fall should allow the Bulls to redshirt more freshmen. Williams will compete for a starting OLB position, and Bass and California's Carlos Savala have a shot at two starting OT positions.

Two JUCO recruits, DE Claude Davis and OT Justin Green, have already committed toward USF's 2010 recruiting class.

WATCH LIVE: USF's official site, GoUSFbulls.com, has an ambitious plan for covering today's recruiting news, with a free "Signing Day Live" program, running eight hours of live video coverage, complete with highlights of signees and interviews with assistant coaches, all leading up to Leavitt's news conference at 4 p.m. The Times will have live updates, analysis and interviews throughout the day on its USF blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.

BANQUET: The baseball and softball teams have their annual Leadoff Banquet on Feb. 12 at the Pepin Hospitality Centre. Coaches Lelo Prado and Ken Eriksen will be there to introduce their 2009 teams, and previous guests have included Yankees stars Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, Rays manager Joe Maddon and former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer. Tickets are $75 per person or $600 per table. Call the Bulls Club at (813) 974-4223 for information.

THIS AND THAT: USF hosts a free signing day party 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Splitsville in Channelside. Coaches and players, including Matt Grothe and George Selvie, will sign autographs and answer questions. … USF will honor longtime athletic director Dick Bowers at halftime of Friday's basketball game against Marquette. The Bulls will raise a banner to remember Bowers, who was athletic director from 1965-82. He died in November at age 77. … The softball team opens its season with five games this weekend, hosting the Louisville Slugger Tournament. The Bulls host tournaments the next three weekends.

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com and at (813) 226-3346.

JUCO players help USF land its best recruiting class 02/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 7:13pm]

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