TAMPA — USF coach Skip Holtz was already excited about his recruiting class when he woke up Wednesday, believing the Bulls had filled some key needs on the line and at linebacker.
Then came the surprise. Well, at least to everybody else.
Miami Washington DT Elkino Watson, a four-star recruit, according to Rivals.com, stunned many by picking USF over Florida and his hometown Hurricanes.
Holtz said Watson let the Bulls coaches know of his plans a few days earlier.
"Then," Holtz said, smiling, "you hold your breath."
The signing did not significantly alter the Bulls' class ranking (sixth in the eight-team Big East according to Rivals.com), but it gave them the top player on their board and at a key position as they try to replace their "Dancing Bear," DT Terrell McClain.
Holtz believed Watson made a "very bold decision" but the right one, saying he believes Watson can "push for immediate (playing) time."
"I'll tell you the guy who is probably as close to the type of athlete that Dancing Bear was is Elkino Watson," defensive tackles coach Kevin Patrick said on USF's website.
"You want to talk about an unbelievable athletic ability, great feet, great hands, can do a lot of the same things that Terrell was able to do. That's why we went after him."
LOCAL FLAVOR: The Bulls also got two big receivers from the bay area in Jefferson's Andre Davis, a four-star recruit, according to Scout.com, and Robinson's Ruben Gonzalez. Holtz said he wanted to add size to the corps. And in Davis (6 feet 1) and Gonzalez (6-2), the Bulls get that as well as the ability to "make the circus catch." Holtz said both could make an impact soon.
EARLY IMPACT: Of the five offensive line recruits, Holtz said Thor Jozwiak, Max Lang and Brynjar Gudmundsson are the most physically ready. At linebacker, it's Zack Bullock, Mike Jeune and Antoine Pozniak.
Then there's North Carolina Tech DT Marquis White, who has played just one year of organized football. Though White still has to work on his fundamentals, Holtz said he likes his potential.
"He's got the physical tools and talent," Holtz said. "When he walks in the door, his back is a billboard. The clips you see him play in are what make you say the guy has a chance to come in and be a gap-stopper."
Still coming: WR Alex Mut picked USF for its family atmosphere and "loyalty." And he found out how loyal Holtz is.
Mut tore his right ACL two weeks ago while playing basketball. But Holtz called and told him to worry about his knee, not his scholarship, because there was no chance he'd rescind it.
"We're engaged," Holtz said.
GOT AWAY: There were a few who strongly considered USF but went elsewhere, including Armwood QB/S Josh Grady (Vanderbilt) and Miami Central OL Marquis Lucas (West Virginia).
QUOTABLE: "Coach Holtz and the Holtz era, we're going to do big things, BCS championships. That's what we're going to do." — Gonzalez
MISCELLANY: RB Dontae Aycock, a graduate of Tampa's Chamberlain High who transferred from Auburn, was elevated from walk-on to scholarship. … Hillsborough P/K Mattias Ciabatti accepted a preferred walk-on spot … Holtz said all but one recruit have qualified and expects all at school by the fall.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.