Though the big ones got away, USF coach Jim Leavitt is pleased with his 19-recruit class.
They're more lunch-pail types than all-stars, but South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said the Bulls' 19-player class of 2000 was exactly what they needed: Defensive backs, linemen and a lot of versatility.
"People will probably say this is a good, solid class," Leavitt said. "There's some talent in these guys."
There were no surprises _ all 19 had committed before Wednesday _ but the Bulls came close to landing a handful of top prospects at the last minute. One was Merritt Island lineman Kevin Deaton, who decided Wednesday to sign with Florida over the Bulls. Deaton (6 feet 4, 285), also a first-team all-state pitcher, was listed as the No. 17 offensive guard prospect in the nation by recruiting guru Max Emfinger.
Leavitt said he understands _ for now _ why such players would go with bigger-name schools. But that will change, he said.
"We're still (working out of) some trailers out there," Leavitt said. "We just finished I-AA football and we're battling with Florida, Ohio State and Miami. We're building tradition. As we make that transition into Conference USA, people will see the possibilities."
Though there are no highly touted blue chippers in the class, a few come close. Running back Clenton Crossley of Class 2A South Sumter _ the first to commit in November _ was named one of PrepStar's top 50 Florida recruits. A three-time all-state player, Crossley twice was the Leesburg Daily Commercial's offensive player of the year. In 1999, he rushed for 1,353 yards and 26 touchdowns on 195 carries.
"I don't think there's a better back in the state," Leavitt said. "He came to our camp. We timed him at a 4.41 (seconds in the 40-yard dash). He's a tremendous person and he's a leader at South Sumter."
Leavitt also was thrilled to land quarterback Ronnie Banks of New Orleans Lawless High. Banks, whom Leavitt plans to redshirt, chose USF over Kansas State.
The Bulls got three solid players from Wildwood High, including sought-after defensive end Cedric Battles, who picked USF over Southern Miss. Battles was an all-area player in each of his three seasons. As a senior, he had 50 tackles with 3.5 sacks.
Teammate Shurron Pierson, who played opposite Battles, benefited from opponents' avoidance of Battles. He had 72 tackles with 5.5 sacks. The Bulls also got Wildwood defensive back Brian Dixon, the Daily Commercial's defensive player of the year, who had 78 tackles, six interceptions and a fumble return for a touchdown.
Leavitt pronounced himself pleased with the four offensive line prospects the Bulls signed _ a good thing, because they are thinner up front than anywhere else.
This month, USF lost offensive line coach Eric Wolford, who took a position at Houston, and starting right tackle Joe Condron, who left the team shortly after Wolford's departure.
USF also will be without starting guard Billy Attix this season. Attix unknowingly played with a cracked vertebra, an injury that was discovered after the season. Doctors grafted a piece of bone from his hip and he is wearing a neck collar.
The Bulls also don't expect lineman Brent Whitfield, who had his third shoulder surgery during the season, to return.
Leavitt said he doesn't know whether any of the four offensive linemen _ Alex Herron of New Smyrna Beach, Chris Rauth of Lake Brantley, Derrick Sarosi of Titusville Astronaut and Mark Sopcik of Land O'Lakes _ will play as true freshmen, as Condron did last season.
More than likely, a handful of the 19 will, but Leavitt isn't ready to predict who. Some, like receiver/defensive back Bruce Gipson of Charlotte High, could contribute in any number of ways.
"I tell every one of them to be ready to go," Leavitt said. "They just compete. If they can make our two-deep (roster), we'll play them."
SOUTH FLORIDA SIGNEES
Player Pos. Ht. Wt. School
Ronnie Banks QB 6-3 220 New Orleans Lawless
Cedric Battles DE 6-3 240 Wildwood
Javan Camon DB 6-0 170 Charlotte
Howard Campbell DL 6-2 250 Ocilla (Ga.) Irwin County
Clenton Crossley RB 5-10 210 Bushnell South Sumter
Brian Dixon DB 6-3 205 Wildwood
Senica Evans WR 6-0 165 Northeast
Mark Feldman TE 6-4 230 Clearwater Cent. Cath.
Bruce Gipson WR/DB 5-10 170 Charlotte
Alex Herron OL 6-4 270 New Smyrna Beach
Antwan Lundy RB 5-8 185 Miami Central
Shurron Pierson DE 6-3 220 Wildwood
Chris Rauth OG 6-5 310 Lake Brantley
J.R. Reed DB 5-11 185 Hillsborough
Kenny Robinson DB 5-11 180 Pensacola Escambia
Derrick Sarosi OT 6-7 290 Titusville Astronaut
Sidney Simpson DB 5-8 175 Miami Northwestern
Devon Small DT 6-2 275 Miami Pace
Mark Sopcik OL 6-4 270 Land O'Lakes