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Sleepers to speedsters: A closer look at USF’s early signees

The Bulls' class currently is ranked first in the American Athletic Conference by Rivals.
USF coach Charlie Strong signed 24 players during the NCAA's early signing period in December. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
USF coach Charlie Strong signed 24 players during the NCAA's early signing period in December. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published Jan. 26, 2018
Updated Jan. 26, 2018

Because the NCAA's early signing period commenced practically on the eve of USF's bowl game, the newest crop of Bulls weren't greeted with the conventional February signing day fanfare.

But by all accounts, Charlie Strong and his staff quietly assembled one of the American Athletic Conference's top classes. Currently, Rivals ranks USF's class first (tied with Cincinnati), while 247Sports ranks it second (behind the Bearcats) in the AAC.

Related: USF up to 24 signees in early period

Both services lump USF's 24 early signees with four who have made non-binding verbal commitments. As a result, we don't anticipate any fluctuation in the Bulls' ranking when the normal signing day — probably an anticlimactic one — comes and goes.

So with the bowl season behind us, and a hearty chunk of the college all-star games in the books, we took a deeper dive into Strong's newest signees.

The star
Currently, Orlando Jones DE Stacy Kirby (No. 79) is the only Bulls signee on Rivals' list of the top 100 Florida prospects. A onetime FSU commitment (and an early enrollee), Kirby's No. 91 on the 247Sports list, six spots ahead of Admiral Farragut WR Zion Roland.

Our intel, however, reveals Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast DE Rashawn Yates ultimately could evolve into the class' crown jewel. Yates, who had 13 sacks as a junior, had more than a dozen Power Five offers.

The sleeper
Four years ago, South Florida recruiting extraordinaire Larry Blustein assured us Quinton Flowers had the chance to be a program-changer for the Bulls. So when he tells us diminutive Miami High speedster Johnny Ford is a steal for USF, we believe him.

In fact, when we asked Blustein which Miami-area USF recruit rises above the others, he said Ford (5-foot-8, 175 pounds) without hesitation. Once seemingly destined for East Carolina, Ford totaled more than 1,600 yards as a senior, leading Miami High (11-2) to the Class 8A state semifinals.

"The kid's a jet," Blustein said. "I don't care if it's a college guy or an NFL guy, you can't tackle him from the waist to the knee on one hit. It's impossible. … I mean, there's other high-profile guys, but I think he's the big surprise that nobody really knows about."

The speedster
With the ink still drying on freshman dynamo Chauncy Smart's release papers (he transferred to Miami to run track), the Bulls snagged another elite sprinter in Miramar ATH Terrence Horne.

The runner-up in the 100 and 200 meters at last spring's Class 4A state meet, Horne had five 100-yard receiving games as a senior, and conceivably could fill the kick-return void left by D'Ernest Johnson.

"You know those guys that have that speed that's scary-type speed? He's got that," Blustein said.

The strongest
No contest here. Port Charlotte DL Devin Leacock, the reigning Class 2A state weightlifting champion in the unlimited weight class, has his sights on Florida's overall state record (830 total pounds). Check out our story on Leacock, arguably the most inspiring member of the early signing class.

The specialist
If Trent Schneider pans out, the Bulls won't have to hold a campus-wide open tryout for punters. Schneider, an Australia native already on campus, averaged 38.6 yards a punt in 2016 at Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College — also known as Punter U. Schneider is the fourth SBCC punter to earn a Division I-A scholarship, joining a group that includes 2016 Ray Guy Award winner Mitch Wishnowsky of Utah.