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Why three-star recruit Eddie Kelly can be USF’s C.J. Spiller

The Bulls just beat the Gators and Seminoles for this Orlando-area athlete. That hasn’t happened in years.
Jeff Scott picked up a big commitment Saturday from Eddie Kelly, a three-star athlete from the Orlando area.
Jeff Scott picked up a big commitment Saturday from Eddie Kelly, a three-star athlete from the Orlando area. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]
Published Nov. 6, 2021|Updated Nov. 6, 2021

If second-year USF coach Jeff Scott can turn the Bulls around, Saturday’s oral commitment from Eddie Kelly might end up as a turning point. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound athlete is promising enough on his own, but the circumstances surrounding his commitment make him a potentially program-changing recruit.

Kelly has blown up this fall after he transferred (from Orlando’s Jones High to West Orange) and switched positions (from tight end to defensive end). Thanks in part to his 20 tackles for a loss, he has landed at least eight Power Five offers in the last month, including Florida and Florida State.

“It’s going crazy,” Kelly said Saturday.

And that’s what makes his decision so big, even though oral commitments are non-binding until next month’s early signing period. The Bulls haven’t landed a prospect the Gators and Seminoles both wanted in years —maybe since their Big East days. But they’re holding off the in-state powers for this late bloomer.

Why?

“Because I believe in Coach Scott,” Kelly said.

Related: Why USF’s special teams consistency means more to Jeff Scott than you’d think

His recruitment sounds like the perfect blueprint Scott will have to follow to build USF back into an AAC contender, and perhaps a team that deserves Power Five consideration in the next round of realignment.

If USF is going to beat more established programs for Florida recruits, they’ll have to do so through early evaluation. That was the case with Kelly; the Bulls started pushing for him as a freshman, and Scott continued the recruitment when he took over after the 2019 season.

From there, Scott will have to use the extra time to build a strong relationship and sell prospects on the culture he’s building. Kelly said USF made his family feel like family. The recent struggles of UF and FSU didn’t hurt.

“To be honest, all these big programs are not winning like what they used to,” Kelly said.

USF isn’t, either. But that’s okay for Kelly. He sees the opportunity for early playing time and the chance to lead a program’s overhaul.

“I’m the type of person where I want to start something where my name can be built, that my legacy, my name can shine,” Kelly said. “I feel like USF is the best rebuilding program for me.”

If Kelly works out for the Bulls, he can be a monumental part of that process. If that sounds like hyperbole, look at what happened at Scott’s last stop, Clemson.

The Tigers were not recruiting juggernauts in 2006, but that didn’t stop then-assistant Dabo Swinney from going after big-time talents. That year, he beat Florida and others to land one of them — five-star running back C.J. Spiller — from Lake Butler, just outside Gainesville.

Spiller became a college superstar, led Clemson to an ACC title game and eventually made a Pro Bowl. As importantly, he helped establish the Tigers as a destination for big-time talents. He jumpstarted a Florida-to-Clemson pipeline (Sammy Watkins, East Lake High’s Artavis Scott and Tampa Bay Tech’s Deon Cain, to name three) that helped the Tigers win a pair of national titles.

It’s unfair to expect Kelly to make that kind of impact at USF. But if the Bulls are going to turn things around, landing a commitment from Kelly is a great place to start.

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