The University of South Florida football program potentially added one of the most significant impact players in its history on Monday.
Defensive end Aaron Lynch, a 6-foot-6, 270-pound five-star high-school recruit from Cape Coral who earned freshman All-American honors last season at Notre Dame, made it official by completing his transfer and signing with USF.
Under NCAA rules, Lynch is expected to sit out next season and be ready for 2013 with three years of eligibility remaining. At Notre Dame, he played in 12 games and started six. He had 33 tackles and a team-high 5 1/2 sacks.
On April 13, when announcing he was leaving the Fighting Irish, Lynch said he wanted a return to his home state. Lynch is finishing classes at Notre Dame and is expected to enroll at USF this summer.
"It's a huge get for us,'' USF coach Skip Holtz said. "He's not only extremely talented in football – everybody saw that on the field last season – but he's a good student and a great young man. He's going to be phenomenal for our program.
"When you think about the (defensive ends) we have now, Ryne Giddins, Tevin Mims and JuJu Forte, they're all going to be juniors. You plug Aaron Lynch into that equation and it's very, very exciting.''
Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium, Lynch attended USF's spring game as he completed an official campus visit. Afterward, he was all smiles as he interacted with players and posed for photographs.
"He knew what he wanted and that's one of the things that made this process very quick,'' Holtz said. "He's very mature. As he said, 'I'm not looking to go through the recruiting process again. I just want to get it right.' This is where he wanted to be.
"I think when he got around our players, he felt comfortable and sensed a family atmosphere and environment. It's what he thought it was, so he was done. If he had come here and it wasn't what he thought it was, if he found reasons not to be here, he probably would've kept going. So I think it speaks volumes about where the program is right now.''
The Bulls were 5-7 last season and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2004. They have 15 returning starters, including senior quarterback B.J. Daniels. The Bulls are expected to contend in the Big East Conference race. They will also face a challenging non-conference schedule that includes a home game against Florida State (Sept. 29) and a trip to Miami (Nov. 17).
USF was actually the first school to offer Lynch a scholarship during his high-school days, where he was rated the nation's third-best defensive end and the 28th-best prospect overall, according to Rivals.com.
But his decision-making process was tumultuous. He orally committed to Florida State, switched to Notre Dame, changed back to FSU, then recommitted to Notre Dame about three weeks before National Signing Day in 2011.
The drama continued last week when Lynch's mother, Alice, made a Twitter appeal to former Irish standout Justin Tuck, asking him to convince her son to stay at Notre Dame. By then, though, Lynch was on his way to Tampa for his USF visit.
"I've always known and appreciated the affinity Aaron has for his home in Florida,'' Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a statement when Lynch announced his transfer plans. "However, the stark reality is you can't make it at Notre Dame if your head and heart are not here.''