There wasn't much suspense when it came to the University of South Florida's 2011 recruiting class, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Of the 18 recruits who signed with the Bulls on Wednesday, 17 had previously announced a verbal pledge to USF, some of them announcing their intentions months ago. But non-binding verbal commitments don't mean much in the recruiting world.
A lot of times, as USF coach Skip Holtz pointed out, a verbal commitment just tells everyone else who is leading in the recruiting process, and other programs will continually try to pry recruits away. The fact the Bulls' group of players held firm in their pledges and sent in the corresponding National Letter-of-Intent was deemed a fitting end to an exciting first full year of recruiting for Holtz and his staff.
"I think the way we finished the season definitely helped with the recruiting process. I think it cemented a lot of people's commitment as there were new coaches being hired not only around the state but around the country," Holtz said. "There were a lot of people who tried to come back in on commitments and to see them hold their ground and say, 'Coach, I want to be part of that family, I want to be a part of what's going on at South Florida and in Tampa right now' is really part of the thing that gets us so excited and gets us so jacked right now about where we're going and the direction that we're headed in."
There was one surprise on the day coming from Miami Washington defensive lineman Elkino Watson, a four-star recruit who announced Wednesday morning he had chosen the Bulls over Florida and Miami. It wasn't much of a surprise to Holtz and his staff - the coach indicated Watson "kind of let the cat out of the bag a little bit late in the recruiting process" with his intention - but it was viewed a significant signing-day get to cap off USF's recruiting efforts.
USF's 2011 recruiting class consists of 21 total players, with the 18 new recruits joining the program's three early enrollees. Eleven were offensive players and 10 were defensive, and Holtz believed he filled the two biggest needs for his team - on the offensive line and at linebacker - with the haul. Five offensive linemen and five linebackers were among the Bulls signees.
"That was the main emphasis in this recruiting class as we hit the road recruiting, and I think we did an awful lot to answer some of those questions," Holtz said.
USF ended up with only two local signees in receivers Andre Davis (Jefferson) and Ruben Gonzalez (Robinson) after Armwood quarterback Josh Grady, who was being recruited by USF as a defensive back, chose Wednesday to sign with Vanderbilt. But the two Hillsborough County stars also filled a need for the Bulls by bringing size to the receiver position - each stands 6-foot-2 - and Holtz raved about watching both Gonzalez and Davis show their ability to make circus catches during USF camps.
Gonzalez certainly is ready to bring his talents to the Bulls.
"I'm very happy about it," Gonzalez said of signing. "I'm just excited and ready to get up there and make an impact on the team."
As for making an early impact, Holtz said offensive linemen Max Lang (Evans), Thor Jozwiak (Lake Region) and Brynjar Gudmundsson (Wellington) and defensive linemen Marquis White (North Carolina Tech) and Watson were among the players he felt were the most "physically ready" to push for playing time in 2011. Two of the early enrollees, linebackers Mike Jeune (Independence Community College) and Antoine Pozniak (Oak Ridge Academy), and Wednesday signees linebackers Corian Hamilton (Olympia) and Zack Bullock (Sebring) also were mentioned in that mold.
But all should have a chance. Holtz said he expects each member in this year's class to be with the team when fall practice begins.
"I think every one of these players but one right now is fully qualified, and the one that's not is one-tenth of a percent away in his GPA," Holtz said. "So when you look at his class, this is a class of character, this is a class of talent, I think of academics. I think it's a great class.
BULLS BITS: Running back Dontae Aycock, who transferred from Auburn prior to last season and will be eligible in 2011, has been placed on scholarship. ... Receiver/kick returner Lindsey Lamar recently under shoulder surgery and may miss spring practice. Offensive lineman Jake Kauffman, who has had a lingering back problem, also is likely to miss spring practice. ... Hillsborough kicker/punter Mattias Ciabatti turned down an offer from Colgate and will join USF as a preferred walk-on. ... USF spring practice will begin March 3.