TAMPA – Even with an open date, the University of South Florida football program made significant news last week when former St. Petersburg Catholic offensive tackle Reilly Gibbons said he was leaving Stanford University to come home and play for the Bulls.
Gibbons (6-foot-6, 292 pounds) signed with Stanford in February and attended summer school, but did not enroll for the fall term. USF coach Willie Taggart, whose Bulls (2-3, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) host the No. 19-ranked East Carolina Pirates (4-1, 1-0) on Saturday night, said the program’s goal is to sign top prospects as they are leaving high school instead of becoming the backup plan.
In this case, though, securing Gibbons is well worth it.
“We don’t ever burn any bridges,’’ Taggart said. “You hear some stories about coaches getting ticked and going off on kids because they don’t come to your school. That’s not the right thing to do. We work our tails off to try and get them. If our best isn’t good enough to have them, then it wasn’t meant to be for us to have them.
“We’ll move on to the next. There are a lot of good football players who want to be here. It’s important that we want them, but they want us as well. You keep the relationships (because) you just never know. We try to teach our guys that you never know in life when you’re going to need someone or count on someone. It’s amazing how those things come back around.’’
Gibbons, a consensus four-star recruit, was considered a top-20 player at his position and had 47 scholarship offers, including Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Mississippi State, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The Bulls have several key contributors who began their careers at other schools, such as CB Chris Dunkley (Florida), QB Steven Bench (Penn State), DB Jamie Byrd (TCU), WR Eric Dungy (Oregon), TE Mike McFarland (Florida) and WR Rodney Adams (Toledo).
Historically, USF’s program has featured all-conference level transfer performers such as LB Tyrone McKenzie (Iowa State), RB Darrell Scott (Colorado), DE Aaron Lynch (Notre Dame), LB Kawika Mitchell (Georgia), PK Bill Gramatica (Florida State) and QB Chad Barnhardt (South Carolina).
Heath to ESPN
Former USF men’s basketball coach Stan Heath, who was fired in March after seven seasons with the Bulls, has been hired by ESPN. Heath will serve as men’s basketball analyst for ESPNU games. His debut is Nov. 17 – Miami at Florida. He also will appear on ESPNU’s studio shows.
Don’t be surprised if former USF football coach Jim Leavitt, the program’s patriarch, emerges as a top candidate for head coach at the University of Kansas, which just fired Charlie Weis. Leavitt, linebackers coach with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, made a name for himself as co-defensive coordinator at rival Kansas State before joining the Bulls. Remember this: Sheahon Zenger, the Kansas athletic director, was Leavitt’s first recruiting coordinator at USF in 1996.
That’s five weeks and counting for Erin Fairs on the AAC’s weekly volleyball honor roll. She had 19 kills and 24 digs in a four-set win against Connecticut. …Men’s soccer forward Tyler Blackwood was the AAC offensive player of the year after his hat trick – USF’s first in seven years – lifted the Bulls past Temple 3-0. …Women’s soccer’s Olivia Chance was the AAC offensive player of the week, while Jackie Simpson was defensive player of the week. …Former USF DB Mike Jenkins, currently on the injured-reserve list with the Bucs, is grand marshal of USF’s on-campus homecoming parade Friday night.