As I'm sure everybody knows, Signing Day is this week. In this annual rite of spring, college football coaches wait by fax machines, and fans across the Internet sit on pins and needles, to see which student-athletes have chosen to sign with their school. Stars are awarded by prognosticators, teams are ranked by their success or failure in recruiting prospects, futures are predicted.
But what does it really mean? Which USF classes were good, bad, and indifferent? Which signings were we excited about, and which ones should we have been excited about instead? Here's a year-by-year review of every recruting class, going back to 2002, based on Rivals.com data.
We review each class for 4- and 3-star signings; USF's national recruiting rank; the names that generated the most excitement at the time; the unheralded signees who turned out to be good; we assign each class a letter grade. And of course, we point out the busts - players whose career never panned out.
DISCLAIMERS: Rivals.com data likely contains errors. Players who started as walk-ons or signed at atypical times, such as Chaz Hine or Jamar Taylor, aren't mentioned. I probably overlooked or misjudged a few players. No nitpicking, please; these are broad categories and I don't want to get into discussions about whether someone was a "hidden gem" or just a "contributor." Also, "bust" doesn't imply anything negative about the player, it just means that their career fell short of their high school pedigree. Sometimes this is due to injury, or other factors beyond the player's control, such as Donte Spires dropping football to take care of his family.
If you think I've missed something, let me know in the comments; I'll edit the piece to correct any blatant errors or omissions. Let's get started!
2002 (0 ****, 1 ***, 90th nationally)
BLUE CHIPPERS: DT Ramon McCollough was the only player rated above 2 stars by Rivals. Stephen Nicholas was pursued by bigger schools, and was rated 3 stars by other services. (Already, using Rivals has gotten me into trouble.)
HIDDEN GEMS: None, unless you count Nicholas as "hidden."
OTHER CONTRIBUTORS: LB Devon Davis, DE Terrence Royal, OL John Miller. QB Jean "Pat" Julmiste was the Bulls' least awful QB between Blackwell and Grothe.
BUSTS: If you don't recognize any of the names on that list, don't feel bad. Most of them never made it to campus, didn't stay long, or were career backups. Of those things, Ramon McCollough did #2 and #3.
ANALYSIS: Despite the presence of Nicholas, and the QB of the Bulls' first bowl team, this is easily USF's worst recruiting class...so far.
2003 (0 ****, 5 ***, 61st nationally)
BLUE CHIPPERS: DB Mike Jenkins, of Bradenton Southeast. Nebraska wanted him, but he chose USF. LB Josh Balloon, DE Eric Thomas, DB A.J. Brant, and LB Ronnie McCollough also rated 3 stars.
HIDDEN GEMS: In addition to Jenkins and Balloon, this class turned up LBs Ben Moffitt and Patrick St. Louis, and DB Trae Williams. S.J. Green started at WR from day one and would play several years in the CFL.
OTHER CONTRIBUTORS: OL Walter Walker, DT Allen Cray.
BUSTS: Brant, Thomas, and Ronnie McCullough were all gone by 2005, having played little.
ANALYSIS: This class was a success on signing day, and after it. That the Bulls (then of Conference USA) could beat out Nebraska for a player the caliber of Jenkins raised the bar of what was possible at USF. Jenkins lived up to the hype; he was a great player for USF, and a 1st-round NFL draft pick. Moffitt authored one of the great moments in USF football history in 2007 against West Virginia.
GRADE: B. There was a high level of attrition, and USF should have gotten more from its 3-stars other than Jenkins. But when USF football took a big step up in competition later on, this class rose to the challenge.
2004 (2 ****, 7 ***, 57th nationally)
BLUE CHIPPERS: The 4-star players were both juco transfers: RB Andre Hall and DT Antonio Searcy. OL Jacob Griffin, LB Brouce Mompremier, and WR Johnny Peyton were solid 3-stars.
HIDDEN GEMS: Marc Dile was a good offensive lineman and had a cup of coffee in the NFL. Another future NFL player, Chad Simpson, will always be remembered for his second-half kickoff return that blew the lid off the 2005 Louisville game. He transferred to I-AA Morgan State after that season, however.
BUSTS: Around this time, USF's highest-rated recruits were often guys like Johnny Peyton; talented, but not the best citizens. Like most of the others, Peyton showed flashes of brilliance, but was ultimately done in by his own behavior. As of 2010, he was still looking for a place to play football.
ANALYSIS: A solid class starring the incomparable Andre Hall. But still a few too many busts, and no sidekick for Hall - a problem throughout his USF career.
2005 (1 ****, 7 ***, 50th nationally)
BLUE CHIPPERS: Athlete Carlton Hill was supposed to be the answer to USF's quarterback problem. He wasn't, but fortunately, USF recruited a second quarterback: Matt Grothe. Also touted in this class were WRs Jessie Hester Jr. and Taurus Johnson, DBs Tyller Roberts and R.J. Anderson, OL Chris DeArmas, and juco TE Theodric Watson, who bulked up and became offensive lineman Thed Watson.
HIDDEN GEMS: DE George Selvie was USF's first I-A All-American and award winner (the Bill Willis Trophy, for best defensive end). DB Jerome Murphy would star for USF and play in the NFL. WR Amarri Jackson had a highlight reel for the ages against Louisville in 2005. RB Moise Plancher was a very good back who contributed a lot over his long career (he got a medical redshirt).
OTHER CONTRIBUTORS: None. Everyone in this class was either a star or a bust.
BUSTS: Hill played as a true freshman in 2005, but had to transfer to a juco for academic reasons. When Hill returned in 2007, Grothe had assumed command of the QB position. Hill was soon booted from USF anyway. He would finish his career at Division II Miles College. Anderson and DeArmas never played for USF. Scholarship kicker Mike Benzer failed to win the starting job.
ANALYSIS: A feast-or-famine class. But the feasts were so, so wonderful.
2006 (1 ****, 8 ***, 59th nationally)
BLUE CHIPPERS: DT Leslie Stirrups was the 4-star. The 3-star names you'd recognize were WR Carlton Mitchell, who just signed a futures contract with the Dallas Cowboys and OL Kevin McCaskill. DE Craig Marshall originally signed with this class, but would miss grades and have to go to junior college; he would return in the 2008 class, and play from 2008-10.
HIDDEN GEMS: Current Philadelphia Eagle DB Nate Allen was a 2-star QB recruit out of Cape Coral. DB Jerrell Young was also a 2-star recruit in this class. Punter/kicker Delbert Alvarado deserves mention here, for having played a key role in some big USF games, and helping define the personality of those great teams.
OTHER CONTRIBUTORS: OL Zach Hermann, LB Sabbath Joseph, DE Aaron Harris, TE Andrew Ketchel.
BUSTS: Stirrups was another guy who couldn't get his act together. He had academic and criminal problems, transferred in and out of USF, and was finally dismissed by Skip Holtz in 2010. This class also rivals the 2002 class for the sheer number of "Who's that?"s: LeBrandon Glover, Alonzo McQueen, Frank Harry, Jason Sherman, Edner Alcin, James Boger, Dylan Douglas, Jeff Ide.
ANALYSIS: Two NFL talents in Mitchell and Allen, a few other USF starters, and little else of value. Tragedy also struck this class, as it included the late Keeley Dorsey.
2007 (1 *****, 9 ***, 58th nationally)
BLUE CHIPPERS: Look closely! The header has five stars in it this time, not four. That is to indicate Mike Ford's recruiting rating out of prep school. The 3-star recruits included DTs Terrell McClain and Kevin McCaskill. McClain went on to the NFL, and Kevin McCaskill went on to do this:
I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever get tired of watching that.
HIDDEN GEMS: WR Dontavia Bogan, OLs Sampson Genus and Jeremiah Warren, DB Quenton Washington.
OTHER CONTRIBUTORS: FB Richard Kelly, DE Patrick Hampton, DB Tyson Butler.
BUSTS: Of those 3-star recruits: LB Calvin Sutton never played for USF. OL Thomas Edenfield and DB Charlton Sinclair would transfer out of USF after a year; Edenfield would later start for Southern Miss. DE Claude Davis signed with this class, but missed grades and had to go to junior college for two years. Donte Spires, as mentioned in the intro, left school to take care of his family in the wake of much adversity. Good on him for that. Alton Voss' career took a strange route from USF to drug addiction to Argentina to sobriety. Voss hopes to play 2-3 seasons for Grand Valley State, but I'm pretty sure the NCAA eligibility rules don't work that way. (2017 UPDATE: Voss played four seasons at GVSU, as a defensive end, and is now a marginal NFL prospect.) And Ford was capable of so much more.
ANALYSIS: Mike Ford's sad story is one of many for this class. Ford was a monster at running back, a Ricky Bell-like combination of size, speed and power. His performance in the 2009 International Bowl was that of a man among boys. But like so many other talented USF recruits, he was in and out of the doghouse, and ultimately dismissed from the program. He would later be arrested again. And again. And like Johnny Peyton, there's no level of football too low to try.
2008 (2 ****, 9 ***, 54th nationally)
HIDDEN GEMS: Maikon Bonani proved that you don't have to be named Gramatica to be a great USF kicker, or injure yourself in hilarious ways. OL Mark Popek had a fine career, earning all-Big East freshman and second-team honors, and was an early Outland Trophy candidate in 2012. LB Michael Lanaris and WR Evan Landi played big roles in the Notre Dame win, and started many other games during happier times.
OTHER CONTRIBUTORS: OL Danous Estenor, TE Andreas Shields, DB George Baker, P Justin Brockhaus-Kann, ST Armando Sanchez.
BUSTS: 3-star WR Daniel Bryant was an academic casualty. DT Jatavious Jackson only played one game for USF.
ANALYSIS: Like 2004, a class with a lot of contributors and one superstar in Daniels. We're already debating Daniels' legacy, but he unquestionably had an excellent career. We should be very happy if all USF's four-star signings work out so well. Also, little attrition in this class.
(NOTE: This article was originally written in February 2013.Subsequent articles have been written to incorporate newer information.
There was also a 2014 Update to this story, which has more updated information about the 2009-2013 recruiting classes.)
2009 (5 ****, 17 ***, 29th nationally)
BLUE CHIPPERS: DE Ryne Giddins, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, LB Jacquian Williams, RB Adaris Bellamy, and ATH Bradley Battles. Other stars recruited in this class were RB/KR/WR Lindsey Lamar, LB Sam Barrington, LB DeDe Lattimore, and DB Kayvon Webster.
HIDDEN GEMS: Since this class had so many 4- or 3- star signings, the only real surprise is Derrick Hopkins, a two-star who has contributed at WR.
OTHER CONTRIBUTORS: DE Julius Forte, RB Victor Marc, WR Sterling Griffin, DL Anthony Hill, DE Luke Sager, DB Ricardo Dixon, S JaQuez Jenkins
BUSTS: You know that yawning chasm we have at running back? Battles is still on the roster, but hasn't moved up the depth chart. Bellamy missed grades in 2009, went to prep school and tried to re-enroll at USF in 2010. But good ol' Skip Holtz couldn't find him a scholarship, even though Bellamy was the first guy to send his paper on signing day the year before. Then he couldn't go to Cincinnati because he hadn't signed his release from USF (huh?) and enrolled at I-AA Youngstown State. Bellamy could become the Penguins' starter this year, and leave some USF fans checking out Youngstown boxscores, wondering what might have been.
STILL ON THE ROSTER: Battles, Forte, Giddins, Griffin, OL Steven Jacques, Jenkins, Lattimore, Sager, DL Demi Thompson.
ANALYSIS: After bringing in 1-2 four-star and 7-9 three-star players every year, USF took a huge leap forward in talent acquisition in what would be Jim Leavitt's final recruiting class. That list of names speaks for itself: Giddins, Pierre-Paul, Jacquian Williams, Lamar, Lattimore, Barrington, Webster, Griffin, Marc. Those names are all over the Florida State, Clemson, and Notre Dame victories. And like Mike Jenkins before him, Giddins represented a new level of recruit who chose USF over bigger schools.
GRADE: INC. This one's tough to grade. How do you value the excellent but short USF careers of Pierre-Paul and Jacquian Williams? How do you account for the Holtz administration's failure to get the most out of talents like Lamar, Marc, and Giddins? How do you account for two huge misses at RB that hurt the team going into a new style of play? Will any of the remaining players take a great leap forward in their senior year under Willie Taggart? There's a lot of talent in this class, but overall I think it can be more fairly judged five years from now.
2010 (2 ****, 10 ***, 62nd nationally)
HIDDEN GEMS, OTHER CONTRIBUTORS, BUSTS, and STILL ON THE ROSTER: See next section.
ANALYSIS: This was The Class Skip Holtz Saved. Turns out he might not have saved that much. This was Leavitt's final recruiting class, which Holtz had to keep committed to USF after Leavitt's messy exit. Holtz was praised for keeping everyone except QB Brion Carnes. But Carnes is a guy we could really use right now, and the class as a whole won't go down as one of the greats.
Here's a look at each player in the 2010 class:
|Claude Davis||DE||JC transfer played the 2010-11 seasons, mostly as a reserve.
|Austin Reiter||OL||Reserve in 2011, started all 12 games in 2012.
|Curtis Weatherspoon||LB||JC transfer played the 2010-11 seasons, mostly as a reserve.|
Left after 2010 season.
|Chris Veron||K/P||With Bonani and Brockhaus-Kann both graduating, he should fill some role this season.
|Tony Kibler||OL||Arrested and dismissed from team.|
|Jamius Gunsby||QB||Left after 2010 season.
|Jake Kaufman||OL||Due to injury problems, has only appeared in one game.
|Hans Louis||LB||Made two garbage-time appearances in 2011. Did not play in 2010 or 2012.
|Marcus Shaw||RB||Has played 28 games with 3 starts. Has 83 career carries for 391 yards. Did not redshirt, will be a senior in 2013.
Never came to USF, decided to play for Houston instead. As a juco, 2011 was his final season anyway.
|Mark Joyce||DB||Reserve in 2010-11, starter in 2012. Did not redshirt, will be a senior in 2013.|
|Lavoris "Tiger" Powell||RB||
Didn't make grades, went to JUCO, ended up at New Mexico State.
Was supposed to grayshirt at USF in 2011 but played JUCO instead. Hoped to rejoin USF in 2012, but that didn't happen either. Greg Auman tells us Montague is at Southern Oregon now.
|Deonte Welch||WR||Redshirted 2010; USF's 3rd-leading receiver in 2011; yielded playing time to Terrence Mitchell and Andre Davis in 2012.
|Todd Chandler||DT||Redshirted 2010; missed 2011 due to academics; rotation player in 2012.
|Reshard Cliett||S||Redshirted 2010; played 9 games 2011; became starter halfway through 2012.
|Terrence Mitchell||DB||Primarily a kick/punt returner in 2010; missed most of 2011 due to injury; USF's 2nd-leading receiver in 2012; Got a medical redshirt for that 2011 season and will be a junior in 2013.
|Quinterrius Eatmon||OL||Full-time starter in 2011 and 2012.
So out of 19 signees, 6 never played a game for USF, and 2 were jucos whose careers are already over. That leaves only 11 on the roster. That's slim pickings going into what would be the class' redshirt junior year. It's almost as bad as the 2002 class, where only five players rose to the level of starter.
MIDTERM GRADE: D-. But there's time left to improve; if a number of these players can blossom under Taggart, or just show the normal improvement that comes from becoming upperclassmen, this can still be a decent class. Finding an all-Big East caliber player or two would help.
From now on, it's too early to grade classes, so I'm just going to summarize their recruiting ratings and what we know so far.
2011 (1 ****, 15 ***, 63rd nationally)
Initial returns are positive, but how much overall talent this class will provide is to be seen.
The two top names were four-star DT Elkino Watson and WR Andre Davis. Davis was USF's leading receiver in 2012, and Watson has been a rotation player for two years. QB Matt Floyd didn't look like the answer late last season, but growth under a new coach and scheme is possible. WR Ruben Gonzalez and DB C.J. Garye appeared in a few games. CB Kenneth Durden got one start. Other than that, little playing time from this class so far.
The good news there are still 14 other players on the roster. The only attrition so far: OL David "Boo" Simon had to give up football for health reasons. Another OL, Marquis White, left over academics. Also, LB Mike Jeune was a juco player whose eligibility ran out after the 2012 season.
The question is whether or not they will step up as upperclassmen in USF's reconfigured league. Especially given the large number of offensive linemen in this class: there were six, of which Thor Jozwiak, Brynjar Gudmundsson, Max Lang, and Darrell Williams are still around. All contributed, and some earned starting honors, in 2012. Will they be able to build an offensive line to run Coach T's ground game? That is perhaps the question that will decide USF's fate in the short term.
2012 (2 ****, 16 ***, 49th nationally)
For all the criticism Skip Holtz got for his recruiting, he's kept the level of 4- and 3-star players close to the new standard Jim Leavitt set in 2009. And as we saw in 2010 and 2011, the glitzier recruits have contributed as young players.
This class brought us 4-star TE Sean Price, who over the course of last season made the tight end position an offensive weapon it hasn't been since the days of Trevor Hypolite. DT James Hamilton played as a true freshman. LB Tashon Whitehurst earned a start down the stretch and at moments resembled the great USF linebackers of lore. DB Chris Bivins got into four games. WR D'Vario Montgomery played some.
WR LaMarlin Wiggins and DB Jarvis McCall failed to make academics, but could be back later. Six of the players were junior college signees, which is a lot even by USF standards. And none of them would be confused with Andre Hall or JPP so far.
So what does it all mean?
Here are the conclusions I draw from the above data:
- There is little variance in USF's overall recruiting ranking, but much variance in how good each class really was. USF ranks around #55 almost every year. The 2005 and 2007 classes were almost the same rating-wise, but '05 was the Grothe/Selvie/Amarri Jackson/and more haul, while '07 brought only a few valuable players. So don't worry what our ranking is this week.
- USF's ratio of 4/3/2-star players is consistent year to year, but took great leaps forward after the signings of Mike Jenkins and Ryne Giddins. Go back again and look at the star counts for each year. After USF signed a player they never would have gotten before -- a player who wasn't an academic or behavior risk, and whom bigger schools genuinely wanted -- more players of that caliber started coming. So it's not just about waiting to see who you still have in 5 years; a school like USF can forever change its perception on Signing Day. (Asiantii Woulard, please pick up the green courtesy phone.)
- If you want to have a good class, start with a full class. The better classes tend to be the ones with the least attrition. It's easier to find 10 good players out of 25 than 15. With that in mind:
- The OL cupboard is far from bare. One thing Willie Taggart hasn't had to do is scramble around looking for offensive linemen to come in and play right away. Holtz recruited this position heavily. Taggart has a lot of big bodies to choose from for his scheme.
- Holtz's failure to land Brion Carnes, and a top RB in 2009, are really hurting. Floyd didn't look ready to play last season. 80% of USF's rushing left with Daniels, Lamar, and Demetris Murray. Without serious improvement at these positions, the 2013 offense might look like the Andre Hall-era Bulls without Andre Hall, or even Pat Julmiste. (Shudder.)
- And even if Holtz were still the coach, what was the plan going into 2013? Even with Woulard in the picture, he'd be a true freshman QB in a tough league with no established ground game to lean on. That'd be asking a lot.
- By the way, Carnes would probably have been better off coming to USF, in light of Nebraska's inexplicable love affair with the exasperating Taylor Martinez. Even worse for Carnes, Martinez's younger brother is now coming to Nebraska.
- And even if Holtz were still the coach, what was the plan going into 2013? Even with Woulard in the picture, he'd be a true freshman QB in a tough league with no established ground game to lean on. That'd be asking a lot.
- Other than that, Holtz's recruiting may not have been that bad. Just from these statistics, Holtz maintained the 2009 standard of 4- and 3-star players coming to USF. Holtz's classes also had less attrition, and fewer complete busts among the blue-chippers. Most of Jim Leavitt's recruiting "gets" were head cases who were available to USF because bigger schools wisely avoided them. None ever really panned out.
- Is the glass half-full, or half-empty? There's an old joke about bad college football teams: "The good news is that 12 starters are returning. The bad news is that 12 starters are returning." USF returns a lot of starters from a bad team. But was the 2012 team's problem lack of talent, or the coaching staff's inability to use that talent? There's certainly plenty of evidence of the latter, and the recruiting data doesn't suggest a big drop-off in the caliber of players USF got on Signing Day.
- I am reminded of the Ron Zook era at Florida. Zook took heaps of abuse for being a bad coach, which he was. But he wasn't a bad recruiter. There was plenty of talent on the roster when Urban Meyer took it over, and he was able to use much of it in his new scheme. With a few breaks -- and some Signing Day luck -- things could go similarly for USF.
So try to relax and enjoy Signing Day. There'll be good surprises, bad surprises, drama, and mystery. Instead of worrying about who we didn't get, let's celebrate the ones we did. They made a colossal life decision, the same one we all made at some point, to commit to the University of South Florida. To the others, wish them luck at their school of choice. Don't worry about whether USF is 53rd or 58th or 2.8 stars or 2.75, because Signing Day is just a starting point. Yes, you have to start in the right direction. But it's the steps you take after that that dictate where you end up.