Since Charlie Strong got here, USF fans have been somewhere between concerned and panicked over the 2017 recruiting class. This was never going to be a huge class anyway because there aren’t that many scholarships available, but it seems to be shrinking more and more. Bruce Judson already pulled out and decided to go to Oregon instead, and yesterday Demetri Burch reportedly made the same decision.
Strong and his staff are making up ground and moving quickly on replacements, as you would expect them to do. Without giving away too much subscription reporting, USF is in the running for prospects like:
- A.J. Davis (Lakeland)
- Keirston Johnson and Demetris Harris (Jacksonville Robert E. Lee)
- Latavious Brini (Mater Academy)
- George Ellis III (Delray Beach American Heritage)
- Jabreel Stephens (Armwood)
- Donelle Thomas and Naytron Culpepper (Miami Carol City)
For once, National Signing Day may be full of surprises for USF fans. But whatever goes down on Wednesday, Strong may be saving his real ammo for next year, and that comes from his experience the last time he stepped into a program at the end of a recruiting cycle. This quote in a recent Joey Knight article is from Rivals’ Mike Ferrell:
Strong's first signing class at Texas (was) cobbled together in a similarly short time frame in the winter of 2014. Eight members of that 23-player class started the final game of '16, but fewer blossomed into impact guys. Five no longer are on the roster.
"When Charlie got hired at Texas, he reached on some kids and got the (No. 20) recruiting class in the country," Farrell said.
"But those of us who do this could see right through it. It was an overrated class; there were too many risks. ... I think he's trying to guard against that. So I think he's gonna go slow, take a small class and then gear up for 2018."
If this does end up being a small class, it may be better in the long run to back off on this transition class. The other option is Strong taking a bunch of kids that he hasn’t had time to properly scout and learn about. Some may turn out fine. Others may leave, or never make it to campus, which hurts, but at least he would get to “replace” them. But many could end up staying and making little or no impact. Those are scholarships he might wish he had later when his program is up and running.
For a more direct example of how a transition class can go, look at Willie Taggart’s 2013 recruiting class. Taggart came in and rescued that class big time, but a few highly-touted prospects were lost along the way for one reason or another (Derrick Calloway, Lamar Robbins, Stafon McCray, Kennard Swanson). Outside of Auggie Sanchez, Darius Tice, and Nate Godwin, the class didn’t have a big impact. Given a full year to put the 2014 class together, USF got four genuine difference-makers in Quinton Flowers, Marlon Mack, D’Ernest Johnson, and Deatrick Nichols. They also got good players and big contributors deep into the class, like Jamie Byrd, Ryeshene Bronson, Tyre McCants, Vincent Jackson, Marlon Pope, Elkanah Dillon, Tajee Fullwood, Devin Abraham, and Demetrius Hill.
Fortunately, USF seems well positioned to withstand one subpar recruiting class. They have good skill position depth, and seniors will lead the way for the 2017 team. But it does put some extra pressure on Strong and his staff to come up with a bumper crop in the 2018 class. Not only will they need to fill the holes that are left after the 2017 season ends, but the Bulls may need some of them to be ready to play right away. 2018 already looked like a year for USF to take a step back and reload. Strong just needs to make sure it’s not a big step back.