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#ScottsTots22: Early Signing Day Recruiting Primer

A hectic 2022 recruiting class starts wrapping up this week with Early Signing Day arriving on Wednesday.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at South Florida Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

The Early Signing Period starts tomorrow, December 15. For the first time in the 2022 recruiting cycle, high school seniors can sign their National Letter of Intent (NLI) and can lock in their scholarship.

For USF and Jeff Scott, the hope is to have a majority of their class locked in on this Early Signing Day date, leaving the traditional signing day of February 2nd open in case of attrition. This primer will go over who is currently committed to USF in the 2022 cycle, evaluation of the class thus far, and what to expect come Wednesday.

High School/Prep School/JUCO Commits

Jeff Scott is in a more dire ‘win now’ mode than he would be willing to admit coming off a disappointing 2-10 season. His overall record thus far at USF is 3-18 and year three for most progrums is pivotal at ‘turning the corner’.

Knowing this, as well as the understanding that high school seniors entering the college football ranks need a year or two to get acclimated to the size and speed of the game, the high school recruiting class is lighter than usual for the Bulls.

Javohn Thomas (@JavohnThomas23)

Commitment date: 3/11/2021

Position: Wide Receiver

High School: Sickles High School, Tampa, Florida

Ranking: Three-star (0.8416) on 247, Three-star (5.5) on Rivals

Highlights/Career Stats: Two seasons, 67 catches, 1089 yards, 11 TDs, 16.3 yards per catch, also committed to USF men’s basketball as a PG

Gunnar Smith (@12GunnarSmith)

Commitment date: 6/11/2021

Position: Quarterback

High School: Lake Mary High School, Lake Mary, Florida

Ranking: Three-star (0.8405) on 247, Three-star (5.5) on Rivals

Highlights/Career Stats: Four seasons, 59% completion, 8255 yards, 83 passing TDs, 201.3 passing yards per game, first team all-conference in the Seminole Athletic Conference.

Byrum Brown (@ByrumBrown17)

Commitment date: 7/1/2021

Position: Quarterback

High School: Rolesville High School, Rolesville, North Carolina

Ranking: Three-star (0.8193) on 247, Two-star (5.3) on Rivals

Highlights/Career Stats: Three seasons, 61% completion, 7786 passing yards, 85 passing TDs, 216.3 passing yards per game, 2009 rushing yards, 26 rushing TDs. Mr. Football Finalist in the state of North Carolina

Tavin Ward (@TavinWard1)

Commitment date: 10/25/2021

Position: Defensive Back

Prep School: Palmetto Prep Academy

Ranking: N/R on 247, Two-star (5.2) on Rivals

Highlights/Career Stats: Attended North Fort Myers High School in Fort Myers, Florida prior to Palmetto Prep.

Tony Newsome (@TonyNewsome22)

Commitment date: 10/31/2021

Position: Defensive Back

High School: West Orange High School, Winter Garden, Florida

Ranking: Three-star (81 overall) on 247, N/R on Rivals

Highlights/Career Stats: Three seasons, 104 tackles, five interceptions, 12 passes defended, four tackles for loss, blocked punt, forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Eddie Kelly (@Eddie2Kelly)

Commitment date: 11/6/2021

Position: Defensive End

High School: West Orange High School, Winter Garden, Florida

Ranking: Three-star (0.8416) on 247, Three-star (5.5) on Rivals

Highlights/Career Stats: One season, 71 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, one pick-six, one forced fumble and recovery. Also played tight end.

Jhalyn Shuler (@JhalynShuler)

Commitment date: 11/17/2021

Position: Linebacker

JuCo: Coffeyville Community College

Ranking: Three-star (0.8639) on 247, Three-star (5.7) on Rivals

Highlights/Career Stats: Two seasons, 88 tackles, one sack, 11 tackles for loss, two interceptions, one forced fumble and recovery. Originally from Abbeville, South Carolina.

Jayson Littlejohn (@JayLittlejohn01)

Commitment date: 12/8/2021

Position: Tight End

JuCo: College of the Sequoias

Ranking: N/R on 247, Two-star (5.4) on Rivals

Highlights/Career Stats: Two seasons, 43 catches for 467 yards, six touchdowns. First Team All-Conference Central Valley Conference

(note: some of the rankings are not yet complete or final, as the 2022 class is still being evaluated according to 247Sports)

Evaluating this class according to the 247sports and Rivals official ratings, it’s statistically unimpressive until you dive into the entirety of the class to include transfers. Clocking in at 10th in the conference (ahead of Navy) and 109th overall in the country (in-between South Alabama and Sam Houston State), this doesn’t wet the appetite quite as much as we expected with Bay Area talent.

As mentioned before though, this class will be more transfer heavy to ensure immediate impact by the 2022 class. Further, the rankings for this class look much better after 247Sports added a feature to include college transfers in the class rankings. Once those are calculated, the class shoots up to 5th in the conference behind Cincinnati, UCF, Memphis, and Tulane, and 71st in the country between App State and Houston.

Bringing in two quarterbacks is due to the attrition we saw when Jarren Williams, Cade Fortin, and Katravis Marsh all entered the transfer portal following the 2021 season. This left only the true freshman starter Timmy McClain as the lone scholarship QB on the roster. Byrum Brown was a finalist for Mr. Football in the State of North Carolina, and Gunnar Smith was first team selection in the Seminole Athletic Conference in the Orlando area. Brown is early enrolling with USF, coming on campus immediately to join the spring ball.

Moving to receivers and tight ends, Javohn Thomas is joining both the football team and the basketball team this year after a standout senior season with Sickles. At 6’3”, 190 lbs, he’s got the height and athletic ability as a dual-sport athlete, but will look to bulk up when he comes to campus. Jayson Littlejohn was lightly recruited out of high school and JuCo, but the size at 6’4”, 235 lbs and pass catching ability as a tight end is there, and should provide a red-zone nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.

Moving to the defensive side of the ball, the Bulls are adding a stud athlete in Eddie Kelly up front, who was receiving serious SEC interest before committing with his teammate Tony Newsome. Kelly only played one season with West Orange, but accumulated 71 tackles and 23 tackles for loss while playing DE. He will be apart of a revamped defensive line unit that also includes gray-shirt defensive linemen Jacquez Williams and Jhalin Hobbs, both from the 2021 class who deferred their enrollment to the 2021 Winter semester.

Joining them will be linebacker Jhalyn Shuler, who is turning into a hidden gem of this 2022 recruiting class. Recently ranked as the number two linebacker in JuCo and Top 10 overall player, Shuler is slotted as the highest prospect in the class of 2022 thus far. At 6’1”, 200 lbs, he’ll be adding some bulk this winter and spring before getting ready to hit the field in the fall, and should see regular playing time this year.

Wrapping up the high school recruits is Tavin Ward and Tony Newsome, both listed as corners and joining a now-loaded secondary. Ward is making his way back to the Tampa Bay Area after a brief stint at Palmetto Prep School in South Carolina. Originally from North Ft. Myers, Ward was a standout two-way player with a high athletic ceiling and led his Red Knights to an 8-0 record his senior year playing DB and QB. Newsome is teammate of defensive line recruit Eddie Kelly and helped lead his West Orange team to an 11-2 record this past year. The do-it-all DB filled his stat sheets with INTs, blocked punts, and forced fumbles to add to is 3 tackles per game at a lock down corner spot.

Typically, high school recruits rarely see the field in their first season of college football, as the focus is on adjusting to the speed of the game and bulking up. With the depth added thanks to the transfer portal, this high school recruiting class should benefit greatly learning behind a plethora of talent and experience in front of them.

Transfer Portal

As mentioned previously, the high school recruiting is rather light. But with the one free transfer rule that the NCAA announced due to the COVID 2020 season, USF made some splash transfer moves to take advantage of the instant eligibility and fix some glaring issues.

Nick Bags (@NickBagss)

Commitment date: 11/6/2021

Position: Defensive Line

College: Temple

Ranking: Three-star (0.8263) out of High School, Three-Star (0.8300) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Played in six games over two seasons, eight tackles and one TFL. Originally from State Island, NY.

James Ash (@JayGotMoves20)

Commitment date: 11/10/2021

Position: Defensive Line

College: Wake Forest

Ranking: Three-star (0.8382) out of High School, Three-Star (0.8100) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Redshirted in his only season at Wake Forest. Originally from Tampa and went to Chamberlain High School.

Michel Dukes (@MDukes02)

Commitment date: 11/10/2021

Position: Running Back/Slot Receiver

College: Clemson

Ranking: Three-star (0.8573) out of High School, Three-Star (0.8100) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Played in 15 games across three seasons, 42 carries for 212 yards, two TDs. Originally from Charleston, South Carolina.

Clyde Pinder Jr (@ClydePinderJr99)

Commitment date: 11/29/2021

Position: Defensive Line

College: North Carolina

Ranking: Four-star (0.8959) out of High School, Three-Star (0.8100) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Played in six games across two seasons, seven tackles 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss. Originally from Tampa and played for Armwood High School. Played in the All-American Bowl.

Khafre Brown (@Khafre_Brown)

Commitment date: 12/3/2021

Position: Wide Receiver

College: North Carolina

Ranking: Four-star (0.9161) out of High School, Three-Star (0.8200) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Played in 11 games across two seasons, 16 catches for 412 yards, three touchdowns. Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina,

Derrell Bailey Jr (@DerrellBaileyii)

Commitment date: 12/5/2021

Position: Offensive Tackle

College: Virginia Tech

Ranking: Three-star (0.8484) out of High School, Three-Star (0.8000) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Originally recruited to play defensive end, switched to offensive line and saw playing time against North Carolina in 2021. From Greenback, TN, and a high school teammate of current Bulls receiver Holden Willis.

Mike Lofton (@MikeLofton)

Commitment date: 12/5/2021

Position: Offensive Tackle

College: Central Florida

Ranking: Three-star (0.8362) out of High School, Three-Star (0.8300) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Saw playing time in eight games his freshman season. Originally from Clearwater, Florida. Played for Calvary Christian High School.

Aamaris Brown (@AamarisBrown)

Commitment date: 12/5/2021

Position: Defensive Back

College: Kansas State

Ranking: Three-star (0.8268) out of High School, Three-Star (0.8000) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Played in seven games across 2 seasons, 15 tackles and a forced fumble. Originally from Tampa. Played for Armwood High School.

DJ Gordon IV (@DJGrind21)

Commitment date: 12/12/2021

Position: Linebacker

College: Minnesota

Ranking: Three-star (0.8626) out of High School, Three-Star (0.8100) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Played in nine games across 3 seasons, 21 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT. Originally from Tampa, Florida, Played for Plant City High School.

Ray Thornton III (@Rexx_Ray)

Commitment date: 12/12/2021

Position: Defensive back

College: Clemson

Ranking: Three-star (0.8792) out of High School, Three-star (0.8400) transfer rating

Highlights/Career Stats: Played in 14 games across 2 seasons, 21 tackles, 1 pass defended Originally from Phenix City, AL.

Jeff Scott and his assistant coaches had a plan this offseason to directly inject talent back into a depleted roster, and they very much accomplished that early into this offseason. According to 247Sports’ transfer portal tracker, the Bulls have 10 transfer commits as of December 14. The school with the next highest number of commits is Indiana with six and most schools have three or less at this point in the offseason.

Assessing the transfer class, Jeff Scott needed to address the depth issues within the defense and went aggressive towards Bay Area transplants who have spent time at other Division 1 progrums. Starting up front on defense, the Bulls brought in three linemen in Nick Bags, James Ash, and Clyde Pinder Jr., the latter two hailing originally from the Bay Area. These three will immediately come in and contribute mightly in game one against BYU for newly hired defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.

Behind those three fits James Gordon IV (Or DJ Gordon), a transfer linebacker from Minnesota who is originally from Plant City just outside of Tampa. The three-headed monster of Dwayne Boyles, Antonio Grier, and DJ Gordon will keep opposing offensive coordinators on their toes having to game plan against these three. The added depth will also allow Demaurez Bellamy to be utilized in a potentially more specialized pass-rusher role, and continue the development of young players like Davon Hicks and CJ Ross from the 2021 class.

In the secondary, the Bulls are bringing in two more Power Five transfers in Aamaris Brown from Kansas Sate and Ray Thornton III from Clemson. The USF secondary became depleted due to injuries last season, where contributions came from special teams standouts Joshua Green, Timarcus Simpson, and Isaiah Cromarty. With the added depth from Brown and Thornton, as well as Will Jones, Chris Townsel, Christian Williams, and TJ Robinson all becoming healthy after injuries, the secondary should be able to comfortably rotate guys in and out to keep them fresh.

Switching to the offense, Coach Scott recognized the need for an explosive wide receiver who can bust the top open on a defense and brought in former UNC receiver Khafre Brown to do so. Brown possesses elite speed that has rarely found itself at USF the last couple of seasons. He had a small case of the drops towards the end of his time in Chapel Hill, but working with Bobby Bentley and Jeff Scott should help him regain his confidence to follow in the lineage of explosive receivers such as Rodney Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

Mikey Dukes is making his way to Tampa by way of Clemson, where the shifty running back should be utilized in a Swiss army knife style of position. It’s being reported by Will Turner of Bulls247 that he will be joining as a slot receiver, giving the Bulls another dynamic option from the skill position. Charlie Weis Jr. should have no shortage of playmakers at his disposal with the added speed and agility of Dukes and Brown coming to campus.

Lastly, the staff is adding two big men up front in Derrell Bailey Jr. and Mike Lofton, both listed as interior offensive linemen transfers. Bailey made the transition from defensive line to offensive line when he made it to Virginia Tech’s campus, and saw some playing time this past season against North Carolina. At 6’6”, 300 lbs, he’s got the size to make an impact early at the offensive guard position. Lofton is making his way back to the Bay Area after a brief stop in Oviedo with Central Florida. He saw significant playing time his freshman season for the Golden Knights after a successful career at Calvary Christian in Clearwater, FL. His 6’2”, 300 lbs, he too has the frame, and should contribute in one of the most improved position groups at USF.

What to expect on Early Signing Day

No Clue.

There’s a lot of unanswerable questions surrounding the USF 2022 class that we won’t get answered until it’s all set in stone. The biggest question being how many players are they going to sign?

Traditionally, signing classes consist of 25 players. But due to early enrollment from previous classes, the gray shirts of Jacquez Williams and Jhalin Hobbs, and the extra Covid year of eligibility that many players have received, there is a lot of unknown surrounding the number of prospects making their way to USF in the 2022 cycle.

What we do know is that we have indications that the coaching staff is not yet finished with the high school cycle and potentially the portal. There are a few high school prospects who are making their decision on ESD and have USF in their top choices. Further, there are more and more transfers entering the portal every day, and if (read; when) USF sees additional attrition this winter or spring, the staff would like to keep their options open for more players to join the stampede in 2022.

However, USF is starting to receive verbal intentions from a few Preferred Walk-Ons that may indicate they hit their scholarship cap. Newsome High School wide receiver Cade Roberts and his teammate/running back Jason Albritton, as well as Henderson High School (NC) QB Gavin Gosnell have given their intentions to sign as PWOs. There are a few more such as Clearwater Academy International QB Luca Stanzani, his WR teammate Dylan Djete, and IMG Academy teammates OLB TJ Murphy and OL Thomas Aden that have decisions to make on if they would like to join the progrum.

Last year on early signing day, USF got a high school commitment out of Jimmy Horn Jr, and transfer portal players Jarren Williams, Will Jones, Christian Williams, Matthew Hill, and Jamari Stewart, so it won’t came as a shock if the staff pulls a few surprises out of their hats.

I’ll go ahead and put it out there only to be proven wrong, I believe we won’t see any surprises on Early Signing Day this year. I think the staff has done a good job of getting the buy in on all of these players now instead of waiting for the actual signing date. Tomorrow will be a day filled with high schoolers sending their NLIs, transfers finding their new apartments, and offseason winter workouts to start for returning players, as the excitement grows over the building of the Indoor Performance Facility and the plans for the On-Campus Stadium.