USF coach Jim Leavitt had an uneasy sleep Tuesday night waiting for National Signing Day. But as he woke up Wednesday, the good news started rolling in.
The first piece came early as wide receiver Johnny Peyton out of Pasco High School changed his mind and signed with USF. The 6-foot-5 standout had verbally committed to the Bulls’ future Big East rival Pittsburgh months ago, but was one of three recruits to shun the Panthers Wednesday after orally committing.
“We just stayed with him and told him to do what’s best in his life,” Leavitt said. “If it’s Pittsburgh? Fine. But we sure would entertain any second thoughts he might have. I think it’s very important that we stay strong locally … We’re going to pound and stay with guys that are local as long as they’ll listen.”
That persistence paid off with Peyton, a first team Class 3A pick who caught 40 balls for 1,002 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. Peyton told the Tampa Tribune if Panthers recruit Anthony Morelli, a quarterback from Pittsburgh’s Penn Hills High School, switched schools, ‘Then, I’m a Bull.’ Morelli inked with Penn State early Wednesday. Tailback Andrew Johnson drifted from Pittsburgh to Miami.
The good news continued when linebacker Brouce Mompremier held to his commitment and signed a letter of intent to play at USF. The Miami Edison product originally said he’d signed with USF, then Kansas and later, Mississippi State entered the picture. But the No. 6 recruit in Dade County, according to the Miami Herald, joined four of his Edison teammates in becoming Bulls.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Leavitt said. “I’m so proud of so many of the athletes who stood up and did what they wanted to do in their heart.”
One of those players was Armwood lineman Jacob Griffin. Three members of the state’s 4A championship team signed with USF, but Griffin, like Mompremier, received a big push from established programs looking for his services.
The No. 19 guard in the nation in ESPN.com expert Tom Lemming’s rankings shied away from Tennessee and Florida State, among others, to play for the Bulls. Leavitt tabbed fellow Hawk Jariette Buie, ranked No. 23 in outside linebackers by Lemming even though he’ll play defensive end at USF, the best at that position in the whole state. Armwood wide receiver Mike Williams, the St. Petersburg Times No. 12 player in the Bay Area, is also joining the Bulls.
The day wasn’t without its bad news as the Bulls lost out on quarterback Cornelius Ingram, who signed with Florida. The No. 14 quarterback, also a talented basketball guard, Ingram entertained the Bulls, but the Hawthorne native stayed closer to home.
“We felt that if he really wanted to be a quarterback, he had the opportunity to compete here,” Leavitt said. “Last night around six or seven, I thought he was going to come our way. I talked to him last night at 11 and he said I could go to sleep and feel pretty good. … What happened after that and this morning I don’t know. I think he struggled with it. He was probably torn a bit.”
Without Ingram, the Bulls garnered just one quarterback, Louis Gachette from Immokalee, but the class was heavy in other areas.
Buie was one of six defensive lineman, and looking at only two returning running backs, Leavitt attracted five talented tailbacks to Tampa, including Andre Hall of Garden City Community College.
Hall, regarded as the best running back in the junior college ranks, played his high school ball at Leavitt’s alma mater, Dixie Hollins.
Terrance Jones, the fourth best back in the state by the Florida Times Union, and Hillsborough’s Ricky Ponton, the Tampa Tribune Offensive Player of the Year, also came aboard as part of the 25-member class.
Leavitt employed a couple new selling points this year, emphasizing the Bulls move to the Big East Conference and the almost couple athletics facility. What didn’t change for the Bulls, for the second year in a row, was where all the recruits come from — Florida.