USF commits, according to 247sports.com
3-stars -Jernard Phillips, receiver, Miami Central (Miami)
Jean Marcellus, offensive lineman, Jefferson (Tampa)
Nick Roberts, defensive back, Oakleaf (Orange Park)
Bentlee Sanders, defensive back, Tampa Catholic (Tampa)
Randall St. Felix, receiver, Dr Michael M. Krop (Miami)
Darrien Grant, defensive end, Southeast (Bradenton)
Mekhi LaPointe, safety, Armwood (Seffner)
2-stars -Frederick Lloyd, tight end, Tift County (Tifton, GA)
Kelvin Kegler, defensive tackle, Madison County (Madison)
Duran Bell Jr., running back, Hillsborough (Tampa)
Kelvin Pinkney, defensive tackle, Booker (Sarasota)
Regardless of how the final pieces fall today on National Signing Day, this year’s crop of Bulls recruits won’t be as heralded as the classes of past years.
Former coach Willie Taggart had USF at the top of the AAC in recruiting the past three years, which helped propel the Bulls from 2-10 in 2013 to a school-record 11-2 in 2016, but USF’s 2017 class of recruits is ranked last in the conference by 247sports.com.
Following up on the expectations set by those previous classes will be nearly impossible, with Taggart flipping commits to Oregon and coach Charlie Strong working against the clock on his last-minute recruiting.
Since Taggart took the Oregon job, seven USF recruits have de-committed, with three of those players pledging themselves to the Ducks. Of the seven to de-commit, there were five three-star and two two-star players, according to 247sports.com.
What remains is a class of 11 commits, comprised of mostly local talent. Many of those players, such as Jean Marcellus (3-stars, Jefferson), Duran Bell Jr. (2-stars, Hillsborough), Bentlee Sanders (3-stars, Tampa Catholic) and Mekhi LaPointe (3-stars, Armwood), have known each other throughout their childhood in the Bay Area.
“Actually most of the commits on the team are from this part of town and I know them already, so we already have a lot going and we’re settled and straight,” Bell Jr. said. “Mekhi LaPointe, one of my longtime friends from seventh grade, he’s committed. Bentlee Sanders, we played baseball together when we were younger, and he’s committed. Jean Marcellus, he went to a different high school, but we’ve been cool since freshman year.
“All the kids who are committed, we’re cool with each other, we’ve known each other for a while now, so being able to play at the next level together is going to be awesome.”
While some players commit to a coaching staff, some local players such as Marcellus didn’t think twice about their commitments when Taggart left.
“I really didn’t think too much of (Taggart leaving) because that’s college football man,” Marcellus said. “I didn’t commit for the coaches, I committed for myself and for what I saw. I know that if I play for USF for a couple of years, I can make a big name for myself.”
But even though some players like Marcellus are locked-in with USF, the three-star offensive lineman said he’s reached out to the other commits in his class to convince them to stick with their commitments.
“I’ve been trying to get to know them to see where their heads’ at, see if I can keep them on board because they’re going to be my brothers for the next four years,” he said.
Though USF’s class of 11 recruits is by far the smallest in the conference, Strong could make some surprise additions on his first National Signing Day in Tampa. The new Bulls coach has been plastered all over recruits’ Twitters as he has made a flurry of in-home visits.
Despite not keeping the class Taggart handed him intact, Strong personally reached out to all 2017 commits, helping to ease the minds of players like Bell Jr.
“I was going to de-commit,” Bell Jr. said. “It wasn’t my first thought, but a couple days after (Taggart left) I was going to de-commit. But coach Strong called me and said, ‘Don’t give up on us, stay with us and help us get this program rolling. Your offer is safe with us and don’t go anywhere.
“He’s a great person honestly, he’s like a father-figure type of guy. He’s real laid back and he means what he says and I like that about a coach.”
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