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Florida Player of the Year highlights soccer signees

The USF men’s soccer team announced a decorated 2002 signing class Thursday, including the Florida Gatorade Player of the Year.

Following a 15-win season and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, USF coach John Hackworth tabbed a five-player class that will have to replace leading scorer Jason Cudjoe, midfielder Matt Cavenaugh and defensive anchor Joe Valencia.

Hunter West will be a top choice to fill Cudjoe’s shoes after scoring 54 goals and dishing out 25 assists in his senior season for Manatee High School in Bradenton, en route to being named Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year. Named an All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and adidas, West took Manatee to a 29-0-1 regular season record and a No. 2 ranking in the nation, according to .

Hackworth had been recruiting West two years before his record-setting senior campaign, and he said that was the key to landing him.

“It was a case of being in early and often,” Hackworth said. “He played on the same club team as (current Bulls) Brandon Streicher and Chris Raye … so when he was a sophomore and he was playing on that team, he caught my attention.”

West verbally committed to USF as early as last summer, and told other schools as much.

“He was very committed to us, and that was great,” Hackworth said.

Hackworth pulled in two more in-state recruits, Brian Gail and Zarek Francis, who were teammates at Flagler Palm Coast High School. Francis, a forward, and Gail, a midfielder, led Flagler to the No. 8 spot in the nation a year ago, when their team was state runner-up. They won a state title in 2000. Both Gail and Francis played on the Flagler Dawgs Club for a number of seasons.Gail gained recognition while competing in the Olympic Development Program for the last three years. He was invited to the prestigious ESP Camp in 2001, an honor extended to the top 100 players in the country. Of the five Bulls signees, Gail was the most heavily recruited.

“He’s a fantastic player. I’m so excited to get him,” Hackworth said. “He was probably the hardest one to steal away from these other schools.”

A four-year letter-winner, Francis scored 133 goals in his career, 48 this year, while being named all-conference and all-area.

“Zarek is more of a target player,” Hackworth said. “He’s a bigger body (6-foot-1, 190 pounds). He’s a very good finisher.”

Hackworth went outside the USA to pick up his final two recruits, landing Ryan Abraham from Trinidad and Jon Peterson from the Netherlands. Peterson and Abraham will continue to add depth to the midfield for the Bulls.

Peterson was a two-year captain of his team at the American School of the Hague. He led the team to two appearances in the International School Soccer Tournament, winning in his first year.

“He’s a great kid. He’s a very good person,” Hackworth said. “He’s a left-sided player, which is something we were looking for.”Abraham is also left-footed and led St. Mary’s College to two consecutive high school championships in Trinidad. Hackworth has never actually seen Abraham play live. He evaluated him on videotape and relied on the assessments of the St. Mary’s coaching staff. Abraham hails from the same high school as former Bulls defender Ryan Anatol (1997-2000).

Hackworth said the quality of the 2002 class compares well to his in-state rivals.

“Everybody has been saying all along that we got the three best players in Florida … I personally feel like we have the strongest recruiting class in the state, for sure,” he said.