It’s been a banner year for Tampa Bay in football, and USF coach Jim Leavitt is betting that success continues in the future.
On top of the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl victory and USF’s 9-2 record in 2002, Hillsborough County high school football had a strong year, and Leavitt capitalized on that success by signing six county players among the 25 recruits he landed Wednesday on National Signing Day. In that six were Joe Hall from Wharton, the state runner-up in Class 5A, and Jefferson’s Josh Balloon, whose team lost in the Florida 4A championship game.
“I thought it was real important that we did very well in the Tampa Bay area, specifically in the city of Tampa,” Leavitt said. “Being able to stay close to home and being a part of history and tradition, we always want to give the first opportunity to the top players around this area, and we’ve been fortunate, we think, to have a lot of good players staying home.”
The biggest prize was Hillsborough linebacker/running back Ronnie McCullough. Ranked 22nd in the state by the Florida Times-Union and eighth best player in the Bay area by the St. Petersburg Times, McCullough suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament six games into his senior season.
Before that, McCullough had been receiving offers from around the country, but Leavitt’s commitment seemed to seal McCullough’s Letter of Intent to the Bulls.
“The injury Ronnie had was no issue from my standpoint,” Leavitt said. “I knew what kind of young man he is. That never phased me one bit. Ronnie’s a tremendous player, but I think the most important thing is the kind of person he is. I’m really looking forward to being a part of his life and learning from him because he’s got so many qualities that are impressive.”
Balloon was a first-team all-state pick at the 4A level, as the Dragons advanced all the way to Tallahassee for the state championship game before losing to Palm Bay 19-10. Hall was an all-state third-teamer for Wharton and a key contributor at fullback.
Brandon’s S.J. Green brings a multifaceted playmaker to the wide receiver corps. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he had the ability to take over a game for the Eagles, catching 36 passes for 708 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior.
East Bay quarterback J.B. Garris propeled the Indians’ wishbone attack, but is slated to be a receiver for the Bulls.
Tailback Trae Williams was all-state second team in 5A for Durant, as he rushed for 1,355 yards and 22 touchdowns.
An all-county pick by both the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times, Williams was also a force on punt returns, returning six for scores.