“Go Bulls! I’m excited!”
Those were the first words from USF football coach Jim Leavitt when he sat down at Wednesday’s press conference to discuss his team’s new recruits. He laughed and joked while he ran down the list of new players and mostly offensive tools that will be available to him as soon as April.
But if one were to sum up Leavitt’s enthusiasm in one word on National Signing Day — the day when high school student-athletes spend most of the day by a fax machine deciding what their future will be — it would have to be “excited.”
“I’m going to say what most coaches would say,” said Leavitt, whose new class of recruits includes a nationally ranked quarterback and barrage of extremely large players to fill the holes left by departing seniors. “We’re excited about a group of guys, and that’s mostly what anyone says anymore.”
This year’s class got Leavitt so excited he could have easily been seen licking his chops at next year’s schedule a whole seven months in advance. And with good reason; it’s a schedule that includes the University of Miami, Louisville, Cincinnati and Syracuse; a schedule that has them in the Big East for the first year and has the football team recruiting players that get national attention before they even graduate from high school.
“We never had the Big East to push and we never had a building to walk in,” said Leavitt. “We would just walk around the trailers that were out there. But don’t get me wrong; they’re nice trailers. It’s just a little different. To see progress and to see moving is really important.
“We have a really good base (of players) to move forward with. We’ve got a chance, and it’s going to be fun to see. It’s a great schedule (next season), a fun schedule with Miami and all. It’s exciting.”
Of the 23 new signees, many are from Florida, but a few are from out of state. Most notable are two quarterbacks, Matt Grothe and Carlton Hill, the latter being the No. 9 quarterback recruit in the nation.
The most sought-after positions were four offensive linemen and wide receivers and five more defensive backs.
And like every class before, this year’s is loaded with plenty of local talent, including cornerback R.J. Anderson from the back-to-back Class 4A State Champion Armwood Hawks. Also from the Bay Area is Wesley Chapel offensive line standout Danny Tolley, who brings his 6-foot-6, 300-pound frame to the line of scrimmage.
“We really wanted to get a lot faster and I think we accomplished that goal,” Leavitt said of signing some speedy offensive and defensive players. “And we wanted to build our potential to score, and I think we did that well, also.”
Leavitt wouldn’t grade the 2005 recruiting class, stating that it would take a couple of seasons to fully gauge how well they would turn out, but as any coach in his position would, he realized that not only have his players grown incredibly fast, so has his program.
“Oh, Lord, we’re moving pretty fast,” Leavitt said about jumping from Division I-A to C-USA to the Big East in a matter of four years. “Nine years ago there were plenty of people who thought South Florida wouldn’t beat anybody, you know? And I’m sure there will be people who will think we can’t compete in the Big East. Well, go ahead and keep underestimating us.
“I can’t discount the guys that are already here. There’s a great group of athletes coming, and there are great players in every class. So that wouldn’t be fair to them. But we are young, we are a young team,” Leavitt said.
For most of the press conference, Leavitt was excited, but when it came down to his main guy, quarterback Pat Julmiste, he realized there would be a lot of competition with the additions of Hill and Grothe.
“These guys like the style of offense we have and come in knowing they are going to compete. Julmiste has had a lot of coaching, he knows our offense. That’s a lot (for Hill or Grothe) to overtake. It really is. Because you bring someone in, they have to learn all the verbiage and all the protection, and that’s a lot of work.
“We’re excited about (Hill), and how he can run. He’s a real talent and a humble guy and he’s been keeping us on pins and needles.
“But we’re excited about Grothe, too. Don’t count him out. See, everyone is putting all the hype on Hill. Matt Grothe is a good football player,” Leavitt said.
All in all, Leavitt was excited. He said the word enough times to make sure everyone knew the smile on his face wasn’t an act, that he could be a different guy than the one we see on the sideline after a loss to Army.
“First of all, our coaches worked extremely hard and some of these guys that you sign, you feel like you are recruiting them for a long, long time and pretty much everything went like we thought. We’re excited about the group coming in,” Leavitt said.