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Leavitt looks to the future

The 2007 South Florida football team rose to No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, shining light on a young football program. The recognition facilitated USF coach Jim Leavitt’s recruiting efforts and spurred some surprises Wednesday as 21 junior college and high school football players signed National Letters of Intent to attend and play football at the University.

Leavitt said some of the recruits who signed surprised him.

Quarterback B.J. Daniels of Lincoln High School in Tallahassee tops the list with a 2007 all-state first team accolade. He set a school record with 34 touchdown passes.

According to rivals.com, Daniels’ arm strength ranks fifth nationally, and he ranks eighth as a dual-threat quarterback. It listed him as a four-star recruit also sought after by Memphis, who initially recruited him for basketball.

“B.J. started on the varsity at Lincoln High School as quarterback and on the basketball team as a freshman,” Lincoln High School coach Kyle Rice said. “To be able to do that as a freshman I think is pretty impressive. And, he’s just a real humble, good kid.”

Daniels stood out as a top basketball player, leading his team with 193 steals and making honorable mention Big Bend. USF coach Stan Heath offered Daniels a spot to play on the basketball team.

“I really appreciate Stan Heath helping us recruit B.J.,” Leavitt said. “I don’t know anything about basketball. But he dribbles well and shoots it well.

“But I do know one thing though – he can play some quarterback, and we’re excited about that.”

Other factors – besides last year’s BCS ranking – contributed to the success of the program.

“I think facilities is one (reason USF recruited well),” Leavitt said. “I think going to three bowl games is two, and (being) on top of the Big East is big.”

However, the success that attracted more-talented athletes also pushed others away.

“We lost a couple of guys because I think they felt like they were going to have a hard time playing,” Leavitt said. “They felt like they could (play) somewhere else and play earlier. That’s the first time I really saw that.

“You don’t finish in the top half of the Big East three years in a row without some athletes.”

Two other four-star recruits come from junior colleges – sophomores David Bedford, defensive end, and Kion Wilson, linebacker. Both were red-shirt freshman, giving each three years of eligibility.

Bedford is rated the fifth best defensive end in the country, according to rivals.com. He recorded 13.5 sacks last season. He declined West Virginia, Kansas and Oklahoma State.

Leavitt said Bedford adds strength to the defensive line, which is something he focused on this year.

“We targeted him,” he said. “He was the number one JUCO defensive end we targeted, and (we) got him.”

Wilson hails from Pearl River Community College.

According to scout.com, Wilson runs a 4.5 40-meter dash. USF beat out bids from Miami and Louisville to get him. His teammate defensive end Craig Marshall, a three-star recruit, is also transferring to USF.

Three-star recruit Mark Popek of Plant City High School chose USF instead of either Illinois or Vanderbilt. He stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 310 pounds.

Leavitt said Popek has good feet and can play either left tackle or right tackle. “USF is going to get a good student, also,” Plant City High School coach Kevin Kelley said. “I think that is one of his better attributes since every one is going over things with a fine-tooth comb these days.”

The class looks promising, but Leavitt said it takes at least two years before a class’s value can be measured. “The University of South Florida will never be the same after this year.”