With his first complete recruiting class signed, sealed and delivered, coach Skip Holtz said he is satisfied that he’s filled the holes and added depth to the USF football team.
Along with three early enrollees already on campus, 18 players signed National Letters of Intent with USF on Wednesday.
After his hiring on Jan.14 of last year, Holtz had under a month to get to know the recruits sought by the previous coaching staff and prepare for National Signing Day.
“Last year, I didn’t know (the class). Every one of these guys, I mean I could sit here and talk about (fullback) Ty Turner and the pasta his mother makes and sitting in his home for an hour and a half,” Holtz said. “Sitting in Andre Davis’ and Ruben Gonzalez’s homes, and how many times they’ve been over here (at USF), and having an opportunity to visit with them. There were so many unknowns about last year’s class, but I get excited about this group because of how good I feel about them as players.”
A big legacy of this class is that all recruits who made verbal commitments to USF signed, despite receiving offers from other schools.
“There were new coaches being hired, not only around the state, but around the country. There were a lot of people that tried to come in on our commitments, and to see them hold their ground and say, ‘Coach, I want to be part of that family and be part of what’s going on at South Florida,’ is what gets us so excited about the direction we’re heading in,” Holtz said.
“This was not a wishy-washy year. We didn’t have a lot of guys flip,” he said. “A lot of these guys made their decisions in June and didn’t budge and I think that speaks volumes for their character, their family and their support system. A lot of times, a verbal commitment just tells (the other schools) who’s leading and then everyone else goes in and bangs away at the school that’s leading.”
A deep class that includes five new linebackers and five offensive linemen has a chance to make an immediate impact on the field for the Bulls.
Three starters from last year’s offensive line – center Sampson Genus, and tackles Jamar Bass and Jacob Sims – have graduated, creating an opportunity for young players to make an impact.
Holtz said he believes offensive line newcomers Brynjar Gudmundsson, Thor Jozwiak and Max Lang all have a chance to contribute right away.
“I look at Jozwiak coming in as a 290-pound player, he has a chance. I think Brynjar Gudmundsson has a chance coming in right away with where he is physically. Max Lang has an opportunity. I’m just really excited to get them here on campus and see how they fit in with this football team.
Jozwiak, from Lake Region High School in Eagle Lake, recorded 45 pancake blocks as a team captain in his senior year. He also comes with a pedigree. His father was an All-American at West Virginia and was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the 1986 NFL draft.
Gudmundsson, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound tackle from Wellington, didn’t allow a sack all season in his senior year.
Another hole Holtz aimed to fill with this class is the linebacker position. The departures of Jacquian Williams, Sabbath Joseph and Donte Spires may also allow true freshmen to see playing time.
“When you look at the depth chart, we graduated three (linebackers) and we felt like we were down in numbers, so we’ve added five linebackers, with two of them having the opportunity to be here midyear.”
Mike Jeune, one of the early enrollees, enters USF as a junior following his transfer from Independence Community College in Kansas. Jeune is the only junior college transfer in the 2011 class.
Of the 21 new players, 16 are from Florida. With Miami on the schedule each of the next three seasons and Florida State visiting Tampa in 2012, holding ground in Florida was a major goal from day one of the Skip Holtz era.
“I made the comment when we first started here that this was where our focus was going to be, in the state of Florida,” he said. “I’m really excited for those players that decided to be here.”
Of the 16 Floridians, only two, wide receivers Ruben Gonzalez and Andre Davis, are from Hillsborough County. Three players are from the Orlando area, and the fertile recruiting grounds of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties each provided one player.
Despite picking up only two signatures from local high schools, Holtz said he is happy with his class.
“There are a lot of guys in Hillsborough County that are going to sign Division I scholarships, two of them are signing with South Florida,” he said. “I would love to sign more players from Hillsborough County, but at the same time, I need to sign players who fit our needs at the time and I think we did that.”
With a solid recruiting class in his pocket and new facilities to work with, Holtz said he believes USF has a bright future ahead.
“I don’t think this program should take a back seat to anybody,” he said. “We don’t fear anybody, we’re not backing down from anybody. We’ve stepped on the field and played with them. I look at this program on an even par, not just with the programs in this state. I look at some of the top programs in the country and I say, ‘Why can’t we be there?'”
With wins over traditional state powerhouses Florida State and Miami in the last two seasons, and coming off a fifth consecutive eight-win season, Holtz has his program ready to step into the national spotlight.