At 8:50 a.m. Wednesday, USF coach Willie Taggart was in the middle of a tweeting spree – the likes of which his 11,300 followers had never seen – when he quoted multi-platinum rapper Drake for the second time.
“Somewhere between I want it and I got it. Sarasota County baby!!!”
That tweet was in reference to a Letter of Intent faxed to the USF football offices in the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center from running back Marlon Mack of Booker High School in Sarasota.
Taggart hadn’t received a verbal commitment from a running back until Jan. 28, when Mack, a former UCLA commit and four-star recruit according to ESPN, gave Taggart a pledge.
But a surprise came when previously uncommitted running back, and Rivals.com four-star prospect D’Ernest Johnson faxed his signature from Immokalee High School about 10 minutes prior to Mack.
“A couple of (the lyrics) were tailored to them,” Taggart said. “‘Somewhere between I want it and I got it.’ I wanted both of those guys, him and D’Ernest.”
The former running backs coach at Stanford and proponent of power offense with a penchant for running the ball a majority of the time, said he can never have enough running backs, especially with only three on the roster currently.
“We put the hardcore press on those guys to make sure they knew this was the place to be and became a part of what they call the ‘dream team,'” he said. “They understand what we’re doing schematically and as a program. I had great relationship with D’ernest, too, and had a great feeling about him. No sweating it, until this morning making sure (all the letters of intent) came in.”
And with that tweet, Taggart would go on to reference Drake lyrics on National Signing Day nine more times and name each Florida county that a letter from a recruit came from as they came in, rather than their full name.
It is clear that Taggart places an emphasis on relating to the young men he recruits, as shown by the music playing in his office Wednesday morning.
“I bet you thought I didn’t know (Drake),” he said. “It’s always great to be able to relate to young people. That’s our job as coaches in a lot of different ways. That was something that came to me this morning. I thought it would be cool to do that. Plus I got some good feedback.”
As fans and players tweeted about how much they enjoyed Taggart’s exuberance, he made the second point clear with each mention of a local county – USF reached its goal of snagging six Tampa products in a group of 24 total Florida recruits.
“If you go back to Day 1 we said we wanted to do that,” he said. “It’s gratifying to accomplish that. I think that’s what will make this a great program. I think every year you’ll see the heart of our recruiting class is from the bay area.”
In addition to nearly the entire USF class being from Florida, Taggart said he and his staff had the opportunity to evaluate 19 of the day’s signees at USF camps, which gave the staff a chance to scout them as athletes without relying on someone else.
One of those 19 players, and perhaps the name with the most speculation on Twitter who USF was still in the mix for, surrounded defensive end/outside linebacker Vincent Jackson of Jesuit High School.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Jackson said via Twitter he would commit around 9 a.m. Wednesday from AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, where he was preparing for the International Bowl, an all-star game featuring some of the nation’s best high school players.
But before the clock struck 9 a.m. USF’s live stream flashed Jackson’s name and attributes across the screen, and gave USF its sixth ESPN four-star recruit, and their second within the last 10 days after Mack committed Jan. 28.
Jackson was reportedly deciding between USF, Virginia, Alabama and Missouri, but Taggart said he was expecting Jackson to join the 2014 class.
“Vincent and I talked and have a great understanding and relationship,” he said. “I was confident Vincent Jackson was going to be a bull.”
And with the last minute commitments of Jackson and Johnson boosting the quality of USF’s class, the Bulls, who were 2-10 last season, grabbed the No. 1 class in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) according to all major scouting services Rivals.com,
ESPN.com, Scout.com and 247sports.com.
USF, the team with the third-worst yardage per game in the nation last year, somehow managed to finish tied for the 10th-most commitments in college football, at 28, the most in the AAC.
The first name to come through the fax machine was four-star Immokalee linebacker Jimmy Bayes, who originally committed to USF in January 2013.
“This kid understands commitment,” Taggart said. “He’s been selling USF from day one and never wavered. Didn’t take any other visits. That’s the commitment we need from guys in this program. Not only did he commit, but he was getting other kids committed to us. It’s great to have someone like that in your program, and (that mindset) spreads.”
While USF lost a couple commitments to Vanderbilt and Florida over the last two weeks, it was able to flip offensive lineman Zack Hudson from Missouri to the Bulls, Mack from UCLA, kept Jackson away from many SEC programs, and kept receiver Tyre McCants from bolting to Georgia, which offered him a scholarship Tuesday night.
“We had some teams come in at the end and that was great to see the kids hold on (to the commitment),” Taggart said. “That gets you fired up as a coach and ready to coach these guys to turn this program around. That’s what we need. Guys could have gone to a lot of other places but they decided to be here.”
But before the freshmen are able to arrive on campus this summer, USF will continue to train and begin spring practice in March.