USF coach Willie Taggart and his staff can finally breathe a sigh of relief; the grueling recruiting process has come to an end and USF came out strong.
On Wednesday’s National Signing Day the Bulls inked 15 players who joined three early enrollees, filling voids and adding depth all over the field.
“There’s not as many (signees) from a quantity standpoint, but quality-wise, I feel like this is one of our better recruiting classes overall,” Taggart said of his class, which ranked second in the AAC behind Houston.
It was a class headlined by two four-star prospects — wide receiver Darnell Salomon and safety Craig Watts — that look to make an immediate impact come fall.
Salomon, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver, passed up offers from schools across the country, including three of the four teams who reached the College Football Playoff last season.
No. 204 in the ESPN top-300, Salomon can play either inside or outside receiver to complement senior Rodney Adams.
“He can stretch the field and go up and get it,” co-offensive coordinator David Reaves said. “In the state championship against Armwood, he took a five-yard hitch and took it 70 yards.
“This guy is a big-time playmaker.”
Watts, on the other hand, passed up two Big Ten schools to land at USF and will add depth to a loaded secondary class that also includes three-stars Michael Hampton, Armunz Mathews and Josh Dunn.
Both Watts and Dunn will compete for what was formerly called the “husky” role played by Jamie Byrd. It now dons the name “striker,” but Taggart ensures that nothing about the position has been altered.
Taggart also was able to fill a pressing void on the offensive line. With seniors Thor Jozwiak and Brynjar Gudmundsson leaving, two big holes were left in their place.
That is until two 6-foot-6, 300-plus-pound lineman faxed in their letters of intent this morning.
Glen Bethel — who enrolled at USF early and will attend spring practice — as well as Christion Gainer come in looking to replace two of USF’s cornerstone lineman from a season ago.
“It’s unbelievable the size of this young man,” Reaves said of Gainer. “I believe he wears a size 18 shoe.”
The two, already of college size, will join fellow signees Logan MacDonald and Michael Wiggs and look to open holes for the conference’s two-time leading rusher in junior Marlon Mack.
Signing Day is nothing without a bit of surprise — or so fans thought. An unexpected signing of Wharton High School wide out DeVontres Dukes provided a spark to the morning.
But according to Taggart, it was no shock to him.
Growing up in North Carolina, the USF staff was worried when the Wolfpack of N.C. State made Dukes an offer, but last week he made it clear he wanted to stay in Tampa.
“I felt good because they told me,” Taggart said. “He wanted to see if I could keep a secret and I think I did a good job.”
Most of the remaining signees came without much drama.
Linebackers Andre Polk, the cousin of Buffalo Bills’ receiver Sammy Watkins, and Mi’Cario Stanley join 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end Tramal Ivy as other key defensive gets for USF.
USF also added a fourth scholarship quarterback in Tampa native Chris Oladokun, who will likely sit behind juniors Quinton Flowers and Asiantii Woulard.
Oladokun — a strong-armed, dual threat— is the only quarterback in this year’s class and stayed committed even before USF completed its turnaround.
“I wouldn’t say I second-guessed my decision,” Oladokun told the Oracle. “When I committed, I knew that was a good spot for me. When there were rumors about Taggart leaving, I was a little uneasy about that.
“But once I knew he was staying, I knew I had made the right decision.”
In the end, it’s all about adding depth and playmakers, a task Taggart feels he accomplished with the 2016 class.
“Depth-wise we’re where we want to be as a football team,” Taggart said. “As a coach, you’re not as nervous about getting a guy injured because you feel better about the guy’s backup.”
—Follow on Twitter @JacobHoagUSF