Football recruiting update ahead of National Signing Day

USF football continues to build its recruiting class to add to a roster that will return 10 starters on offense and nine on defense. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

With National Signing Day approaching Feb. 2, USF football is looking to improve upon its current crop of recruits, headlined by one of the highest-ranked transfer classes in the nation.

As of Sunday, the Bulls have 24 new faces coming to campus in 2022, 13 on defense and 11 on offense. The class includes 14 transfers, the most in the FBS.

However, this isn’t a matter of quantity over quality. All but one of those 14 transfers are three-star recruits by 247 Sports’ Composite rating, which also ranks the transfer class as No. 2 in the nation, behind only Florida State. 

The strength in numbers indicates a clear focus from coach Jeff Scott to improve the Bulls’ depth, a weakness that consistently plagued them throughout the 2021 season.

The transfer class is led by former Clemson wide receiver Ajou Ajou. The Canada native is returning to the Tampa Bay area where he spent his final year of high school at Clearwater Academy International.

Ajou isn’t the only former Clemson player to commit to USF. Three-star running back Michael Dukes and safety Ray Thornton have also decided to leave the national powerhouse for an opportunity to play under Scott. 

Among the 14 transfers, eight are returning to their Tampa Bay roots like Ajou. The most recent to announce his commitment is Maryland offensive lineman Zach Perkins, who revealed the move on Twitter on Jan. 4. A product of Tampa’s Berkeley Prep, Perkins has four years of NCAA eligibility remaining.

Defensive back Aamaris Brown is also making his way back home. Coming from Kansas State but a graduate of local juggernaut Armwood High School, Brown saw reduced playing time in his sophomore season and chose to enter the transfer portal. 

He will be joined by former high school teammate Clyde Pinder Jr. The defensive lineman spent two seasons at North Carolina before choosing to return to USF, his father’s alma mater.

A notable defensive addition from the junior college ranks is three-star linebacker Jhalyn Shuler. The South Carolina native is ranked by 247 Sports as the third-best junior college linebacker and in the top-20 junior college recruits overall. He chose USF over offers from programs like Texas Tech and Texas State.

The transfer class may be highly gifted but it seems recruitment on the high school level doesn’t stand on the same pedestal. 

247 Sports’ Composite ranks USF’s incoming freshman class 90th nationally and eighth in the AAC. isn’t much more generous, slotting the Bulls in at No. 85.

Under center, the Bulls will be welcoming two freshmen quarterbacks. USF secured a commitment from Lake Mary’s Gunnar Smith amid an offer from Kentucky and interest from Notre Dame and West Virginia. 

Smith will be joined by another three-star quarterback in Byrum Brown from Rolesville, North Carolina.

Both Smith and Brown can expect to compete for the role of backup to incumbent Timmy McClain after Cade Fortin and Jarren Williams announced their intentions to transfer. Williams has since moved to Alabama A&M, while Fortin remains uncommitted.

One local commit among the incoming freshmen is wide receiver Javohn Thomas. During an injury-shortened senior year at Sickles High School in Tampa, he had 30 receptions and scored seven touchdowns in just five games.

Thomas will split his time between Raymond James Stadium and the Yuengling Center while at USF as he’s also committed to the basketball team as a guard.

On defense, the Bulls will welcome three-star defensive lineman Eddie Kelly of Winter Garden. He is a particularly impressive recruit for USF, as he had offers on the table from big-name programs like Florida and Florida State.

Leading up to National Signing Day, USF still has several offers on the table for players who have yet to sign anywhere.

One to keep an eye on is defensive lineman Tra Thomas of Independence Community College. He has offers from Kansas and Buffalo, but USF is leading the race for his signature, according to 247 Sports.

The next few weeks will be critical for the Bulls to solidify their roster for 2022 and beyond. Scott has his work cut out for him between juggling offers and commitments and trying to integrate new coordinators on both sides of the ball.