As USF football prepared for its postseason matchup with Syracuse on Thursday, it also had to recruit high school students and transfers throughout the month.
The Bulls formally announced 25 signees during Early National Signing Day on Wednesday, a day before their bowl bout with the Orange.
While this is the second recruiting cycle under Bulls coach Alex Golesh, this is the first he has had to assemble from scratch.
“You have an idea of where your holes are, you have an idea of the measurables that you’re looking for,” Golesh said. “You’ve also got a staff that’s been together now for a year so you know how guys work. You got proof of concept.”
Their recruiting class ranks No. 50 in the country – the highest among Group of Five programs – according to the 247 Sports Composite. It’s USF’s highest-rated class since 2014.
The top 2024 recruit is four-star tight end Jonathan Echols from IMG Academy. He flipped his commitment from Tennessee on Dec. 8 and enrolled on Dec 11.
Echols ranks as the seventh-highest USF signee in the modern recruiting era, according to the 247 Sports Composite.
Here are some takeaways from Early National Signing Day.
USF could top American conference recruiting rankings
USF closed the first day with the highest-rated recruiting class in the American conference as of early Wednesday afternoon. The next AAC team to appear on the ranking is Tulsa at No. 62.
The Bulls ranked sixth in the conference last year amid Golesh’s coaching transition and eighth in 2022. For Golesh, the extra “buzz” could help bring in even more recruits.
This will not be the only time USF can sign players. The early signing period lasts until Friday. The regular signing day period begins on Feb. 7 and ends on April 1.
“I think it’ll help us finish on some other guys that haven’t signed that are still available,” he said. “I think people want to be a part of winning and people want to be a part of something great.”
Could offensive lineman recruits patch up pass protection?
A position of focus in recruiting was the offensive line. Golesh said his staff completely revamped the position a year ago and is still building that area.
“We took some transfers to fill some voids and thank goodness we did,” he said. “We’ve been able to sustain there. But at the end of the day, you want to continue to build it with the young guys that we signed.”
USF signed four offensive linemen and is looking to add a few more to help protect star quarterback Byrum Brown. The Bulls gave up 40 sacks this year, which ties for 116th nationally.
Recruits benefit from Bowl Berth
Echols is one of four signees actively practicing with the team during Bowl season. The others are three-star wide receivers Brandon Winton and Joshua Porter, along with quarterback prospect Marcelis Tate.
High school seniors can do this through a process called early enrollment. Through this route, they can opt to graduate early to attend college one semester ahead of schedule.
By practicing with the team early, high school players become familiar with the offensive system without the rigorous schedule of in-season student-athletes.
But Golesh emphasized how crucial these extra few months could be in these players’ development.
“They’re going to feel like they’ve got ownership and what the leadership should look like,” he said.
Will defense recruits rejuvenate the Bulls’ defense?
The Bulls also focused on adding defensive depth, which could play a pivotal role in revitalizing their play on that end of the field.
Their defense averaged 1.75 sacks and allowed 301.2 passing yards per contest this season before Thursday’s game.
USF signed four defensive linemen, including three-star defensive end Jaylen Pettrus. He could potentially play a prominent role in the Bulls’ defensive unit next year due to his experience in junior college.
Pettrus totaled 69 tackles, 27.0 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles in two seasons with Iowa Western Community College from 2022-23. He was a 2023 national junior college first-team All-American and won back-to-back national titles.
Additionally, the Bulls added three defensive backs, headlined by Vanguard High School safety Fred Gaskin. Gaskin was rated a four-star recruit by Rivals and 247Sports when he committed to USF on July 31.
USF will play Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl on Thursday at FAU Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN and BullsUnlimited.