|The University of South Florida is hours away from wrapping up one of the most distinguished recruiting classes in their short history. The 2009 class will go down as the break-through class in the evolution of USF recruiting. It will be known as the first time USF landed a National Recruit – Ryne Giddins. Giddins is the diamond of the class, but there are other gems as well. Coach Jim Leavitt finally got his man in California. After several misses out West, the Bulls pulled in a monster – 6'7 OT Carlos Savala. who the staff is counting on to fill an immediate need on the offensive line.|
And for the second year in a row, USF swiped a commit off the Auburn recruiting
board. Last year it was CB George Baker
that made a last minute switch from AU to USF, this year it is OG
Steve Jacques. These are a few examples of what has gone on
throughout the year to make this the best class in USF history
Although USF was ranked as low as number 10 in the country this year, they finished the season losing 4 of their last 5 regular season games and there wasn't the same buzz in recruiting circles as there were last year when the Bulls made it all the way up to number 2 in the AP polls. The fact that they still pulled in a stellar class means the entire coaching staff was forced to work for each and every commit they received. Nothing was handed to them.
Armed with the slogan Coach Leavitt always preaches to recruits, "You have a chance to make history at USF, rather than being a part of it somewhere else." the assistants hit the road like traveling salesmen pushing the idea of living and playing in Tampa.
For people that follow recruiting, you know that it doesn't just all come together the week of Signing Day. Recruiting is a process that is year-round. For South Florida there are a couple key points that bring a class together. It starts in the spring when the coaches hit the road to see the prospects in action for the first time. That sets the groundwork for summer camps and combines. And it's all brought together through relationships that the staff builds over the course of an 8 to 10 month period. Since the Bulls don't have the tradition of UM, UF or FSU the foundation of their success in recruiting at South Florida is based on cultivating relationships with a recruit, and sometimes more importantly, a recruits family.
Spring Eval Period
|This year local standout Adaris Bellamy,
from Dunedin high school, got the ball rolling when he committed on
March 7th to Greg Gregory, his regional
recruiter. As a junior, Bellamy was the most electrifying offensive
player in Pinellas County. The Bulls staff knew he might be a grade
risk, but by taking him so early in the game it showed local recruits
and coaches that USF would not be letting top local talent slide out of
town without a fight.
"When I first visited Tampa, I basically fell in love with USF," said Bellamy. "I met with the staff, saw the facilities and knew this is where I wanted to go."
|There was a second commitment taken during the spring, that was from middle linebacker Chase Griffiths at North Florida Christian in Tallahassee. The Bulls have done notoriously well over the past 3-4 years in the Panhandle of Florida. The commitment of Chase Griffiths, at a position of need in '09, would be the first of several commitments the Bulls would get from that area.
"I took a couple trips in the spring and I loved the campus and the school," Griffiths said. But what sold him was watching the way Wally Burnham coached his position. "He's old-school, he knows the position and the way it should be played. That's the kind of coach I want to learn from."
|There are a handful of athletes that are "no-brainer's" when offering in the spring. It is the next tier down that can get tricky. The staff follows the mantra, "Will he help us win a Big East Championship?" which is a good measuring stick for offering in the spring. This basically means is, if the staff offers him and he commits, there are no regrets because he is the type of player that will continue to take South Florida to the next level. Of course not every recruit will commit on the spot, in most cases an early offer is just the starting point of a courtship that could last for over 10 months.|
|The foundation of the Bulls recruiting board is built in the spring. The top targets are identified at each position and under them could be a list of up to a dozen names, some offered and some not. This is where the summer comes into play, guys that have been offered will be invited to camps at USF in order to expose them to the Bulls campus and culture, and guys that are not offered are invited to be further evaluated.|
About ten years ago Coach Canales, in his first tenure with the Bulls, started a 7-on-7 passing tournament held on the USF intramural fields. In the beginning they convinced 8 local teams to come out and participate. Fast forward to 2008, it is now known as the USF Sling & Shoot, and it is one of the most recognized passing tournaments, not only in the state, but in the entire country. The tournament has become a big recruiting tool for USF, and attracts upwards of 45 teams from around the state and Southeast region to their campus every summer.
|This year there was even a team made up of recruits from the New
England area as well.
"It's huge because we get hundreds of kids from all-grades on our campus every year," said Mike Canales. "We are able to evaluate seniors we've already looked at, and juniors that we'll identify for the next year."
Coach Canales also points out the rare opportunity for an entire staff to evaluate a recruit at the same time.
|"It's important for evaluating because, the head coach gets to see him, the (offensive or defensive) coordinators gets to see him, his regional recruiting coordinator sees him, and the position coach gets to see him. Now you're having four separate sets of eyes evaluating the recruit all at once, in person."|
|This year USF put a new wrinkle into the annual Sling & Shoot. They hosted 260 offensive and defensive lineman for their first ever Big Man camp. It was held on the softball fields adjacent to the IM fields where there are close to 800 prospects participating in the passing tournament. Overall, this weekend brings in over 1,000 potential prospects to the USF campus.|
Before the Sling & Shoot and Big Man Camp (July), the Bulls hold a more exclusive instructional camp in June. It used to be called "USF Senior Showcase", however this year the name was changed to ride the momentum of a major event that would be played in Tampa this year – The Super Bowl. In 2008 the "Super Bull" was born and it was more than just a name change. The annual summer camp was moved from the USF practice fields to the same field the Super Bowl would be played on, Raymond James Stadium.
"Back when we heard that the Super Bowl would be played in Tampa we began thinking of a new name, we went with Super Bull," said recruiting coordinator Carl Franks. " It's a nice little play on words that we may use again next year or we may switch to something else."
|Held under the lights at Ray Jay, the first annual Super Bull brought in some of the biggest names from around the state. It was a star-studded event, the best group of talent a USF camp has ever drawn. The caliber of talent mixed with the intensity of the coaching staff created a competitive environment, that big-time recruits love. .|
|Some got so wrapped-up in the emotion of the camp, they decided to
verbally commit to USF on-the-spot
"It was a big part in my decision," said Hallandale CB Ricardo Dixon, who committed to Jim Leavitt on the field at the conclusion of the camp. "It was the first summer camp I went to and it just caught my eye like, wow!"
Overall it was a huge success, the Bulls received 6 commitments that night and one more, two days later. Niceville defensive tackle Luke Sager was there, he didn't commit that night, he eventually did 6 months later and he credits the Super Bull for making a lasting impression.
"Being able to see the stadium, see how much talent the staff brought in and being coached-up by Kevin Patrick helped a lot in my decision making."
Top recruits hit a circuit of summer camps including FSU's Seminole Showtime camp, UF's Friday Night Lights and USF put themselves on the list of "can't miss" camps with this year's Super Bull.
"It was a great success," says Bulls Coach Carl Franks. "There was a lot of buzz in the air of having it at Raymond James, having it at night, having the recruits play on the same field that the Super Bowl will be held on. It was neat having it there and the recruits really enjoyed it. It was something different from what we've done in the past."
After the summer camps and combines are complete the South Florida staff turns its attention to the start of the season. Most of the schools in the country use the college football season as a recruiting tool and host a bulk of their official visits during this period. Not USF. This year the Bulls didn't bring in a single recruit for a visit during the season. Plenty of local recruits stopped by for unofficial visits, but none were official. There is a good reason for this.
Every school in the country recruits in the state of Florida, and most of the country is located in a climate that by November, is on average, 20-25 degrees colder than it is in Florida. These schools like to bring in their Florida recruits before the temps drop, usually during September or October. The Bulls use the opposite strategy and bring their top prospects in as late as possible. This ensures that one of their last impressions is a trip to relatively-warm Tampa in late December or January. South Florida also mixes in their end of the year banquet (a tribute to the seniors) as a feature attraction to their biggest recruiting weekend.
This year however, the Bulls coaching staff was thrown a curveball. The Super Bowl was scheduled to be in Tampa and would essentially take away the final two recruiting weekends in January.
|"We knew going in that the last weekend (Jan 30-Feb 1) would be nearly impossible to host visitors," said Coach Franks. "It would be impossible to take guys to eat. The stadium tour is out of the question and just the logistics of it, with everything going on in town, would not allow for the experience we provide to be as good as we would want for those young men."|
|For the first time, the end of the year banquet was moved to December. This date worked out better for the seniors that were being honored. When the banquet was held in late January there were always a handful of seniors absent because they were out-of-state training for the NFL combine. This year all the star players were in attendance, along with an outstanding group of recruits, including 4 junior college prospects that would eventually commit to USF (Carlos Savala, Jaquian Williams, Jamar Bass and Jason Pierre-Paul)|
"We thought that moving the banquet up would work better for our seniors, but it also worked because we had some junior college players there that weekend," Coach Franks added. "We utilized that weekend to provide a better experience for our players as well as incoming recruits."
Having the recruits at the banquet reinforces the family atmosphere that has become a South Florida tradition. Almost every commit credits this feeling as one of the reasons they choose USF.
It's a Family Thing
When recruits make their decision on what college to attend there are usually a number of factors that come into play. The most popular factors are playing time, tradition, academics, prestige, and the list goes on. But if you ask any South Florida commit why he chose the Bulls he'll tell you it had something to do with the family atmosphere at USF. There are other reasons recruits choose South Florida. But in nearly every commit story published on USFNation.com over the years, the recruit mentions a family atmosphere for playing a major part in his decision. This is not a coincidence. This is a culture that Jim Leavitt and the staff have been building since the inception of the program.
|"The family atmosphere comes from everyone being from Florida," said Hillsborough RB Lindsey Lamar. "Guys like Julius Forte, Ryne Giddins, everyone has known each other for a while and we just got a bond."
The USF roster is made up of about 90% Florida athletes, but maybe even more importantly, they are all recruits that want to play in Tampa. Coach Leavitt and his staff do not take kids that are using the Bulls as a fall-back option, they take kids that buy into the "family atmosphere" USF has established.
"People have different meanings of what a family atmosphere is," said Ricardo Dixon. "To me it was about how the players treated me when I met them for the first time. They didn't intimidate me, they welcomed me, they wanted to know about me and hangout with me."
Relationships are the basis of this recruiting strategy. The family atmosphere takes time to be conveyed, it's not something you can show a recruit on paper or something he can look up on the internet. It means a lot of hard work for the coaches, keeping in touch with prospects they've offered. While keeping in touch with prospects they haven't offered, but are still evaluating. They also must maintain a constant line of communication with already committed recruits.
Linebacker Chase Griffiths lives 4 hours from Tampa, but he says the USF coaches would come see him anytime it was allowed by the NCAA rules.
"Coach Canales was my main recruiter and he kept in contact with me and my family. Whenever he was allowed he would come up to Tallahassee and visit with my family, come see my game or stop by my school."
Boca Ciega DE Julius Forte may have summed it up best when talking about why he committed to the University of South Florida.
"Being with the players and coaches feels like an extension of your own family."
The success of the 2009 recruiting class is a compilation of perfect planning and execution of a strategy that the South Florida coaching staff stuck to all year long. The recruits brought in this year will be the ones that will be giving off that family-vibe a few years from now to another batch of incoming recruits. Guys like Jacquez Jenkins, Lindsey Lamar, Ryne Giddins, Kamran Joyer, Demi Thompson, they'll be the ones that represent USF on and off the field. After a couple Big East Championships, the staff's job may just get a little easier…but until then, they'll continue to recruit the only way they know how. Through extensive evaluations, creative marketing and a positive family atmosphere.