Commentary | Derrick Calloway's commitment to USF significant in many ways

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 24, 2013 

Derrick Calloway's verbal commitment to the University of South Florida is significant beyond the talent he brings to the field.

The Manatee High defensive tackle originally committed to Louisville, but there was a prevailing opinion that when USF head coach Willie Taggart was able to speak with him, things would change.

Former USF patriarch Jim Leavitt, said on WDAE radio earlier in the week that USF should never lose a player to Louisville and reinforced the idea that the value of Taggart's homespun roots are immeasurable.

Leavitt's rationale is that recruiting involves selling an area and when you are selling what is your home everything is easier.

Leavitt was a quarterback at St. Petersburg Dixie Hollins; Taggart is a former Manatee High quarterback. His assistant, Ray Woodie, played and coached at Palmetto High and was Bayshore's head coach. Those are a lot of homespun roots.

Leavitt started the USF football program in 1997 and stayed as head coach through 2009. At the time of his departure, his program was having good success recruiting against the major colleges.

A major failure of Skip Holtz, who was fired after running the USF program into the ground in less than three years, was his inability to sign quality prospects from the area.

He did not sign any football players from Manatee or Sarasota counties to a full scholarship during his reign. Austin Reiter, the Bulls center from Lakewood Ranch, was recruited by Leavitt.

Holtz couldn't or wouldn't sign anyone from Booker, which had been a huge provider of talent to USF under Leavitt.

Taggart has changed that quickly. Along with Calloway the Bulls received a verbal commitment from 6-foot-4, 240-pound Booker defensive end Eric Mayes, who had offers from four Big Ten schools and two from the Big 12, including West Virginia.

"This is Willie's home like it is my home," said Leavitt, now linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers. "For me to come back and be a head coach in an area that I love is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When I went into recruit people, it was easy for me because I told the truth. I was honest, and you could see the passion.

"Willie will go into homes, and he is just going to be honest. This is the place he loves and the area he grew up, and he will be able to sell that to recruits. Why would somebody go to Louisville if they could go to South Florida? We never lost anybody to Louisville."

Familiar with Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties, Leavitt knew schools that produced quality players who might be a little off the radar, and some of those turned out to be solid contributors during his reign. Holtz could never solve that riddle.

It's an important factor: Florida, Notre Dame, Alabama, LSU and Ohio State have the top-five ranked recruiting classes for 2013, according to, but Stanford which has proven it can play with the elite schools, is ranked 51st.

Though Taggart wasn't hired until December, his recruiting class is currently ranked third in the Big East Conference by behind first-place Pittsburgh and Rutgers, and USF has a chance to be first when signing day arrives on Feb. 6.

Axon back to school

Former Manatee High standout running back Ben Axon said he is on the Campbellsville University campus in Kentucky and plans to play for the NAIA Tigers next season.

Axon spent part of last season at Western Kentucky where he was a backup running back and played on special teams. If he transferred to an NCAA school, he would have at the most one year of eligibility. At an NAIA school, he would have at least two years and possibly three, but says he doesn't want to stay that long.

"I got to Western Kentucky late last year, fell behind and couldn't compete the way I wanted to for the job, and things didn't work out," Axon said. "Right now, I am just trying to get some film that I can show the pros down the road, and I want to get my degree. "

When he was at WKU, Taggart, who was the Hilltoppers head coach, confirmed that Axon had missed so much time (he did not play the 2011 season) that it put him behind the other running backs, including Antonio Andrews, who wound up the fifth leading rusher in the country.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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