Commentary | Willie Taggart's first recruiting class for USF follows Stanford way

adell@bradenton.comFebruary 7, 2013 

TAMPA

In the end, Willie Taggart will be judged by wins and losses and not the number of stars his recruits have accumulated.

The new USF coach knows it. He has no illusions, which is why he is smiling.

"We are looking for football players. That's more important than anything else," the former Manatee High quarterback says.

So how do you judge Taggart's first recruiting class that is now officially in the books?

It's not easy. National Signing Day is like the first day of spring training. Everything smells like roses, and there are more Cinderellas and enough glass slippers to go around.

Taggart's way of doing things is different than most college programs, which makes it even harder to judge.

Tony Dungy made a point of that when he recommended Taggart for the USF job.

Taggart does it the Stanford way: Run hard and have a smart quarterback and smart, tough offensive linemen.

Stanford is a college first, not one of those football factories warehoused in the SEC and masquerading as a university. Academics limit the number of offers the Cardinal can make.

Jim Harbaugh started that trend at Stanford when Taggart was his assistant.

Taggart has been up against the clock since he was hired in December, doing double duty putting together a staff while trying to recruit.

"That was the biggest challenge. It was a short timetable, and you can't cover as much ground as you want to with a limit

ed coaching staff," Taggart said Wednesday after completing his recruiting class with 23 players and room to add more. "It was important for me to take the time and get the best staff for our kids, and I think we did that."

Taggart has two five-star coaches in defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and Ron Cooper, who will coach the secondary and serve as the assistant head coach. Bresnahan was the defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders that lost to the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.

Taggart signed a quarterback and two running backs. He still has scholarships available for the class of 2013 so don't be surprised if he pulls a coup before next season.

At running back, the Bulls signed Sta'Fon McCray from Kissimmee Osceola and Darius Tice from Miami Northwestern. They have good numbers, but Taggart is not concerned about the ones you find in the stat sheet.

"They have to be tough guys that are smart and have great vision. I like big backs with little-guy feet," Taggart said. "They can go the distance. At running back, you have to be tough and competitive, and both those guys have it."

His quarterback needs to be very cerebral, and Taggart said he signed a good one in 6-foot-5, 195-pound Mike White from Fort Lauderdale University School.

"In a quarterback, you look for a leader and a winner," Taggart said. "We need a smart guy because our offensive scheme is complex. You are going to be asked to change a lot of plays on your own and you have to be a gym rat to know how to do all the things we are going to ask. Mike can be a great player someday. He has some special qualities, but the position is wide open."

Taggart would be remiss if he didn't mention the defensive woes that plagued USF last season when they finished last in Division I with only two interceptions.

"Two interceptions, that can't happen. It's that simple," Taggart said. "Defense wins championships, and we got to play great defense. All great defenses have a great defensive line, guys who can put pressure on a quarterback and stop the run. You have to stop them up front."

Taggart says he took a big step in that direction with his only four-star recruits, defensive lineman Derrick Calloway from Manatee High and defensive back Lamar Robbins of Miami Southridge. Another key guy is 6-4, 240-pound defensive end Eric Mays from Booker. He had 14 sacks last season.

USF assistant coach Ray Woodie from Palmetto joked he was going to get fired if he didn't sign Calloway. Taggart wouldn't go that far but noted Calloway is a huge addition.

"It was important because he was a guy we wanted, though we wanted all the guys in our class," Taggart said. "Having him come brings a little more to it for me. You love to get a guy from your alma mater who can play at this level."

The 6-3, 188-pound Robbins is a steal. He reminds you of former USF defensive back Mike Jenkins out of Southeast High, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys.

"Lamar's favorite line is 'It's easy,'" Taggart said. "I tell him we want five interceptions and he says, 'Coach, that will be easy.' He is a talented young man. He is long and rangy and quick enough to be a cornerback. But he will have to come in and compete with the rest of the guys.

"If you want to shine, you have to grind."

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

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