Commentary | USF, Willie Taggart hits grand slam with recruiting class

February 6, 2014 


Flanked by his mother, Tamara Cotton, and grandmother, Juanita Engram, Manatee High School senior Trevon Walters signs with the University of Missouri football team Wednesday. Walters played running back for Manatee. MATT M. JOHNSON/Bradenton Herald



Willie Taggart was hoping to hit a home run, but he did one better.

The Manatee County legend smacked a grand slam on his second National Signing Day as the USF head coach football coach.

When Taggart took over the program from Skip Holtz last year, he was lauded for his recruiting skills.

To know Willie is to love Willie, a lot of recruits and parents said.

It certainly looked that way Wednesday for the former Manatee High quarterback.

With most of the results already in, Taggart's class was rated 40th best in the country by multiple sites and tops in the American Athletic Conference, including soon-to-leave Louisville.

USF signed 22 players who will join six others who enrolled in January.

ESPN, Rivals.Com, Scout.Com and 247 Sports all rated Taggart's class the best in the AAC. Nine of his signees were rated a four-star recruit by at least one national rating service.

"It's good for the fans. It shows we held up our part of the bargain, and now we have to continue to build on that," Taggart said. "It's part of building this football program back to where we want it to be. But we have to develop. We can't sit back and say we are going to rely on these freshmen. We have to do a great job of developing our guys who are here now."

Taggart seemed to get what he needed to realize his vision.

He wants to turn the USF offense into the Stanford of the South, similar to the way Jim Harbaugh built the Cardinal program before he took over the San

Francisco 49ers.

The Taggart way means big, tough running backs operating behind a big offensive line with a smart quarterback who can add some athleticism.

The Bulls' offense was anemic last year, among the worst in the country. But Taggart might have gotten the pieces to change that.

A coup was getting running backs Marlon Mack from Booker and D'Ernest Johnson from Immokalee, two tough guys who like to run it through the trenches and have some special speed. Mack was set to attend UCLA until he switched.

"They are both thick, solid kids, and I can only imagine how big they are going to get in our weight program," Taggart said. "Both have great vision and are strong. They hardly ever get tackled by the first guy. You gotta have a back who can break tackles, especially with the kind of football we want to play."

To go along with those guys, Taggart hit a jackpot by getting 6-foot, 204-pound Quinton Flowers, a dual-threat, four-star quarterback who was offered by Florida and Nebraska.

"He is a tough, highly competitive smart athlete, and that's what we are looking for. I hope he is like Russell Wilson and 'Johnny Football,'" Taggart said.

Ray Woodie has been a big reason Taggart has had success in recruiting, and the former Palmetto High head coach came through again in nailing Tampa Jesuit highly touted defensive end/linebacker Vincent Jackson, beating out Alabama, Missouri, Texas Tech and Virginia for his services.

Taggart added some beef up front by signing four offensive linemen who look like they take their time at the dinner table very seriously in Manatee High's Mike Galati (6-3, 283), four-star recruit Ben Knox (6-6, 260), Zach Hudson (6-5, 285) and Michael Smith (6-3, 294).

Taggart also did a good job of shoring up his defense, particularly the secondary. But the biggest concern was on offense, which was the reason USF struggled to a 2-10 season last year.

Now Taggart has a lot of the pieces he wants. You hope he gets the time. There will be a new athletic director coming in sometime before next season, and you never know how that is going to play out.

But with a full year under his belt, Taggart outrecruited his competition and now you just hope he is given the time to develop it.

"I don't think any of these things would've happened without a good plan, and our coaches did an excellent job of executing the plan," Taggart said. "It's not easy to sell a program that had a bad year. Our coaches and administration and support staff put in a lot of work. Everybody played a role, and I appreciate everyone who was a part of that."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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