Willie Taggart has a fever. It’s highly contagious and it’s spreading across the state like mad-cow disease, only it’s converting prospects to Bulls. USF Bulls.
It’s the Toro Taggart epidemic. People are catching it, in droves.
USF hosted its first junior day of new USF head football coach Taggart’s era Sunday and players walked away quite impressed.
“I really like his attitude, his mindset. He’s got that championship mentality,” said Longwood Lyman linebacker Nico Firios, who is the No. 5-ranked prospect in the Sentinel’s 2014 Central Florida Super60. “He used the word bully. He wants to create a bully of USF, where they bully other teams and push teams around, and I really like that sort of mindset.”
Taggart might want to adopt a slogan: “Come see Willie’s Bullies.”
The 35-year-old coach has infused a new energy into the Bulls’ program and the kids are noticing.
“I was surprised about how much I actually enjoyed it,” said Firios, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker who received a scholarship offer from Taggart while attending the junior day event. “I didn’t even really think of USF as an option, but their football program is really up-and-coming. I was really impressed.”
Whatever Taggart is doing, it’s working. He’s also making a push into Central Florida with his recruiting strategies. The Bulls have offered five of the top 12 Orlando-area juniors, with more sure to come.
Meanwhile, not one local junior has been offered by hometown UCF and that weighs on the minds of the “townies.” Traditionally, UCF does not extend early offers and usually waits until a prospect has been on campus and met with head coach George O’Leary. UCF’s first junior day this year is March 23.
UCF, however, hasn’t made much progress with the current group of local prospects.
“Not much, but I saw a coach not too long ago,” said Lake Mary defensive tackle Adam Torres when asked about UCF. He was at USF junior day on Sunday. Torres, the No. 3-ranked prospect in the 2014 Central Florida Super60, wasn't sure if he was offered on Sunday, but he found out upon returning to school Tuesday from his coach Scott Perry that the Bulls had indeed ofered the 6-foot-6, 270-pound propspect.
"They implied it but they didn't come out and say it," said Torres of his USF conversation on Sunday. Torres also has offers from Rutgers and FIU. "They pulled me aside to talk to the head coach and they kept talking about my film.
"It was pretty nice. The coaches are down to earth."
UCF will surely have Torres on its radra eventually. It could be difficult to overcome an early Bulls run on the area and USF’s sudden surge isn’t likely to bode well for the Knights.
Players like West Orange wide receiver Garrett Johnson, who was offered a scholarship by USF Sunday and has Northwestern and Boston College offers, as well, do pay attention.
“Sometimes I go on Google and check out the other players’ offers and I noticed there are a lot of people with offers from USF or a lot of other schools, but not too many with offers from UCF,” said Johnson, whose 5-foot-11, 162-pound frame for a receiver doesn't necessarily fit a UCF mold for what the Knigfhts look at in receivers for their pro-style offense.
Recruits realize it’s hard for UCF to keep prospects at home when the lure of going away to school is so enticing. And if local players aren’t interested in going to UCF, then why should UCF waste valuable time recruiting them?
“I think it’s different depending on the person,” Johnson said. “Some guys will just prefer to go further away. I would love to have the offer [from UCF], so that way I have all the options when it comes to deciding where to take my official visits and deciding what’s best for me.”
Obviously, the thought of staying home to go to college is not all that exciting, especially if you are just going to school. That dilemma exists for hometown universities across America. UCF, with the second largest enrollment in the country behind Arizona State, is no different.
“Oh yeah, I think it might be hard for them to get people to stay in Orlando because it might be a little too close to home. A lot of kids want that college experience,” Firios said. “USF is the perfect distance away. It’s away but it’s not too far away.”
And then there’s Taggart’s new energy pulling at these prospects like a magnet.
“For me, it’s the whole vibe he’s created. It seems so positive and he really loves what he’s doing,” Firios said. “Right when I stepped on campus at the football facility, I just felt like everyone was real energetic and ready to play.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun