Bulls coach Charlie Strong was just starting on his salad at Thursday night's annual Sneaker Soiree in east Tampa when Okeechobee CB Jajuan Cherry announced via Twitter he was committing to USF.
A three-star prospect according to 247Sports, Cherry becomes the Bulls' third non-binding commitment from the Class of 2018.
"I chose USF because of Coach Strong," Cherry said in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times. "He is amazing."
Here's some hudl footage of Cherry (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), who does a bit of everything -- including running a pretty nifty jet sweep -- for Okeechobee. He also reportedly had offers from Purdue, Georgia Tech and Western Michigan, among others....
06/23/17 Human Interest
TAMPA — For the last quarter-century, she has combined passion and meticulousness to keep the Gasparilla Distance Classic humming and evolving. Indefatigable and detailed, Susan Harmeling braces for every race-weekend contingency.
But the organizers of the seventh annual Sneaker Soiree got something past her Thursday night. When a short video tribute to Harmeling commenced, you could've knocked over the matriarch of the area's premier road race with a mild Bayshore Boulevard headwind. ...
As foregone conclusions go, some things are approaching the death-and-taxes stratosphere: summer humidity in Florida, a Kardashian seeking attention, and Mike Martin coming up short in Omaha.
FSU's 7-4 loss Wednesday to LSU in the losers bracket of the College World Series left Martin 0-for-16 in the CWS in his 38 seasons as 'Noles coach. As a result, Martin -- who rivals Bobby Bowden as the folksiest and most endearing presence in FSU athletics history -- remains entrenched in that paradoxical pantheon of legendary coaches or managers who never have won the big one. ...
Standing on a makeshift stage beneath a white tent on a soupy summer evening, new Bulls football coach Charlie Strong made it clear to new boss Mark Harlan and roughly 150 boosters he covets an indoor practice facility.
Not to mention one major appliance.
"Next year Mark, we've got to get us an air conditioner," Strong quipped.
Morale seemed as high as the humidity Wednesday night on the back lawn of Ulele restaurant as Strong, Harlan and new men's basketball coach Brian Gregory spoke to the gathering at the "Summer Stampede."
For now, it's the only booster stop slated for the coaches, who trumpeted their respective programs and -- in Strong's case -- passionately lobbied for fan support.
Here are some highlights from the evening.
Need 1: Outdoor fan base
Like predecessor Willie Taggart, Strong hasn't been shy about trying to ignite a constituency with a spotty recent attendance record....
These days, those of us who cover college football wrack our respective cerebrums to keep fans engaged. We attend camps, follow recruiting, and react to the litany of preseason rankings that waft through cyberspace.
We also compile lists, tons of 'em. Some are compelling, others pure clickbait. The good ones elicit debate.
On Wednesday, we found just such a list, courtesy of ESPN. And yes, we're debating it.
This one attempted to identify the "biggest opposing headache" for each top-25 team (or at least the teams listed in Mark Schlabach's post-spring top 25). FSU's headache? The talented pass rushers its reconfigured offensive line will face. Florida's was LSU TB Derrius Guice (who had a pedestrian 83 yards on 19 carries in the Tigers' dramatic home loss to UF last season).
And USF's? Houston DE Ed Oliver, a freshman All-American last season whose team comes to Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 4.
To be sure, Oliver's a force, not to mention future pro. His 23 tackles for loss ranked second nationally in 2016, and his team projects to be pretty darn good.
But as headaches go, we don't predict the Bulls' biggest one to hail from Houston. We can see UCF potentially providing a migraine-caliber challenge to the Bulls on Black Friday.
Follow us here: By the time USF travels to Orlando, we expect the Bulls to have clinched the American Athletic Conference's East Division and still be in contention for the New Year's bowl berth awarded to the Group of Five's highest-ranked conference champ.
That puts the Knights -- whom we expect to be far improved in '17 -- in prime position to spoil the Bulls' postseason aspirations. Moreover, Knights sophomore QB McKenzie Milton will be far more seasoned once this game arrives. So will a defense that must rebuild at linebacker and the secondary.
Now toss in this additional dash of incentive: UCF's coaches likely are still seething over last year's game, when they took issue with a late TD tacked on by Willie Taggart in the Bulls' 48-31 romp.
It all makes for a scenario that could give USF fits.
If not a headache. ...
Another sign of the 2017 football season's imminence arrived Tuesday at USF -- mostly in boxes.
All 19 members of Charlie Strong's inaugural signing class were expected on campus Tuesday, the rookies' formal move-in day. As of 4 p.m., the staff was waiting on a couple of late arrivals, but all were expected on campus.
The university's Summer B session of classes begins Monday.
Meantime, the Bulls veterans have long since been engaging in pre-dawn summer workouts, which include one exercise straight from Mr. Miyagi's dojo. Check out these clips of DT Deadrin Senat and DT Bruce Hector from defensive tackles coach Sean Cronin's Twitter feed....
Brimming with her trademark confidence in the wake of a sparkling preseason, Courtney Williams informed her Connecticut Sun coaches she had a goal for the 2017 WNBA season.
Befitting the Williams swagger, it was hardly modest: win the league's Sixth Woman of the Year award.
"At that time I thought it was a very realistic goal," Sun coach Curt Miller said, "because of what an offensive spark plug she can be off the bench."
But as Williams has learned, circumstances change and roles are modified over the course of a professional season. As a result, the No. 2 scorer in USF history is slipping out of contention for that sixth woman of the year honor.
Because lately, she's playing like the sixth-best woman in the whole darn league.
Thrust into the Sun starting lineup when veteran G Alex Bentley took a hiatus (to play for Belarus in the EuroBasket Tournament), Williams (12.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) has responded by producing stats -- and sleekness -- reminiscent of her dazzling collegiate career.
In her last four games (three of them starts), Williams has averaged 19 points and seven rebounds, propelling herself into all-star consideration.
The Sun (5-5) has won all four.
"The one thing is, she's so confident offensively that she can go score and get her shot against anyone," said Miller, whose team plays Friday against the New York Liberty.
"We're a transition-based team, so she really thrives in the up-tempo transition game too. But in the halfcourt you can really put her on the move -- just like South Florida did -- and run her off a bunch of screens. She's really, really hard to run around with, and then obviously she's got that ultimate confident swagger about her that makes her special."
The surge stands in stark contrast to the funk in which she found herself last year. Drafted by a veteran team (Phoenix Mercury) for whom she never seemed a good fit, Williams languished on the bench (playing 25 total minutes over six games) before being traded to the Sun on June 25.
In Connecticut, she found her niche in providing a spark off the bench, averaging 8.1 points and 3.6 boards in 19 games. Following an offseason in the Turkish League, she took first-team reps in the Sun's training camp while Bentley nursed an ankle injury, and flourished.
"You could see coming out of training camp, she had great confidence," Miller said.
It hasn't dissipated in her new role. Williams is generating all-star discussion, with the Sun launching a campaign on her behalf. (Fans can click her to learn how to vote for her.)
"Certainly these last four games, she should be in the discussion," Miller said.
"And our team is playing really, really well. Despite being 5-5 we have three two-point losses, and another game that we lost that was tied with under three minutes to go. It's hard not to think about the what-ifs...but this young group is starting to learn how to win close games and starting to learn who to play through in those types of situations."...
If the preseason ended today, USF would be a consensus top-25 squad.
Alas, a bit more forecasting and prognosticating looms (it's only mid-June), but so far the Bulls appear in every prominent summer top 25. Here they are, broken down by publication:
Street & Smith's: 23rd
Phil Steele: 18th
The Sporting News: 22nd
We're still awaiting the preseason rankings from ESPN and Sports Illustrated (not to mention the Associated Press), but aren't expecting any shockers. The Bulls were 19th in the post-spring rankings compiled by ESPN's Mark Schlabach, and SI.com had the Bulls 25th in its way-too-early top 25 released in January.
And of course, USF finished 19th in last season's final AP poll.
Make that two world titles for the Gruden family.
Jon "Deuce" Gruden II, oldest of the former Bucs coach's three boys, won a gold medal Monday in the juniors 83-kilogram (183 pounds) division at the IPF World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Minsk, Belarus.
ESPN's Neeta Sreekanth tweeted photos from Gruden's triumph. Among his lifts: a bench press of nearly 419 pounds. Complete results weren't immediately available.
His parents, including mom Cindy, attended the event.
Here's our recent story on Gruden, a former multi-position football standout at Carrollwood Day who now serves as a strength-and-conditioning assistant for his Uncle Jay with the Washington Redskins....
TAMPA -— Even in the figurative fourth-and-long phase of his life, Billy Turner's tenacity remained stoked. As cancer gnawed at his brittle frame, one of the area's most iconic high school coaches eschewed surrender.
"I remember a year ago, Billy telling me how he asked his doctor if he was giving up on him," Ray Rairigh, a longtime Turner assistant, recalled Friday. "Billy told him if he was giving up on him that he would fire him right then....
For all of his dad's influence and cachet in the NFL stratosphere, Jon Gruden II is letting the world know he can carry his own weight.
Twice his weight, in fact. Or three times as much if you're talking squats and dead lifts.
The younger Gruden, a 23-year-old known universally as Deuce, currently is competing in the IPF World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Belarus. Endowed with a wrecking-ball frame (5-foot-6, 180 pounds), he qualified with an astounding performance at last fall's USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals in Atlanta.
Here's footage of Gruden's nationals performance, in which he bench-pressed 402 pounds, squatted 584 and dead-lifted 633.
Junior RHP Joe Cavallaro became the third current Bull to see his name go off the big-league draft board when the Mets took him Wednesday in the 24th round.
Arguably USF's most effective reliever down the stretch, Cavallaro was among five right-handed pitcher with a USF connection to be drafted. Senior Ryan Valdes -- an Alonso High alumnus -- also was drafted Wednesday (Pirates, 33rd round).
A 6-foot-4 converted starter, Cavallaro -- the 727th overall pick -- posted a career-best 2.28 ERA in 30 appearances, all out of the bullpen. He finished 5-3 with five saves, striking out 77 in 59.1 innings....
His anxiety level increased with each passing round of the big-league draft Tuesday, though Phoenix Sanders really needn't have stressed.
He was soaking in good USF karma all along.
The Bulls' Friday night starter the last two seasons, Sanders was at the Niceville home of former USF C Scott Hemond -- highest-drafted player in program history -- when he got the call that the Rays had taken him in the 10th round (with the 289th overall pick).
Sanders' girlfriend, Haleigh, is the daughter of Hemond, taken by the A's with the 14th overall pick in 1986. The A's, in fact, were the first team to phone Sanders on Tuesday.
He'll gladly take the Rays, known for their affinity for guys with crafty sliders.
"They sent me a questionnaire and I met with them once," Sanders said. "And it wasn't until about the eighth round rolled around, their area scout gave me a call and was like, 'Hey, what's your signability? Are you good to sign for this dollar amount?' I was like, 'Yeah, I'm ready to go.'
"I hadn't heard anything from them, and (USF assistant) Chris Cates had called me and said, 'Hey, a couple of teams are gonna look at you in the 10th round.' And then I looked up and the Rays selected me. It was a feeling of relief."
Sanders, who turned 22 last week, was the second pitcher with USF ties to be drafted Tuesday; signee Jackson Tetreault -- a former Lennard High standout -- was drafted by the Nationals in the seventh round.
Though his approximate pick value is $136,000 (according to MLB.com), Sanders indicated he'll likely sign for a bit less.
"I think they did the whole senior-saver kind of thing," he said....
Candidly, we didn't expect Bulls junior SS Kevin Merrell to go off the Major League Baseball Draft board so quickly Monday night, and neither did he.
"I'm pretty speechless right now," Merrell said by phone from his Odessa home, roughly 30 minutes after the Oakland A's drafted him with the 33rd overall pick in a sandwich (i.e. Competitive Balance) round immediately after Round 1. "So thankful."
Officially, Merrell is the third-highest draftee in Bulls history. And since we know you're wondering (because we certainly were), here are the top five:
1. C Scott Hemond, A's, 1986, first round (14th overall)
2. SS Jason Dellaero, White Sox, 1997, first round (15th overall)
3. SS Kevin Merrell, A's, 2017, Competitive Balance Round A (33rd overall)
4. SS Brett King, Giants, 1993, second round (72nd overall)
5. LHP Mark Hubbard, Yankees, 1991, third round (89th overall)
Naturally, Merrell oozed as much modesty as shock in the immediate wake of his selection. He said he's slated to meet with A's representatives Thursday, when he conceivably could sign his contract and get his minor league assignment.
"I guess it's time like this you just think about all the people that have just made an impact, have invested so much time in my life," Merrell said. "It's been an awesome journey, and I guess the next step's with A's, so I'm excited."...
When Willie Taggart took the Oregon job six months ago, exactly no one doubted USF's former coach — a Bradenton Manatee alumnus — would continue scouring Florida for talent.
The glaring question was how effective he'd be at convincing prospects to attend a university three time zones away. For all of Taggart's charisma and catch phrases ("Do Something"), luring a kid that far outside his comfort zone seemed a daunting challenge....