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March 7, 2013

Taggart brings enthusiasm to USF

MORE: Doeren wants Pack mentality at N.C. State

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Willie Taggart is a walking 5-hour Energy drink.

The lasting image of Taggart for many college football fans was the exuberance he displayed when his Western Kentucky team knocked off Kentucky in 2012.

In moving from the Sun Belt to the Big East, Taggart will take his passion to USF. He accepted the position on Dec. 7 after the program dismissed Skip Holtz following a three-year tenure that saw the team drop from 8-5 to 5-7 and finally 3-9 last year.

Being high-energy is a staple for Taggart. Much of his outward intensity is his personality; the rest is applied coaching lessons that he took from Jack and Jim Harbaugh. Taggart was recruited to play at WKU by Jim to play for his father. He then coached under both, learning the Harbaugh family way.

Taggart thinks the combination will pay dividends for South Florida.

"We will attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind," Taggart said. "It isn't just a phrase from Jack. It is part of my foundation in football.

"I played under Coach (Joe) Kinnan in high school (at Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee) and then played and coached under the Harbaughs. It would be foolish not to take lessons from them. They are all winners and all great people."

USF is hoping it hired a winner.

On-the-field consistency has been lacking. The program has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the top 25, but it has never finished with fewer than four losses since its move to the Big East in 2005.

The program's recruiting peaked at the No. 29 class in 2009 -- the last of the Jim Leavitt era -- and then sunk to an all-time low of No. 63 under Holtz.

The 2013 class filled in late and rose to the No. 49 spot in the Rivals.com rankings. Of the 24 players who signed with USF, 18 committed after Taggart took over -- including nine of the highest 10 ranked players in the class.

Taggart closed on two four-star players in January, when defensive tackle Derrick Calloway and defensive back Lamar Robbins elected to join the program from Bradenton Manatee and Miami (Fla.) Southridge, respectively.

Elevating the level of player being brought into the program, according to Taggart, is the only way USF will ever truly be able to call itself a member of the Big Four in Florida.

"We need to be like Florida, Florida State and Miami," Taggart said. "Those schools are going in and battling to keep the best players in the state. We are a young program, though, much younger than those other three, but we are in a talent-rich state and even though every school in the country is coming down here we need to give kids a reason to stay here.

"We are located in Tampa with a beautiful campus. We are strong academically. And we are looking to build our own traditions. This is a place that should be very attractive to a lot of kids and a lot of kids in South Florida. It is far enough away from Mom and Dad to be away at college but close enough that they can come see you play."

The sales pitch has worked on one player so far in the class of 2014. Immokalee (Fla.) High four-star Jimmy Bayes gave his pledge.

Bayes said the program is offering him the chance to play linebacker or safety and that committing early was important to him.

"I want to be the first one to start the herd in 2014," Bayes told Rivals.com. "They showed a lot of love, and they've got something new."

While it may look new to recruits, Taggart said he will continue to be old school in his coaching rhetoric.

"We want to be a disciplined football team," he said. "We want our identity to be that of a physical brand of play that is fast and smart.

"We are going to try to stay balanced. We are going to run the football first, but ultimately we are going to do whatever it takes to win."

Taggart understands there is work to be done to get this team to a place where that identity can be realized.

He also said it starts with recruiting players who want to be in that system.

"There are standards that you have to set for your program," Taggart said. "The kids who are going to be coming here are going to know that there are expectations, and they are going to know how it works here.

"That may mean we have to go and recruit kids who are used to that style of coaching, and that will come with relationships we build with the high school coaches, but we want kids who are not going off on their own. We will have to go find them; that is all."

Once Taggart finds his players, it will be time to energize them.

"I am enthusiastic," Taggart said. "It is like Ralph Waldo Emerson said: 'Nothing great happens without enthusiasm.'

"We are going to do great things here. There is no reason to start anything if you don't have that attitude."



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