Willie Taggart’s connection to Bradenton, Fla., has paid big dividends in recruiting since the day the former Hilltopper All-American quarterback was hired.
And now, those benefits only continue.
Taggart secured the highest-rated prospect ever for Western Kentucky during the modern recruiting era, as former University of Florida – and Bradenton’s Southeast High School – safety Jonathan Dowling has pledged to join the Hilltoppers next season.
The news was first reported by InsideHilltopperSports.com.
Southeast High School coach Paul Maechtle told the Daily News this morning that WKU defensive ends coach Raymond Woodie – who also has strong ties to the Manatee area – informed him of Dowling’s commitment.
“They’ve done a nice job coming in here and getting players,” Maechtle said. “I think people feel comfortable when there are people from home, so to speak, when their sons go to a college.
“It kind of caught me off guard, and from some of the things Jonathan had told me a week ago (it was a surprise). I’d say quite a bit had to do with (Taggart and Woodie).”
Taggart put together the top-ranked recruiting class in the Sun Belt last season, according to Rivals.com – and nearly scored another big fish in former Manatee (Fla.) High School quarterback Brion Carnes. Carnes, a four-star prospect, committed to WKU only to change his mind and eventually sign with Nebraska.
ESPN.com rated Dowling as the top safety prospect in the country for the 2010 class, and the 10th best player overall in the nation. Dowling was also rated as a four-star athlete, according to Rivals.com in 2010, and was Rivals’ 176th best overall prospect in the country.
Dowling (6-3, 180) didn’t last long at Florida, though, as he appeared in only two games as a true freshman before being dismissed from the program by coach Urban Meyer. Dowling admitted in an interview with Rivals.com to skipping practice, and said his behavior at Florida was “childish” and “immature.”
A possible two-way player at safety or wide receiver, Dowling will be able to sign a letter of intent with the Hilltoppers on Feb. 2, which is National Signing Day.
“I just want to play football again and I just know that coach Taggart is really excited for me to get there,” Dowling told the Bradenton Herald. “I like coach Taggart. He is a real down to earth person and we got along real well. He is very honest and that is what I like about him. I feel the same way about coach Woodie. He is very honest.”
Dowling also told the Herald that he plans to enroll at WKU in January, with hopes of playing for the Hilltoppers next season instead of sitting out a year due to a transfer. Though it will likely take a successful NCAA waiver for that situation to come true.