School backtracks after USF football coach says players need to avoid Ybor City

After a former USF football player was killed outside an Ybor City club, coach Willie Taggart said players needed to avoid the area. The athletic director then reversed course.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – On Monday University of South Florida football coach Willie Taggart told reporters Ybor City would be “off-limits” to his team. Two former USF players were stabbed outside an Ybor night club early Sunday. Former standout USF defensive lineman Elkino Watson died.

Elkino Watson was stabbed to death outside an Ybor City nightclub.
Elkino Watson was stabbed to death outside an Ybor City nightclub.

“Tampa is a great city with a lot of great places to go and be around and have fun. So our guys are going to find other places to have fun,” Taggart said Monday. “Ybor will not be one of them.”

The school quickly backtracked. On Monday afternoon USF athletic director Mark Harlan issued this statement:

“I would like to make clear USF Athletics high regard for Ybor City and its cherished and historical place in our Bay Area community and culture. Earlier today, our football coach spoke out of emotion and in reaction to the tragic loss of Elkino Watson, a member of our football program from 2011-2014. USF Athletics will continue to focus on reinforcing its policy of student-athletes making smart decisions where ever they may be, looking out for one another, and walking away from any situation that appears threatening. They will not be banned from visiting any areas of our beautiful city.”

Still, business owners who have spent years working to shine Ybor City’s tarnished reputation aren’t taking kindly to the comments. Tina Haddad manages King Corona Cigars and Café.  “I don’t want them to put out that negative connotation, ‘Stay away from 7th Avenue Ybor. It’s not safe for you to be down there,’” she said. “Honestly, we don’t have any problems with the college students.  Really, honestly, they’re part of a core group that comes down here all the time.  So for them not to be allowed to come down, it is very disappointing. ”

Ryan Smarse manages the Green Iguana.  He doesn’t believe the coach’s comments will have a negative effect on business. “I think everybody just has their opinion,” Smarse said from behind the bar.  “They already have their opinion set right now.”

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