Stabbing death of former USF football player raises safety concerns in Ybor City

Tampa police are trying to identify a person of interest and several possible witnesses in the stabbing death of a former University of South Florida football player in Ybor City early Sunday morning.

It happened at The Orpheum night club on 7th Avenue at around 3 a.m. Sunday.  Police said the club was packed for an after-party for the USF football game. As bouncers began to clear the room, witnesses say a fight broke out at the entrance and a large brawl spilled into the streets.

Elkino Watson, who was a standout defensive lineman for the Bulls in 2014, was stabbed in a parking lot behind the club. His friend, Desmond Horne, was also stabbed but is expected to survive.

"The one thing you don't want to happen as a coach is to get that phone call early in the morning telling you  that you lost one of your kids," Coach Willie Taggart said Tuesday at a news conference. "Great kid. Great young man. Always smiling. Always did something to make you laugh. He was just one of those people that you just loved being around."

Taggart said he was stunned to hear the news after seeing Watson earlier in the day.

"He was behind that bench and told me how proud he was of our football team," Taggart said.

Police have not made any arrests. They released several pictures from surveillance video as they attempt to identify a person of interest seen in the photos wearing a blue shirt, and several possible witnesses.

Late Monday afternoon, police said they were able to identify one of them.

So far, police have not been able to determine a motive.

Watson's death led some to question the safety of Ybor City.  On Sunday, Taggart banned his players from going there, but reversed course hours later after Athletics Director Mark Harlan overruled him.

"I disagreed with what he said, quite candidly," Harlan said at the news conference. "I found out about it a little after 4. I called him on the phone and I told him that I disagreed with what he said and it's not my belief in how we run the department."

A Tampa police spokesperson said Ybor is actually much safer now that it was more than a decade ago. Violent crimes are way down; there were nearly 500 in 2002, but that's gone down to a little more than 100 during the last 12 months.

Taggart and Hanlan were in agreement Tuesday that Ybor is safe enough. The coach said this is an opportunity for his players to learn.

"I think all of our guys know when something bad is about to happen and we got to understand how to walk away," he said.

CrimeStoppers is offering a $3,000 reward for any information leading to an attack.