The state of Alabama has never been a recruiting hotbed for the University of Miami.
But coach Al Golden currently has two defensive standouts who call the Heart of Dixie home: second-leading tackler Eddie Johnson, who was reinstated this week after missing the Virginia game, and cornerback Ladarius Gunter, who has started to make an impact as a starter over the past four weeks.
“The biggest difference between Alabama and Miami is the people,’’ said Gunter, a redshirt sophomore who was recruited to UM in January out of Fort Scott Community College in Kansas.
“In Alabama, you mostly have whites and blacks. Down here you have many different races. I walked up to a black guy and he started speaking Spanish. That kind of threw me off.’’
Gunter (6-2, 196) said Tuesday he has finally started to settle into his new home in South Florida. He has also started to settle into a starting job.
Since supplanting sophomore Thomas Finnie as the starter against North Carolina, Gunter has shined in UM’s secondary, producing 16 tackles, an interception and a team-leading six pass break-ups including three last week in the loss at Virginia.
“When [defensive backs coach] Paul Williams went out recruiting last year there were no corners on the team. It wasn’t there were some; there were none,’’ UM coach Al Golden said this week.
“He went all over and came back with a really good group. We got LG and he’s really developed, done a nice job. Most people think he’s a junior because he came from a junior college, but he’s truly a sophomore. We’re happy with his progress."
Gunter, who has 24 tackles on the season, said he got burned just once in coverage at Virginia.
“It was a third-and-long [in the first quarter],’’ Gunter said. “He ran a little stop route and got me. But I’m working hard to make sure the next time I’m there to stop it.’’
The Hurricanes, who rank 93rd out of 120 teams in pass defense, are on the verge of putting up the worst single-season totals for every major defensive record in school history.
They go into Saturday’s home finale against USF (3-6) having given up 312 points, 2,310 yards rushing and 2,586 yards passing in their first 10 games and needing to give up just three points (1984, 2008), 182 yards rushing (1944) and 109 yards passing (2009) to reset the record book.
But Golden, who has remained supportive of defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio through the struggles, sees an end game. The 11 freshmen who have played on defense this season for UM have all grown up and will be the foundation for years to come. Gunter, a redshirt sophomore, will be the leader of the group at cornerback once senior Brandon McGee is gone.
“Tracy [Howard] has really grown up the last couple of weeks,’’ Golden said. “Antonio Crawford is going to be really good, a guy we got after seeing Tampa Plant play Miramar [and] kept saying, ‘Who is this guy covering Malcolm Lewis?’
“Nate Dortch is going to be good. We have Nate and Larry [Hope] that are redshirting, so there will be some separation there."
Gunter, who comes from Montgomery, Ala., isn’t necessarily a big talker, according to McGee. He describes him as one of those quiet guys “who likes to listen to his iPod.’’
But McGee said Gunter knows how to work well with others and communicate in the secondary.
“We just feed off each other,” McGee said. “When he’s on the field, he’s telling me to look for certain things and vice versa.
“It definitely builds consistency.’’
As for Gunter, who is described by receiver Phillip Dorsett to be the most physical corner on the team who knows how to bump guys off routes, he just wants to keep on improving and making plays.
The last thing he wants to do is see UM give up another touchdown late in the game like they did at Virginia.
“South Florida likes to take its shots,’’ Gunter said. “We got to be ready.’’