His favorite player is Ray Lewis.
His favorite college team: The Miami Hurricanes.
Miami Booker T. Washington High senior Matthew Thomas, a 6-4, 210-pound outside linebacker considered one of the nation’s best, plays right down the street from where Al Golden is trying to rebuild The U.
Thomas has seen the help-wanted ads, looked at the depth chart and acknowledges his best opportunity to play right away in college is at Miami. His parents want him to stay close to home. His mother loves former Canes great Micheal Barrow, who has been recruiting Thomas for over a year now.
So why not just pick the Canes, who appear to be a natural fit? Because right now for Thomas — and in the eyes of many other top South Florida recruits — there is just something sexy about the Florida State Seminoles.
“Just because you like a certain team growing up, doesn’t mean you should go play for them,’’ said Thomas, who one recruiting analyst said could be the best linebacker to come out of the South Florida area since the late great Derrick Thomas.
“You’ve got to average everything out, weigh your options and see what is best for you and your family.’’
Several of the best high school players in Miami-Dade and Broward counties believe the Seminoles might be that best option, and are looking forward to closely analyzing Saturday night’s showdown with the Hurricanes in person at Sun Life Stadium.
FSU, which didn’t sign a single player from South Florida in 2012, already has three top 25 commitments from Dade and Broward as part of its 2013 class: Chaminade cornerback Adrian Baker, Booker T. cornerback Michael Johnson and Columbus wide receiver Jesus Wilson. The Noles are also “hot and heavy’’ on at least three South Florida-area Hurricanes commitments, according to Chris Nee, who covers FSU and statewide recruiting for 247sports.com.
Those players are: South Plantation star running back Alex Collins, Miami Northwestern safety Artie Burns and Delray Beach Atlantic defensive tackle Keith Bryant. FSU had Collins up on an official visit last weekend, according to Nee.
Of course there are also quite a few uncommitted seniors and underclassmen FSU is trying to impress. Aside from Matthew Thomas, Miami-Dade’s No. 1-ranked player, the Seminoles are also pushing hard for Booker T. offensive tackle Denver Kirkland (6-4, 330 pounds) and Oakland Park Northeast receiver Stacy Coley. Coley and Collins are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 among the senior class in Broward. Kirkland is ranked fourth in Dade, teammate Michael Johnson (FSU commitment) is sixth and Burns is the seventh-ranked senior in Dade.
FSU has also already gotten off to a great start with the 2014 class. They’ve gotten commitments from Miami Central running back Joseph Yearby, the No. 1 junior in Dade; Coral Reef receiver Jacob McCrary (No. 4), Northwestern two-way star JoJo Robinson (No. 7) and South Dade receiver C.J. Warton (No. 8). The Seminoles are also pushing hard for top juniors Ermon Lane (No. 3), a standout receiver at Homestead, Booker T. defensive end Chad Thomas (No. 6) and UM commitment Trevor Darling, a 6-5, 300-pound offensive tackle from Miami Central who is rated the 10th-best junior in Dade.
“FSU knows the importance of recruiting down here,’’ said Charles Fishbein of South Florida-based Elite Scouting Services. “Just look at their roster now. Half their secondary — Xavier Rhodes (Norland) and Lamarcus Joyner (Aquinas) — are from down here. FSU’s top two receivers — Rashad Greene (Aquinas) and Rodney Smith (Archbishop Carroll) — are, too. If Miami were to lose out on some of those top kids here in their backyard like Collins, Thomas, Kirkland, it would definitely hurt them and be huge pickups for FSU.’’
While the Seminoles — three-touchdown favorites over UM — are expected in Las Vegas to beat Miami soundly, Thomas and Kirkland said the outcome of Saturday’s game itself will not be a deciding factor for them when they make their announcements on National Signing Day.
“I think the days when the final score really impacted guys are long gone,’’ Nee said. “But I do think in terms of juniors and sophomores it does help them make some decisions maybe about what schools they want to look at or be recruited by.”
UM coach Al Golden made it no secret this week the Seminoles have the upper hand on Miami right now. But when it comes to recruiting, Golden said, players choose schools for different reasons.
“I think [FSU coach Jimbo Fisher] said it best last year. I think kids look at it two ways. They want to be a part of who’s up there, and then there’s another group that can see the bigger picture and say, ‘Well, I can help earlier at this program,’ ’’ Golden said. “I think it goes both ways.’’
FSU, currently ranked 13th by 247Sports in recruiting with 16 commitments, are hoping to land between 20 and 25 recruits, according to Nee. Miami, ranked 33rd by 247Sports with 11 recruits in its 2013 class, is targeting 15-20 signees.
“FSU’s done a real good job, but I think a lot of prospects — even some of their commitments — are taking a wait-and-see attitude with them,’’ Nee said. “They want to see how this season plays out. Do they compete for an ACC title? Do they win an ACC title? Do they play in a BCS bowl game? Those are some of the questions they’re facing because from a depth-chart perspective FSU has rebuilt and has a very solid depth chart. They’re pretty much two-deep at every position. There are very few spots for guys to come in and immediately contribute in a major, major way. So kids are going to have to buy into the whole ‘this is a successful program’ bit.
“For Miami, I think anybody who watches football can see Miami has deficiencies. Some recruits see that and believe they can be difference-makers. That can be good for Miami. It was last year. But I definitely think many kids are result oriented, too.
Seeing it in person in front of them Saturday, they’re going to kind of believe more of what they see with their own eyes than what a coach says when he makes promises about the future. That’s why this game matters."