Hurricanes-Gators game an opportunity to sway coveted recruits

UM has assembled a stellar recruiting class for 2014, but the Gators have picked a few gems out of Miami’s backyard. The chance to impress or flip them comes Saturday.

09/06/2013 12:01 AM

02/27/2014 12:09 AM

Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby have a big football game Friday, a showdown of No. 1-ranked national powers featuring their Central Rockets against Florida State-bound quarterback Treon Harris and the Booker T. Washington Tornadoes.

But there’s also another football game on the minds of two of the nation’s premier high school running backs – Saturday afternoon’s tilt between the Gators and Hurricanes.

“This is going to be the first time since Optimist we’ll be rooting against each other,” said Yearby, considered the Hurricanes’ top committed 2014 recruit by ESPN (21st overall in the ESPN Top 300 recruiting rankings).

Cook (5-10, 195), considered the Gators’ top recruit by ESPN (23rd in ESPN Top 300), said when he and Yearby have walked past each other in school this week there’s been a bit of trash-talking.

“I’ll say Gator Nation and do the chomp. He’ll shout Canes Fam or something like that and hold up The U,” Cook said. “We’re just trying to enjoy every moment of our last year together. Well, what might be our last year together.”

While Duke Johnson tries to zoom past the 12th-ranked Gators and lead the three-point underdog Hurricanes to a win Saturday, Cook and Yearby will be among the “who’s who list” of recruits – as Hurricanes coach Al Golden put it this week – watching Miami and Florida’s every move from the seats at Sun Life Stadium.

If you didn’t know by now, high school football commitments these days often last about as long as Kim Kardashian’s first marriage. Cook was once committed to Clemson before switching to Florida. Yearby was Florida State-bound before James Coley got the offensive coordinator job at Miami.

DOMINO EFFECT

Wins and losses on Saturdays affect allegiances too. So do friendships. Where some of the nation’s elite players – such as Cook and Yearby – decide to go usually has a domino effect.

Cook said he’s proud he has been able to help the Gators sway commitments such as Central teammate and 2015 star receiver Da’Vante Phillips (11th ESPN Top 300), and Homestead High senior receiver Ermon Lane (28th ESPN Top 300). Yearby says he’s trying to get Central cornerback Deatrick Nichols (USF commitment) to join him and offensive lineman Trevor Darling at Miami.

“I feel me and Joe are program changers,” Cook said. “Can we flip each other and other players? Yes. It doesn’t really end until February.”

Said Yearby: “[Saturday’s game] probably will help some people decide where they’re going because they look at the game based on who’s got the better program, how the offense or defense looks.”

Aesthetically, recruiting experts will tell you, it’s the Hurricanes who have ground to make up even though Golden, with an NCAA probe still lingering, has been able to put together what is considered the fourth-best 2014 recruiting class in the country by both ESPN and Rivals.

IS MIAMI BACK?

The Gators (ranked 8th by ESPN; 14th by Rivals) are still viewed as the more elite of the two programs, especially since they are coming off a Sugar Bowl appearance and their last two national titles (2006, 2008) are more recent than Miami’s last crown (2001).

“This is truly a ‘Is Miami back?’ football game,” said Corey Long, editor-in-chief at FuelRecruiting who has covered the state’s recruiting battles for decades. “A close loss doesn’t hurt them at all. I think it shows them they’re close. But a victory in the mind of people is ‘They’re back’ at least temporarily, especially nationally. If Miami wins I think everything opens up for them – the whole Southeast, national recruits. Miami still has that brand name. But proving they can play with an elite SEC team goes a long way.”

As much recruiting success as Florida has had (the Gators have been in ESPN’s top five recruiting rankings every year since 2006 except once), they’ve only cherry-picked Miami’s backyard – Dade and Broward – over that span for about a handful of players the Hurricanes badly wanted, such as safety Major Wright, offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert, receiver Quinton Dunbar and cornerbacks Marcus Roberson, Jabari Gorman and Willie Bailey.

This year, though, defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, a former standout at Miami Coral Park High and area recruit for the Gators, has plucked quite a few gems. He has nabbed commitments from Cook, Lane, Plantation cornerback Chris Lammons (85th in ESPN Top 300), Hollywood Chaminade defensive tackle Khairi Clark (162nd in ESPN Top 300) and University School safety Quincy Wilson (203rd in ESPN Top 300). Of the five, Wilson, the son of former Hurricanes cornerback Chad Wilson, is the only player UM didn’t pursue strongly.

“The Gators would always go into Broward, but when it came to Dade it was like a ‘Do not enter sign,’ ” Long said. “Is the class going to be a bunch of Dade kids? No. But if you look at Ermon and Dalvin, you’re talking about arguably the best receiver and best running back in Dade County, two of the top three playmakers in the county. Are you kidding me? Miami definitely wants both of them.”

MAKING INROADS

The Gators aren’t necessarily stopping there either. UF is also zeroing in on 2015 standouts Tyrek Cole of Miramar (cornerback, 53rd in ESPN Top 300) and Killian safety Jaquan Johnson (117th in ESPN Top 300). Many of those juniors and seniors have been invited to come watch Saturday. Yearby said seven Central players – all committed to FBS programs – will be at the game.

“It doesn’t hurt to win,” Golden said. “In terms of us selecting the kids that we want to recruit and going after them ... everybody’s got their own plan. At the end of the day we’re responsible for how we play and who we recruit.”

Kynon Codrington, the Southeast Recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, like Long believes the Hurricanes already have a top-flight recruiting class for 2014. But he thinks the Canes can add to it by flipping Lane and impressing former Florida commitment and St. Thomas Aquinas defensive tackle Anthony Moten (175th in ESPN Top 300). Moten has UM up high on his list of schools along with South Carolina and Florida State.

“If Ermon Lane sees Jeff Driskel and the Gators’ passing offense struggle and Stephen Morris and his receivers throwing the ball over the field, he may just say ‘Man, Miami really is back,’ ” Codrington said. “This is an opportunity to impress [Dwyer receiver] Johnnie Dixon (42nd in ESPN Top 300) too. But lose or lose bad and there definitely could be a few guys who say this gives them something to think about.”

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