For years, UM has recruited against other top college football programs on an uneven playing field.
UM has never had the facilities necessary for a major on-campus 7-on-7 tournament, which brings a mass quantity of prospects to a school at once for a competitive and festive atmosphere that also could serve as an effective recruiting tool.
Without the tournament or the facilities, the Hurricanes were falling behind in recruiting — more than what the usual pitches of championship history, family atmosphere, ideal geographic location and future NFL success can usually overcome.
All that changed recently.
Miami hosted its first 7-on-7 camp on May 31, and it brought more than 900 athletes from 48 high schools to campus. Up to 12 games were held at once with the university maximizing all the space it had from Greentree Practice Fields to Cobb Stadium to the intramural fields.
Hurricanes players and coaches were seen chatting up recruits and high school coaches, even giving certain players pointers during warmups. Sophomore defensive end Chad Thomas, a music major who raps, produces beats for his own music and plays several instruments, served as the event DJ.
The team got to show off its upgraded facilities to several prized recruits, from players already orally committed to accept a scholarship offer with the Hurricanes to top senior targets and even middle school kids seeing campus for the first time. Days earlier, a video of quarterback Brad Kaaya touring the athletic facilities was released on the UM athletic website and Canes All Access YouTube account.
The football team’s initiatives for the future were on full display with posters promoting the new-look Adidas uniforms and Sun Life Stadium renovation plans leading the way to the Greentree fields. Also on exhibit was a poster that read “Investment in your future — only at the U” and listed several athletic and campus investments with a total of $557,250,000 positioned at the bottom. The uniforms will come in August when the football season starts as part of UM’s 12-year deal with Adidas.
Seven-on-seven leagues play a major role in recruiting as they give prospects exposure beyond the 10 games they play each season. Participation levels in these pass-driven camps and leagues have become so popular that it’s a must for top-tier college programs to be involved, especially for UM considering how many talented athletes come out of South Florida at skill positions, which thrive in 7-on-7 play.
The impact from the camp was felt immediately. Since the tournament, which was won by Coconut Creek, UM has received three commitments in its senior class, and now has a total of 23 commits.
On May 31, West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy running back Travis Homer announced that he had committed to the Canes. Two days later, Miami received a pair of commitments — one from relatively unknown Clewiston wide receiver Reginald Henderson and another from Olney (Maryland) Good Counsel three-star defensive end Izon Pulley.
Why is Henderson an unknown recruit? He hasn’t played football since his freshman year two seasons ago.
According to multiple media reports, he was ineligible because of academic issues but he raised his GPA above the necessary threshold and returned to his team this spring. The camp allowed UM coaches to discover the big-bodied, 6-4 receiver, and he impressed coaches to the point that they offered and he ultimately committed. Pulley was not at the 7-on-7 event but committed hours later.
The camp has some recruits who weren’t previously considering Miami opening up to the Canes — such as five-star class of 2017 wide receiver Trevon Grimes of St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Time will tell what happens between me and them, but I’m definitely looking to pursue them — more so than previously,” said Grimes, who lists Ohio State as his frontrunner. “I’m actually feeling them a lot. I like the atmosphere of the school. I like the coaches — [wide receivers coach] Kevin Beard.”
Grimes also said committed four-star senior receiver Sam Bruce has been in his ear about playing together at the next level.
Another commit, four-star middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman of Orange Park Oakleaf, didn’t have his team participating but made the five-hour drive to Coral Gables.
“I love coming down to see Miami,” Quarterman said. “I barely need a reason to come. I could just come any day.”
Southridge four-star wide receiver Freddie Pinder liked the competition from several in-state schools he had never seen before.
“It’s good that they did this event to bring everybody together,” he said. “We know each other but don’t really play on the same team, so it’s good to come out here and compete.”
Dillard linebacker and UM commit Tyler Dunning was held out but reaffirmed how strong he is committed to Miami, and said he’s trying pull teammates with him.
“I tell them every time, if they come, we’re going to bring the U back,” he said.
Dallas Jeanty, a three-star linebacker from Fort Lauderdale who described UM as his dream school but is waiting on an offer, said he felt at home and reminisced over playing on the same Cobb Stadium grass on which he once played a sixth-grade soccer championship.
On May 30, UM held a coaches clinic with Dolphins coach Joe Philbin as the keynote speaker. UM coach Al Golden and coordinators James Coley and Mark D’Onofrio spoke on offense and defense, respectively, and on-field demonstrations were held with current UM players.
The Al Golden Football Camp is another tool that should help. The camp had one-day sessions Saturday and Sunday, with additional sessions being held this Sunday and on June 20 and 21.