Coconut Creek football coach Kareem Reid rented a 12-passenger van two summers ago, packed nine of his players into it and made an 18-hour drive to Cincinnati.
His goal was to hit as many college camps as possible and get his kids as much exposure and as many scholarship offers as they could on the drive back home.
More than two years after that first trip, seven Cougars signed National Letters of Intent on Wednesday morning, including three U.S. Army All-Americans: four-star cornerback Trayvon Mullen with Clemson, four-star receiver Binjimen Victor with Ohio State and three-star cornerback Malek Young with Miami.
“It’s been a great ride, a process we kind of envisioned a couple years ago that this day would happen where we’d have kids signing and it would be a big enough deal that we’d have ESPN coming in,” Reid said.
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“This place has been a zoo with recruiters, but it’s been fun. It’s all ultimately about getting a college education.”
On Wednesday, those free educations were being signed, sealed and delivered across the country. And here in South Florida, the national hotbed for football talent, 103 high school athletes from Miami-Dade and Broward counties signed National Letters of Intent to play with Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
The teams atop the recruiting sweepstakes: Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State and Michigan, according to 247Sports.com, which ranked the nation’s top five in that order based on all major recruiting service team rankings combined.
Alabama’s Nick Saban, fresh off another national championship, had the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruiting class for the sixth year in a row thanks to three five-star recruits and 14 four-star gems. And he stole three-star cornerback Aaron Robinson from Florida on Wednesday morning.
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh took five players from Dade and Broward and landed the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit in 6-5, 293-pound defensive tackle Rashan Gary of Paramus Catholic (New Jersey).
The Seminoles didn’t get Mullen and they lost Miami Central four-star safety Jamel Cook, who opted along with Miami High standout receiver Pie Young to go to USC.
But Jimbo Fisher still hauled in a 25-man class to be envious of with four-star offensive tackle Landon Dickerson of Hudson, North Carolina, and four-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel (6-4, 290) of Bradenton’s IMG Academy dumping the Gators for the garnet and gold. ESPN ranked FSU No. 1 ahead of Alabama.
“When you got a chance to get those guys, you better jump all over them because high-quality offensive and defensive linemen are hard to find,” Fisher said. “You take as many as you can get because of injuries, and sometimes they just aren’t there.”
The hometown Miami Hurricanes, ranked 20th by 247Sports, signed 18 players, including U.S. Army All-American four-star receiver Ahmmon Richards of Wellington, a former UM commitment who jumped back on board at the convincing of new coach Mark Richt and his staff.
While the Hurricanes landed a trio of talented receivers and its best linebacker class in years led by All-American Shaq Quarterman, one of five early enrollees, experts said the late defection of All-American cornerback Tyler Byrd to Tennessee hurt UM. The Hurricanes have very little in the way of returning experience at cornerback.
Richt thanked the previous staff, though, for not leaving the cupboard bare.
“It’s never easy to come into a situation after a coach is fired and you have to reevaluate the board, keep the top kids and find some new talent all in a short span, especially when you’ve only had three recruiting weekends to do it and haven’t been acclimated with a full staff,” 247Sports recruiting analyst Chris Nee said. “But I think he did a good job overall.”
The Gators, who finished 13th nationally with 25 signees, including nine four-star prospects, already have their quarterback of the future in Feleipe Franks among the 12 early enrollees on campus and on Wednesday picked up four-star receiver Tyrie Cleveland from Houston.
“He is a super talented kid,” Nee said of Franks. “I’m just not convinced he’s an immediate starter in his career. I think he’ll need a couple years to work with Coach [Jim] McElwain and his staff. On the back end I think he can be a great quarterback for them, a long-term solution.”
UF had the fewest in-state recruits of the Big Three in Florida with only four. UM led the way with 10 and Florida State had eight.
UCF bulked up with six recruits from the Dade and Broward area, adding Flanagan receiver Dredrick Snelson and Miami Central defensive end Eric Mitchell, two of its better recruits on Wednesday. UCF’s six between Dade and Broward were as many as the Hurricanes had.
FIU landed four players in the area, 24 overall and ranked 106th by 247Sports.com — 10 spots behind rival FAU.
Miami Herald’s Top 20 recruiting classes
1. Alabama (23 recruits)
Top players: OT Jonah Williams, LB Ben Davis, LB Lyndell Wilson, RB B.J. Emmons, CB Nigel Knott.
Comment: The national champions won the national recruiting title for the sixth year in a row.
2. FSU (25 recruits)
Top players: CB Levonta Taylor, OT Landon Dickerson, QB Malik Henry, C Baveon Johnson, DE Brian Burns.
Comment: Clemson might have been the ACC champions and the national runner-up, but the Seminoles once again are the cream of the crop in the conference in recruiting.
3. LSU (24 recruits)
Top players: DT Rashard Lawrence, CB Saivion Smith, S Eric Monroe, LB Michael Divinity, DT Edwin Alexander.
Comment: The Tigers once again loaded up with 16 four-star recruits, including 11 on defense.
4. Ohio State (25 recruits)
Top players: DE Nick Bosa, DE Jonathon Cooper, RB Demario McCall, WR Austin Mack, QB Dwayne Haskins.
Comment: The Buckeyes landed another stellar class under Urban Meyer, which should sooth the blow of losing nine underclassmen to the NFL Draft.
5. Michigan (29 recruits)
Top players: DT Rashan Gary, QB Brandon Peters, OT Ben Bredeson, CB David Long, TE Devin Asiasi.
Comment: Jim Harbaugh cleaned up across the country and landed the nation’s consensus No. 1 player in Gary on Wednesday.
6. Mississippi (25 recruits)
Top players: QB Shea Patterson, DT Benito Jones, OT Gregory Little, WR A.J. Brown, S Deontay Anderson.
Comment: Recent NCAA charges of rules violations didn’t put a dent into Hugh Freeze’s class, which still included three consensus five-star recruits.
7. Georgia (20 recruits)
Top players: ATH Mecole Hardman Jr., QB Jacob Eason, TE Isaac Nauta, DT Julian Rochester, OT Ben Cleveland.
Comment: Kirby Smart stepped into a favorable situation and only made his first recruiting class better.
8. Auburn (21 recruits)
Top players: DT Derrick Brown, DE Marlon Davidson, DT Antwuan Jackson, WR Kyle Davis, WR Nate Graig-Myers.
Comment: The Tigers loaded up on receivers and then added one of the nation’s five-star defensive tackles Wednesday in Brown.
9. Clemson (20 recruits)
Top players: DT Dexter Lawrence, RB Tavien Feaster, CB Trayvon Mullen, LB Tre Lamar, LB Rahshaun Smith.
Comment: Lawrence, rated the second-best player in the country by 247Sports, is one of seven high-end defensive recruits rated four stars or better in the class.
10. Texas (24 recruits)
Top players: S Brandon Jones, LB Jeffrey McCulloch, LB Erick Fowler, DT Jordan Elliottt, OT Jean Delance.
Comment: The Longhorns still managed to recruit 13 four-star recruits — including getting Fowler from LSU on Wednesday — despite a 5-7 season under Charlie Strong.
11. USC (19 recruits)
Top players: DE Oluwole Betiku, WR Michael Pittman, WR Tyler Vaughns, OT E.J. Price, ATH Jamel Cook.
Comment: After putting together the second-best recruiting class nationally last year, USC slipped a little in the rankings with a smaller class.
12. UCLA (28 recruits)
Top players: LB Mique Juarez, DT Boss Tagaloa, WR Theo Howard, DE Breland Brandt, LB Lokeni Toailoa.
Comment: The additions of Juarez and Tagaloa on Wednesday vaulted the Bruins to as high as seventh nationally in the team rankings by Scout.com
13. Florida (25 recruits)
Top players: DE Antonneous Clayton, WR Tyrie Cleveland, CB Chauncey Gardner, QB Feleipe Franks, WR Freddie Swain.
Comment: The Gators finished with only four of the state’s top-50 prospects, losing one local Aaron Robinson (Alabama), but snagged two recruits from Arkansas late.
14. Tennessee (21 recruits)
Top players: S Nigel Warrior, QB Jarrett Guarantano, DE Jonathan Kongbo, CB Tyler Byrd, ATH Marquez Callaway.
Comment: The Volunteers landed four of their top targets in a 24-hour span, headlined by Kongbo, the No. 1 junior-college prospect, and Byrd, whom they stole from Miami.
15. Notre Dame (23 recruits)
Top players: OT Tommy Kreaemer, OT Liam Eichenberg, WR Javon McKinley, LB Daelin Hayes, WR Chase Claypool.
Comment: The Irish loaded up on top-tier offensive linemen and quality receivers.
16. Stanford (26 recruits)
Top players: TE Kaden Smith, QB KJ Costello, LB Curtis Robinson, WR Simi Fehoko, OT Clark Yarbrough.
Comment: Five of the Cardinal’s nine four-star recruits are on the offensive side of the ball.
17. Baylor (22 recruits)
Top players: WR Devin Duvernay, OG Parick Hudson, WR Tren’Davian Dickson, DE Brandon Bowen, OT J.P. Urquidez.
Comment: The Bears, who ranked 36th in recruiting last year, according to 247Sports, landed eight consensus four-star recruits to move into the top 20.
18. Texas A&M (21 recruits)
Top players: DE Justin Madubuike, OT Kellen Diesch, WR Quartney Davis, LB Aaron Hansford, WR Clyde Chriss.
Comment: Hansford, a two-way threat, comes as a Signing Day surprise after being committed to UCLA.
19. Penn State (20 recruits)
Top players: RB Miles Sanders, OG Michael Menet, DE Shane Simmons, DT Ellison Jordan, DE Daniel Joseph.
Comment: The Nittany Lions lost five commitments, including four in the nine days leading up to Signing Day, to slip out of the top 15.
20. Miami (18 recruits)
Top players: WR Sam Bruce, LB Shaquille Quarterman, WR Ahmmon Richards, QB Jack Allison, WR Dionte Mullins.
Comment: The Hurricanes addressed two big needs at receiver and linebacker but were hurt by a late defection at cornerback.