Down six coaches since the end of the season, including stellar recruiter and offensive coordinator James Coley (a defector to Miami, no less), the Florida State fan base had plenty to sweat about as the recruiting season came to a close.
But in the end, as the Seminoles have done since former coach Bobby Bowden sealed his reputation as a closer, Jimbo Fisher’s FSU signing class was ranked by analysts among the top 10 on Wednesday, National Signing Day.
The Florida Gators, muscle-bound from the start, wrapped up what is widely regarded as a top-3 class.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes, who split with the Seminoles for the top two players in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, bolstered their roster with a 16-player class small in quantity but substantial in quality.
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“It was a class we’re proud of,’’ UM coach Al Golden said. “It was a class we really had to fight hard for. I’m proud of our coaches for not making any excuses, hanging in there and bringing in a class that is not only excellent, but a great complement to the class that played so well and so often for us a year ago.’’
Relatively nearby at Florida International, the Panthers struggled after basking last year in what was considered its finest class in school history. They lost several commitments when former head coach Mario Cristobal — now the tight ends coach at Miami — was fired.
The speed building of a recruiting class after the January hiring of Ron Turner resulted in FIU signing 18 players Wednesday, 17 of whom are from Florida and 10 from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. The only exception in this group, evenly divided between offense and defense, was Oceanside (Cal.) quarterback Israel Paopao.
Turner said future recruiting classes would have a similar geographic makeup. “Maybe not 17 out of 18, but it’ll be a high percentage of players from Florida, especially South Florida,” he said.
Nationally, 2012 national champion Alabama picked up where it left off, grabbing the No. 1 ranking by Rivals.com, 247sports.com and ESPN.
As for the Canes, they picked up three of the seven top-notch recruits they were hoping to land Wednesday. The would-be Hurricanes who got away are Booker T. Washington linebacker Matthew Thomas (FSU), The Miami Herald’s top-rated player from Miami-Dade County; Booker T. Washington offensive tackle Denver Kirkland (Arkansas), The Herald’s No. 4 player from Miami-Dade; four-star Port St. Lucie defensive tackle Jaynard Bostwick (Florida); and four-star defensive tackle Keith Bryant (FSU) of Delray Beach Atlantic High.
According to numerous recruiting sites, Miami’s four-star prizes, not in any particular order: defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, from Ramsey, N.J.; receiver Stacy Coley, from Oakland Park Northeast High; quarterback Kevin Olsen, from Wayne, N.J.; cornerback Artie Burns, from Miami Northwestern; tight end Beau Sandland, a junior college transfer from Woodland Hills, Calif.; and Miramar High linebacker Jermaine Grace.
Only four players in UM’s class are from South Florida, and five from the state.
And though five-star South Plantation tailback Alex Collins chose Arkansas over Miami on Monday night, he didn’t actually have his letter of intent signed Wednesday because his mother disagreed with his decision. The Canes still nabbed fullback Augustus Edwards of Staten Island, N.Y., a 6-2, 221-pound, three-star prospect according to ESPN.
The Gators weren’t expected to make a big splash Wednesday. The work of coach Will Muschamp had already been done, and included five-star linebacker Alex Anzalone of Wyomissing, Pa., and five-star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, son of former UM linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves — hired this week as linebackers coach at Houston.
“They’ve been able to sustain verbal commitments for an extended period of time’’ with “minimal shifts,’’ said ESPN’s national recruiting director Tom Luginbill. “So, hey, this is going to be one of those years where people will look at Florida’s class and say, ‘Wow. They were able to sustain long-term, which is hard to do. I think they deserve a lot of credit for that.’’
Adding to Florida’s bounty: Belle Glade Glades Day star running back Kelvin Taylor, the son of former Gators great Fred Taylor and an early Gators arrival. Kelvin Taylor rushed for more than 12,121 yards and scored 191 touchdowns — a state record — in five seasons, including his eighth-grade year on varsity.
Seminoles coach Fisher described this year’s 22-member class as one with “high character’’ that should contribute to the depth of the program for Florida State going forward.
Fisher signed several potential starters, including Thomas, five-star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and four-star defensive end DeMarcus Walker. Ramsey had been committed previously to Southern Cal, and Walker, to Alabama.
Fisher lauded some of his newcomers for helping to sway others to bolster the Seminoles’ 2013 class. He pointed out four-star cornerback Marquez White, from Dothan, Ala., and Bryant for their recruiting efforts.
Fisher also talked of honoring offensive lineman Richy Klepal of Tampa Plant High with a scholarship after he was medically disqualified from competing because of a concussion problem.
“He was loyal to us,’’ Fisher said, “so we’re going to be loyal to him.’’
Miami Herald sportswriters Manny Navarro, David J. Neal, Patrik Nohe and Matt Watts contributed to this report.