A sharp-dressed Al Blades Jr. sat in St. Thomas Aquinas’ gym Wednesday afternoon.
Clad in a black shirt and pants, wearing sunglasses and a University of Miami bowtie his uncle, Brian, picked out for him, everyone knew for nearly two months he had signed with the school he has been committed to long before then.
But until he walked off the stage at the school’s National Signing Day ceremony, the reality had not fully hit him.
Blades Jr. was really, officially, a hurricane like his father and uncles before him.
Blades Jr. was one of 21 football players from the high school in Fort Lauderdale who had either signed in December or signed on Wednesday, including 15 who signed letters of intent with FBS-level schools.
Aquinas’ impressive 2018 class included 62 student-athletes overall spanning 10 sports.
Brian Blades got emotional while reveling in the moment with other family members present.
“It’s something special,” Blades Jr. said. “It doesn’t hit you until a little bit after. It’s overwhelming to know how much support I have behind me and how much my family loves me. It’s something special.”
Blades Jr. said he never felt any pressure from his family to go to UM or to continue his family’s tradition, which began with his uncles, Bennie and Brian, and continued with his father, Al Blades Sr.
“It’s been a very relaxing process to be honest,” Blades Jr. said. “Through all my years they just let me be, letting me develop into the man I’m going to be. When it came to my senior year they didn’t really push me but when I made my decision you could really see the joy in their faces.”
Blades Jr., rated the No. 10 overall cornerback prospect in the nation by Rivals.com, is one of the prized cornerback signees in UM’s class that includes other South Florida standouts such as Gilbert Frierson (Coral Gables), DJ Ivey (South Dade) and Nigel Bethel (Northwestern).
Although the Canes couldn’t land either of the top two recruits in the country at the position in American Heritage duo Pat Surtain, Jr. (signed with Alabama) and Tyson Campbell (signed with Georgia), Blades Jr. said the Hurricanes have an elite secondary.
“When we all get on the field together it’s going to be dangerous, something ridiculous,” Blades Jr. said. “If you think the defense is good now, see us in the next two years.
“I feel like it’s a disrespect to the five DBs that are there now because all five of us on the roster can compete already against anyone. I’ll put that on every last one of them and they know the same thing. I feel like nobody in the country is better than me and those guys feel like nobody in the country is better than them.”
Blades was excited about the defensive recruits UM did sign including Heritage defensive tackle Nesta Silvera.
“Every last guy from our defense has some nitty gritty and some nastiness in them,” Blades said. “Nesta is one of those guys that’s not afraid to show it and not afraid to put it out there. A lot of our guys put it on in the field, but he’s one of those guys who never turns it off.”
Blades said he will also be inspired to play at UM for cornerback Malek Young, a Coconut Creek alum who recently underwent career-ending neck surgery.
“It changed my view on playing for UM. I’m playing for my family, but now he’s another reason I’m playing for them because he never got to finish his career. It’s gut-wrenching to see something like that.”
▪ Aquinas linebacker De’Andre Ragin was one of the few remaining high-level uncommitted players in South Florida nearing National Signing Day.
Ragin signed with Toledo University on Wednesday just two days after committing to the Rockets.
▪ Defensive end Nik Bonitto, ranked the No. 17 outside linebacker in the nation by 247Sports.com, completed his formal signing with Oklahoma.
▪ The twin tandem of linebackers Coleman and Grayson Crozier will each head to the United States Naval Academy. Wide receiver Cole Caterbone signed with Army as well.
▪ Rounding out Aquinas’ signees were cornerbacks Asante Samuel (FSU), Trenell Troutman (Louisville), wide receivers Elijah Moore (Mississippi) and Riley Allison (Valparaiso), linebackers Adetutu Daranijo (Akron), Darrell Shelton (Duke), Jalen Mackie (Dartmouth) and Kaleb McCarty (Pennsylvania), defensive linemen Tyler Steen (Vanderbilt) and Dejmi Jean (Louisville), guards Jason Swann (Tulane), Maximillian Zinn (Chicago) and Chad Keirnan (Mount Union), athlete Tavares Kelly (Virginia) and safety Ryan Rhoden (Columbia).
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS NON-FOOTBALL SIGNEES
Baseball: Eduardo Andres Antonini Prim (Pittsburgh), Eric Feller (Oglethorpe), Cade Fergus (George Washington), Richard Grund III (Fordham), Blake Hely (Davidson College), Wade Iben (Flagler College), Ryan Moore (Rollins), Caleb Roberts (North Carolina), Christopher Ruckdeschel (Clemson), Wesley White (Thomas Jefferson University); Basketball: Taniyah Pluviose (Rollins College), Joseph Talocka (Gettysburg College); Lacrosse: Christian Borodiak (Tampa), Noah Cash (Maryland), Kyle Gittelman (Jacksonville), Kevin Justice (Fairfield), Ryan Leahy (Washington College), Carson Lees (Tampa), Shane Lumsden (Young Harris), Morgan Lusk (U.S. Coast Guard Academy), Jada Preston (Gardner-Webb); Rugby: Justin Franzese (Arkansas State); Soccer: Andrew Besley (Lafayette), Matthias Myrtidis (Belmont Abbey), Morgan Armstrong (South Carolina), Micaela Caliento (Jacksonville State), Samantha Curtis (Huntingdon), Olivia Estevez (NC Asheville), Kailey Homoky (Iona College), Julieanna Matlack (Emerson College), Kayla McNamara (Emerson College), Chloe O’Neill (Villanova), Samantha Orlando (Emerson College); Softball: Gabriella Nori (Lehigh), Lauren Stansell (Caldwell); Swimming: Carlos Vasquez-Moreno (Penn State); Volleyball: Paula Cerame Rivera (Florida), Derry Costigan (Boston College), Maeghan Dolph (College of Charleston), Jada Gardner (Western Carolina); Water polo: Sabrina Hoffmeister (LaSalle).