This past December, two days after Clemson routed Miami in the 2017 ACC championship game, two head coaches showed up at a particular Florida high school.
Those two head coaches were Miami’s Mark Richt and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, and the school was IMG Academy, a virtual football factory.
IMG coach Kevin Wright sends numerous players to Division I colleges every year, and 2019 will be no exception. His top offensive recruit is 5-11, 215-pound rising senior Trey Sanders, rated the No. 1 running back in the nation.
“There were three or four times early last season when he broke open close games with touchdown runs of 60 yards or greater,” Wright said. “He’s a home-run hitter.”
Sanders got his first start as a sophomore in 2016. Facing national power Long Beach Poly (California), Sanders rushed for over 200 yards, immediately stamping himself as a player to watch.
“He’s special,” recruiting expert Charles Fishbein said. “He looks like an NFL running back right now. He’s big and fast with all the talent you would want. He’s like [ex-FSU star] Dalvin Cook.”
Florida State, Miami and Alabama — in that order — are Sanders’ top three choices for now, but it’s early. Florida, Georgia and Texas could make a strong push.
IMG has another top running back in Noah Cain, a 5-10, 210-pound rising senior rated No. 2 nationally at his position.
Wright said Cain — a Texas native who arrived at IMG last season — is not as flashy as Sanders but has a deceptive burst.
“Noah is equally effective but runs more inside the tackles,” Wright said. “He has great vision, and he’s always going forward. He can make the first guy miss, and then it takes multiple tacklers to get him down.”
Miami is a longer shot to get Cain. According to 247 Sports, the leaders, in order, are Texas, Ohio State and LSU, with Miami and Oklahoma next.
Fishbein said Cain is talented but not quite in Sanders’ league, adding: “I’m not sure he has the same top-end speed.”
The top seven running backs in the state are Sanders, Cain, Carol City’s Nay’quan Wright; Wellington’s Mark-Antony Richards; University School’s Kenny McIntosh; St. Thomas Aquinas’ Daniel Carter; and Jacksonville’s Marcus Crowley.
Miami is well stocked at running back with junior Travis Homer and five-star freshman Lorenzo Lingard — who is already on campus — at the top of the depth chart. Four-star freshman Cam-Ron Davis adds quality, and Robert Burns could be a factor if he can shake his injuries.
But even with all that depth, Miami — just like every program — has to continue to recruit. The Hurricanes have a commitment from Crowley for 2019 and are the favorites to sign Wright, Richards, McIntosh and Carter.
Fishbein said Wright can be elite if he can avoid the nagging injuries that have plagued him so far.
“He is electric with the ball in his hands,” Fishbein said. “He’s similar to [ex-Canes RB] Duke Johnson with more top-end speed.”
Fishbein said McIntosh reminds him of former Chaminade running back Jon Beason, who went on to star at Miami and later became a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker in the NFL.
“Kenny can be a productive running back,” Fishbein said. “But he can be an elite linebacker.”
The Recruiting Column is a year-round feature of the Miami Herald. If you have a tip or story idea regarding recruiting or an impending college commitment, please contact Walter Villa at: firstname.lastname@example.org