University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes football coach Mark Richt on National Signing Day: ‘We nailed it’

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt speaks to journalists about how his team did on National Signing Day at the University of Miami's Schwartz Center in Coral Gables on Feb. 1, 2017.
Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt speaks to journalists about how his team did on National Signing Day at the University of Miami's Schwartz Center in Coral Gables on Feb. 1, 2017. For the Miami Herald

Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt was his usual mellow self Wednesday on National Signing Day, a day when hyper and loud are often the demeanors of football coaches celebrating their recruiting classes.

But it only took three words for Richt to make clear that this was no ordinary group of young men he and his assistants worked tirelessly to secure.

“We nailed it,” he said.

After rushing to deliver his first signing class last year in a little more than three weeks of NCAA-designated recruiting time, Richt finished his year-long project with flair.

The 6-6, 300-pound defensive tackle said USC almost swayed him to the West Coast. But he stayed home for the Hurricanes. Feb. 1, 2017. Video by Manny Navarro

As of Wednesday night, UM, which saved at least “one or two” scholarships for any late surprises, had its signing class ranked 11th by Rivals, 12th by ESPN and 13th by 247Sports — all three recruiting-site rankings rising from the start of the day.

What the Hurricanes welcomed Wednesday: a desperately needed stockpile of offensive linemen who will serve as bodyguards for two new quarterbacks, as well as three receivers, two of them lightning-fast and consensus four-star national talents.

Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas receiver Mike Harley and East St. Louis’ Under Armour All-America Game MVP Jeff Thomas were not even committed to UM before they signed their Letters of Intent. Harley, who previously was committed to West Virginia, is rated by Rivals as the nation’s 18th-best wide receiver prospect.

Columbus' Trajan Brady picks the University of Miami on National Signing Day.

Thomas, who chose Miami over Louisville, Oregon, Illinois, Michigan and Alabama, was previously designated by recruiting sites as “undecided” and is rated the nation’s eighth-best receiver by ESPN. “Electrifying,” is how receivers coach Ron Dugans described Thomas, comparing him to former Hurricanes Devin Hester and Phillip Dorsett.

Their signings mean that freshman All-American Ahmmon Richards will have some major threats opposite him.

The other receiver: Evidence Njoku, the 6-6, 196-pound younger brother of NFL-bound former Canes tight end David Njoku.

St. Thomas Aquinas receiver Michael Harley talks about picking the Miami Hurricanes on National Signing Day.

The quarterbacks — early enrollee Cade Weldon of Tampa Jefferson and dual-threat N’Kosi Perry of Ocala Vanguard — will eventually engage in a battle for the starting spot vacated by NFL-bound Brad Kaaya.

“Both of these guys are very talented,” Richt said. “These guys are true quarterbacks who happen to be able to run well, which is a nice dynamic to have. Cade is in town, and he’ll have a chance to compete this spring. … He’ll get about as many reps as everyone else on scholarship.

“It’s a wide-open competition. I absolutely don’t have a frontrunner. You would think I would after being here a year. … My guess is it’ll go well into the summer and fall camp before we figure out who it is.”

The five linemen include 6-6, 375-pound Navaughn Donaldson from Miami Central and 6-5, 275-pound former Michigan commit Kai-Leon Herbert of Plantation American Heritage.

What Miami didn’t finish with Wednesday: two highly rated cornerbacks from South Florida, who had UM as finalists but went with other teams — both to the Florida Gators, coached defensively by former UM head coach Randy Shannon.

Consensus four-star speedster Christopher “C.J.” Henderson of Miami Columbus; and four/three-star prospect Brian Edwards of Miramar chose UF but had previously dropped their commitments to the Canes.

No committed UM player flipped to another school.

With UM cornerbacks Corn Elder and Adrian Colbert headed to the NFL Draft, as well as safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter, the Canes needed top defensive backs.

Enter highly rated junior-college corner Jhavonte Dean, a 6-2, 185-pound Blinn College (Texas) transfer who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, is from South Florida and played in high school at Homestead South Dade. Dean committed to the Canes seven hours before Signing Day commenced.

Fellow incoming four-star Columbus cornerback Trajan Bandy, a star in his own right, is compact, fast, has great leaping ability and can also be used as a kick returner.

DeeJay Dallas, one of 10 early enrollees already on campus, is one of the nation’s best athletes and will start out as a receiver instead of a defensive back. He also rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 28 touchdowns the past two seasons at Brunswick (Georgia) Glynn Academy.

UM also added three linebackers and three defensive linemen, one of them 6-5, 240-pound end D.J. Johnson of Sacramento, California — rated the No. 5 prospect by ESPN and ninth-best player in California by 247Sports.

What hurt, however, was only one running back, early enrollee Robert Burns out of Gulliver Prep, to bolster a UM position group weakened by the departure of Joe Yearby and possible transfer of Gus Edwards. Burns was injured most of his senior season and has not played very much.

“If the guys stay healthy, we will be fine,” running backs coach Thomas Brown said. “But that’s a position that takes a lot of pounding, and we will look for some graduate transfers and even some high school guys to help fill from a depth standpoint.”

UM signees

Player, position

School

Ht., Wt.

DeeJay Dallas, ATH

Brunswick (Ga.)

5-10, 191

Trajan Bandy, CB

Columbus

5-9, 180

Amari Carter, S

Palm Beach Gardens

6-2, 188

Jhavonte Dean, CB

Blinn College (Texas)

6-2, 185

Derrick Smith, S

Jacksonville Trinity Chr.

6-2, 200

Jonathan Ford, DT

Dillard

6-5, 275

Jonathan Garvin, DE

Lake Worth

6-3, 222

D.J. Johnson, DE

Luther Burbank (Calif.)

6-5, 240

Bradley Jennings Jr., LB

J’ville Sandalwood

6-2, 218

Waynmon Steed, LB

Central

6-5, 335

De’Andre Wilder, LB

Carol City

6-3, 202

Navaughn Donaldson, OL

Central

6-5, 335

Zach Dykstra, OL

Spirit Lake (Iowa)

6-6, 290

Corey Gaynor, OL

Marjory Stone Douglas

6-4, 285

Kai-Leon Herbert, OL

American Heritage

6-5, 285

Zalon’tae Hillery, OL

Glynn Academy (Ga.)

6-6, 287

Zach Feagles, P

Ridgewood (N.J.)

6-2, 210

N’Kosi Perry, QB

Ocala Vanguard

6-4, 185

Cade Weldon, QB

Tampa Jefferson

6-2, 203

Robert Burns, RB

Gulliver Prep

5-11, 215

Brian Polendey, TE

Guyer (Texas)

6-5, 230

Mike Harley, WR

St. Thomas Aquinas

5-9, 160

Evidence Njoku, WR

Wayne Hills (N.J.)

6-6, 196

Jeff Thomas, WR

East St. Louis (Ill.)

5-10, 175

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