A bunch of extremely talented teenagers on Wednesday helped take the pressure off a Miami Hurricanes football team that lost its past two games after winning 15 in a row.
Now, no matter how No. 10 Miami (10-2) fares against No. 6 Wisconsin (12-1) on Dec. 30 in the Capital One Orange Bowl, what awaits the Canes could transform an already promising program into a powerhouse.
In one of the more impressive displays nationally, 18 of UM’s 20 verbal commits in the recruiting class of 2018 – known as #Storm18 among college football aficionados – fueled an epic start to the NCAA’s inaugural signing period by inking their autographs Wednesday on national letters of intent.
As of 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Rivals.com had Miami’s class ranked fifth nationally behind Georgia, Ohio State, Penn State and Texas; 247Sports also had it fifth; and ESPN had it seventh.
A Miami offense lacking in the firepower of its vaunted defense appears to have suddenly gotten dramatically better.
The Hurricanes signed one of the nation’s most impressive dual-threat quarterbacks in Jarren Williams; the nation’s No. 1 running back and Gatorade Florida Player of the Year in Lorenzo Lingard; and a five-star Army All-American receiver in Miami Southridge’s Mark Pope.
The Canes also resurrected the term “tight end U” with the signing of dangerous, top-10 tight ends Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory.
“A lot of people were curious about how the early signing day would go, including ourselves,” coach Mark Richt said in a news conference. “I’m sure coaches across America weren’t quite sure what to think of it. It seemed like it wasn’t such a bad thing.
“I know for us it was outstanding.”
That includes those two cornerbacks, two safeties, defensive end and linebacker to flush out the defense. There does not appear to be a shaky one among them.
Richt’s signing class, which expects at least one more early signing (four-star offensive lineman Cleveland Reed) on Thursday and won’t be complete until the traditional signing period begins Feb. 7 with what has long been known as National Signing Day, is regarded as the best UM haul since the Canes’ fifth-ranked class in 2008.
That ’08 class, highlighted by Miami Northwestern quarterback Jacory Harris and several of his teammates, didn’t turn out as fruitful as originally expected, but for now, there’s nothing but sunny skies over Coral Gables.
“Today there were no surprises,” Richt said. He reconsidered with a grin. “It might have surprised me that everything went so smoothly.”
Fourteen of the 18 signees are from Florida – eight from Miami-Dade, one from Broward and another from West Palm Beach.
Eight of them were either U.S. Army or Under Armour All-Americans.
One, a 6-0, 195-pounder with the endearing name of Bubba Baxa, is the nation’s fourth-rated kicker (ESPN and 247Sports) who is set to replace senior standout Michael Badgley.
Richt’s director of player personnel, Matt Doherty, said “10 or 11” players are expected to enroll in school in January and participate in spring football. That includes new quarterback Williams.
The new signees not only can now have unlimited contact with coaches, Richt said they can get complete workout information from strength and conditioning coach Gus Felder, be distributed the playbook and will be able to work out on campus – though they can’t do it alongside the current players until they’re enrolled.
“We can give them all the playbook material we want,” Richt noted. “We usually feed it little by little. We don’t just give them a big book and expect them to figure it out by themselves.”
An especially gratifying get for Miami was cornerback Al Blades, Jr., of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. Blades’ father, Al Blades, Sr., was a UM safety in the late 1990s and 2000 and died in a car accident after celebrating his 26th birthday. Little Al was 3.
A 6-1, 180-pound consensus four-star prospect, Blades, an Under-Armour All-American, is rated by ESPN as the seventh-best corner and 41st overall recruit in the nation. Though he spent much of his time convincing others to sign with the U, and as late as Tuesday told Websites he thought he might take some recruiting trips for the experience, he thought otherwise Wednesday.
“Woke up feeling like a Cane,” tweeted Blades, whose uncle Bennie won the 1987 Thorpe Award for UM as the finest defensive back in the nation; and whose uncle Brian was a star Canes receiver.
Said Richt: “I think some of them might have wanted to just maybe take another visit or two just for fun. They say that and then they have too much fun, which can make you a little bit nervous.”
The coach said including the signing period in February, he’d like to sign 24 to 27 players.
“Sometimes graduate transfers pop in the spring semester,” Richt said. “Sometime it’s OK just to hold and say, ‘We’ll stop and save some spaces for the next year.’ Our scholarship number right now is 71.”
The NCAA permits 85 players to be on scholarship.
As for academic concerns regarding the new signees, Richt said the Hurricanes are in “good shape.”
“A year ago every single one of our guys made it,” Richt said, citing three factors his staff examines for each of the players they recruit: “No. 1: Can they play?; No. 2, Can they qualify and do the college work?; No. 3: What kind of kids is he and what kind of character does he have?
“Those three things are just crucial. We try not to get too deep with anybody who we don’t think can make it.”
Name; Ht.; Wt.; Pos.; Hometown; School
▪ Bubba Baxa; 6-0; 195; kicker; Pasadena, Texas; Pasadena Memorial.
▪ Al Blades Jr.; 6-1; 180; defensive back; Fort Lauderdale; St. Thomas Aquinas.
▪ John Campbell Jr.; 6-5; 295; offensive line; Orlando; Dr. Phillips.
▪ Camron Davis; 5-9.5; 190; running back; Opa-locka; Carol City.
▪ Gilbert Frierson; 6-1; 186; defensive back; Coral Gables; Coral Gables.
▪ Realus George Jr.; 6-2; 245; fullback; Atlanta; Pace Academy.
▪ Gurvan Hall; 6-0; 180; defensive back; West Palm Beach; Palm Beach Gardens.
▪ Brian Hightower; 6-3; 195; receiver; Bradenton; IMG Academy.
▪ DJ Ivey; 6-1; 175; defensive back; Homestead; South Dade.
▪ Brevin Jordan; 6-3; 250; tight end; Las Vegas; Nev. Bishop Gorman.
▪ Patrick Joyner Jr.; 6-2; 220; linebacker; Homestead; South Dade.
▪ Lorenzo Lingard; 6-0; 195; running back; Orange City; University.
▪ Will Mallory; 6-5; 210; tight end; Jacksonville; Providence School.
▪ Mark Pope; 6-1; 175; receiver; Miami; Southridge.
▪ Gregory Rousseau; 6-6.5; 225; defensive lineman; Hialeah; Champagnat.
▪ Delone Scaife Jr.; 6-3; 315; offensive lineman; Miami; Southridge.
▪ Daquris Wiggins; 6-3; 175; receiver; Miami; Southridge.
▪ Jarren Williams; 6-2; 206; quarterback; Lawrenceville, Ga.; Central Gwinnett.