Yes, the University of Miami got a quarterback it coveted.
But arguably even more impressive Wednesday was the signing of the young man who, judging by his immense talent, will one day help take the pressure off that quarterback, or any quarterback — and the two others who should turn a “scary’’ lack of running back depth into a fleet-footed, people-pounding stable.
Five-star tailback Lorenzo Lingard, the Gatorade Florida Player of the Year, is expected to amply compensate for the loss of UM’s best player, running back Mark Walton, to a season-ending ankle injury in early October, followed by Walton’s recently announced departure to the upcoming NFL Draft. The other two new signees — Miami Southridge four-star tailback Camron Davis and the nation’s No. 1 fullback in Realus George — have returned to Coral Gables the most elite group of runners they’ve had in several years.
“It’s huge,” UM offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said Wednesday, when asked how much Lingard’s signing makes up for Walton’s departure. “Losing Mark from a production standpoint and who he was and what he meant. ... Mark was one of the few alpha males we had on our offense. We’re bringing in three guys with that same mentality in Lorenzo and Camron and Realus.
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“They’re all tough, physical football players who are unselfish and don’t back down from any competition.”
Along with current sophomore Travis Homer, who did an exceptional job this season (907 yards and seven touchdowns on 151 carries for a 6-yards-per-carry average) being thrust into the starting role when Walton went down at Florida State, the Canes should now be able to make defenses wary about what part of the offense to attack.
“We’re really excited about them,” coach Mark Richt said of the three newcomers.
Brown said Lingard and Davis each weighs about 195 pounds, with Davis a bit stockier at 5-9 1/2 to Lingard’s 6-0 height.
Lingard, rated as the nation’s No. 2 back by 247Sports.com, rushed for 1,701 yards and 26 touchdowns on 207 carries this past season for Orange City University High. A track star as well, he won multiple state championships in the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles. He chose UM over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Florida and Georgia, among others, and said last Wednesday that his relationship with coach Richt and Brown kept him loyal to the Canes.
“His personality, his demeanor and his words basically stuck with me the last four-and-a-half years,’’ Lingard told the Daytona Beach News-Journal about Richt. “Nothing has changed about him.’’
Lingard, who will arrive at UM in January and participate in spring ball, said Richt and Brown were “the most trustworthy” people in the recruiting process.
Brown returned the compliment. “He was recruited by everyone in the country, and once he committed, he didn’t step foot on any other campus.’’
Davis, rated as the nation’s eighth-best running back by 247Sports, rushed for a single-season career high of 820 yards and 13 touchdowns for Carol City in 2016, leading the Chiefs to their first Class 6A state title since 2003.
Brown described Lingard’s running style as “a slasher, a one-cut downhill-type guy’’ who “can make you miss” without a lot of wiggling.
The coach said Davis “can play between the tackles, he can play out in space, he can make you miss one-on-one and has enough speed to go the distance.’’
Davis, Brown said, could be used as a kick returner and “catches the ball like a receiver in a lot of ways, which gives us a chance to flex a guy out and throw the ball out in space.”
As for George, listed as 6-2 and 245 pounds but actually “255,” Brown said, he’s a “traditional fullback, which is hard to find these days. Those guys are like dinosaurs.”
George is out of Pace Academy in Atlanta, and not only averaged 5.4-yards-a-carry this past season at fullback, he led the team with 43 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and eight sacks as a linebacker.
Finally, UM has the bodies to withstand the wear-and-tear that running brings.
“We didn’t have a lot of depth,’’ Brown said. “We had some really talented guys. But we knew if one or two of those guys went down, it was going to be scary behind them. When we get those guys in, it’s going to be a huge boost for us.’’