University of Miami

Football prodigies gather with the greats at Miami Hurricanes Paradise Camp

University of Miami coach Mark Richt huddles with football recruits who visited the University of Miami’s campus in Coral Cables for the third annual Paradise Camp on Saturday, July 28, 2018.
University of Miami coach Mark Richt huddles with football recruits who visited the University of Miami’s campus in Coral Cables for the third annual Paradise Camp on Saturday, July 28, 2018. Erua@miamiherald.com

The University of Miami intramural fields resembled a who’s who of football prodigies Saturday night, as past, present and future Hurricanes greats gathered for the third installment of Paradise Camp.

Most of the 200 or so high school athletes will be college freshmen in either 2019, 2020 or 2021 and are making their future program choices — if they haven’t already. The UM players, along with their coaches, former UM stars and NFL greats, were the ones helping to instruct them during drills and one-on-one competitions.

Pro Football Hall of Fame members Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin, linebackers Jon Beason and Jon Vilma, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, former Jim Thorpe Award winner Bennie Blades, running back Clinton Portis, receiver Lamar Thomas and quarterback Gino Torretta either spoke to the players at the student center before on-field drills or coached them afterward.

All of them seemed thrilled to be part of the process.

“Over the last three years, it has just been unbelievable,’’ said UM coach Mark Richt. “The guys have come and blessed this program because they love it. It’ s just a cool thing.’’

McKinnie, the former left tackle who won a UM national title in 2001, said it was his first Paradise Camp.

“It’s such a great idea and shows how connected former players are to the program,’’ McKinnie said. “Mark Richt and his coaches have made UM inviting again. We never had camps like this before. I know those young guys are giving their best efforts so they can look good to the former players and coaches.’’

Added Beason, who was drafted in the first round by the Carolina Panthers in 2007: “What makes this camp unique is the ties that we still have to the University of Miami and how much we truly care about the program and kids who are coming in. They get a lot of love from the former players.’’

And some of those players, Richt hoped, would leave UM ready to pledge their commitments to play at the U.

“We’re trying to help teach them football, No. 1,’’ Richt said. “No. 2, we’re evaluating the guys and watching them against other great players and seeing them compete and trying to make decisions whether to offer them or not.

“Some have already been offered. They don’t have to prove anything to us, but a lot of those kids want to get coached by their [future] coach. They’re kind of testing us out.”

One of the attendees, Miami Northwestern sophomore receiver Romello Brinson, said Miami has always been his “dream school.’’

“I’m trying to get an offer,’’ Romello said as he approached the campus. Every route we’ll go hard.’’

Romello’s Northwestern teammate, receiver Kahlil Brantley, said he looked up to the current and former Hurricanes and was excited to show what he could do. “I heard it’s very competitive,’’ he said. “But to be the best you’ve got to beat the best.’’

On Friday night, after the first day of the two-day camp that was highlighted by a dinner and pool party in which Richt performed his annual back flip off the high dive, the Hurricanes received commitments from three juniors.

Each of the teenagers who pledged plays for Homestead South Dade High: defensive back Jaiden Francois, athlete Keshawn Washington and offensive lineman Jonathan Denis.

Denis, a 6-4, 280-pound four-star prospect and the No. 51 overall ranked player in the state for the 2020 recruiting cycle according to 247Sports, and No. 28 in Florida according to Rivals.com, headlines the group. He holds offers from 16 schools.

“Something about today felt different,’’ Denis told CaneSport.com. “...We were like, ‘Wow, they have an indoor facility coming in, new dorms, a bunch of things going on. We wanted to be a part of it.’’

The 6-1. 182-pound Francois told CaneSport he wants “to stay home,’’ play in his backyard and “win a national championship.’’

That gave UM 11 verbal commitments in its 2020 class, which is ranked No. 1 in the nation by the 247Sports composite. Verbal commitments are non-binding until the recruit signs a national letter of intent.

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