Diaz: Our team isn’t far from competing for championships
The last news of the day on Wednesday for the University of Miami football program began within the first minute of coach Manny Diaz’s inaugural National Signing Day press conference.
“Breaking news,’’ Diaz said, noting that “this is not just from sources inside the program. This is actually a real story.’’
Then, Diaz announced the 24th member of the 2019 Hurricanes signing class — fittingly another transfer on a day that there were three substantial ones. Four-and-a-half hours after four-star Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons defensive end Khris Bogle chose the Florida Gators over UM, Diaz said that former Virginia Tech standout defensive end Trevon Hill had signed his Letter of Intent to play as a graduate transfer.
Hill, slated to graduate from Virginia Tech in May, will join fellow transfers Bubba Bolden, a vaunted safety formerly from Southern Cal; and Chigozie Nnoruka, formerly of UCLA, who signed with Miami Wednesday — all three of whom UM expects to be eligible to play immediately.
The only other key addition who wasn’t previously committed: defensive back Christian Williams, who flipped his allegiance from Alabama and gave the Canes a much-welcomed morale boost on a day when a handful of other top prospects passed over UM for other schools.
UM also signed three-star quarterback Peyton Matocha of Houston St. Thomas Catholic and three-star defensive tackle Jared Harrison-Hunte of Christ the King in Queens, New York.
“We like what we have,’’ Diaz said. “Compared to where we were as a football team kind of limping off the field at Yankee Stadium, I know this: We’re a much better football team today than we were in December in the Bronx. That’s our main thing. Now we gotta get these guys on campus and get them developed.’’
Williams’ commitment moved Miami up to No. 28 nationally in 247Sports.com’s composite recruiting class rankings Wednesday evening. Rivals.com had the Canes at No. 34 nationally. And ESPN had them at No. 30. Given that the rankings don’t include transfers, which at Miami would include the three added Wednesday plus four already enrolled, including former Ohio State star quarterback prospect Tate Martell, UM’s would definitely rise otherwise.
“This class is so bizarre, right?’’ Diaz said. “Because you have all these transfers and those guys don’t fit into recruiting rankings. I’m not going to sit here and try to beat our chest and say, ‘Hey, our class should be ranked here,’ because to be honest, when we kick off in August, nobody will care. It really doesn’t matter.’’
In all, the Canes signed seven players Wednesday — the three aforementioned transfers, three high school athletes and a 24-year-old Australian punter who actually gave his written pledge late Tuesday night because 8 p.m. in Coral Gables equated to 7 a.m. Wednesday in his hometown of Mandurah, Australia. The NCAA mandates that it must be 7 a.m. local time on National Signing Day at the location of the person signing.
It wasn’t a large haul, but the Hurricanes’ signings were integral to the 2019 roster. The three transfers on defense, the four-star cornerback and the very large punter helped Miami fill five of its biggest needs entering the 2019 season.
Bolden, who UM expects to have three seasons of remaining eligibility and was 247Sports’ No. 4-ranked transfer nationally, gives the Hurricanes a likely successor to Jaquan Johnson or Sheldrick Redwine at safety. Hill, No. 22 in those national transfer rankings, has one season left to play and could replace NFL-bound Joe Jackson as the starting defensive end opposite Jonathan Garvin. Nnoruka, who also has one season left, provides much-needed depth at defensive tackle with Gerald Willis and Tito Odenigbo departing.
Louis Hedley, the tattooed, intimidating three-star punter from City College of San Francisco who is listed as 6-4 and 215 pounds but is closer to 240, according to special teams coordinator Jonathan Patke, will compete for a starting job with Jack Spicer. And Williams, who Miami plans to use at cornerback, joins a host of young defensive backs competing to start at corner opposite Trajan Bandy.
Bolden, Nnoruka, Hill, Hedley and Williams join two transfers who didn’t sign with Miami in the early signing period in December, but enrolled at the university last month. Wide receiver K.J. Osborn, who transferred from the Buffalo Bulls, will be immediately eligible and compete for a starting spot as a senior. And Martell could fight for the starting job if he receives a waiver to be eligible immediately rather than having to sit out a year, per customary NCAA transfer rules. He would be a redshirt sophomore if immediately eligible.
What Miami didn’t get Wednesday was another offensive lineman to bolster a line depleted by the loss of graduating left tackle Tyree St. Louis, graduating center Tyler Gauthier, graduating guard Jahair Jones, transferring guard Hayden Mahoney and NFL Draft early entrant guard Venzell Boulware.
Miami was in the running for three-star offensive tackle Darius Washington, but the Pensacola West Florida lineman signed with Florida State. The Hurricanes, however, did add FCS Butler graduate transfer Tommy Kennedy, who could replace St. Louis at left tackle, in December.
“When we walked out of this room on Jan. 2, [we knew] you gotta assess your issues and then you gotta fix them,’’ Diaz said. “Are all of our problems solved by today? They’re not... You understand where your weaknesses are and you’ve tried to fix your weaknesses the best you can.
“...We had to hit the ground running, we had to make quick evaluations in some standpoints and find the way to make the best out of what we had during this January time period and I think we’ve done that. I think we have improved our football team at every position in the locker room.’’
UM SIGNEES: Peyton Matocha, QB, 6-4, 199, St. Thomas Catholic (Houston); Tate Martell, QB, 5-11, 210, Ohio State/Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.); Asa Martin, RB, 5-11, 209, Auburn/Austin (Decatur, Ala.); Larry Hodges, TE, 6-2, 234, Tampa Jesuit; Jeremiah Payton, WR, 6-1, 186, Neptune Beach Fletcher; K.J. Osborn, WR, 6-0, 205, Buffalo/Bradenton IMG Academy; Jakai Clark, OL, 6-3, 305, Grayson (Loganville, Ga.); Adam ElGammal, OL, 6-7, 275, Christ the King (New York); Zion Nelson, OL, 6-5, 240, Sumter (S.C.); Tommy Kennedy, OL, 6-4, 285, FCS Butler/Lake Forest (Ill.); Jason Blissett Jr., DL, 6-4, 271, Poly Prep Country Day (Brooklyn); Jared Harrison-Hunte, DL, 6-4, 279, Christ the King (New York); Jahfari Harvey, DL, 6-4, 225, Vero Beach; Jalar Holley, DL, 6-2, 280, Buford (Ga.); Cameron Williams, DL, 6-5, 215, Chaminade-Madonna; Chigozie Nnoruka, DL, 6-2, 287, UCLA/Kennedy (Sacramento); Trevon Hill, DL, 6-5, 287, Virginia Tech/Salem (Virginia Beach, Va.); Sam Brooks Jr., LB, 6-2, 195, Northwestern; Avery Huff, 6-3, 200, St. Thomas Aquinas; Te’Cory Couch, CB, 5-10, 160, Chaminade-Madonna; Keontra Smith, DB, 5-11, 195, Chaminade-Madonna; Christian Williams, CB, 6-1, 182, Daphne (Ala.); Bubba Bolden, DB, 6-3, 200, Southern California/Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.); Louis Hedley, P, 6-4, 215, City College of San Francisco/Australia.