University of Miami

New UM staff ramps up recruitment of Deerfield Beach star RB. ‘They’re crazy about me’

Ephraim Banda on Manny Diaz: ‘He’s going to be the best head coach ... in the country”

Safeties coach Ephraim Banda is one of the Miami Hurricanes' new co-defensive coordinators, but he still has high praise for outgoing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
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Safeties coach Ephraim Banda is one of the Miami Hurricanes' new co-defensive coordinators, but he still has high praise for outgoing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

Even five months ago, it would’ve been hard to picture Jaylan Knighton winding up with the Miami Hurricanes. The old regime had offered the Deerfield Beach running back, although there was never exactly a major press to prioritize the four-star all-purpose back.

The relationship has changed since the start of the new year. Manny Diaz replaced the entire offensive coaching staff when he took over as Miami’s coach in the final days of 2018. Now the Hurricanes are all over one of the Miami metropolitan area’s best.

“They’re crazy about me,” Knighton said Monday in Deerfield Beach. “The old coaching staff, they were recruiting me, but not how the new coaching staff is.”

Even with four-star running back Don Chaney Jr. already committed, the Hurricanes want to build a one-two punch with the two top-ranked running backs in South Florida for the Class of 2020.

The No. 44 overall prospect in the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the Class of 2020, Chaney is the top prospect in Miami-Dade County for the 2020 cycle and committed to the Hurricanes out of Belen Jesuit in February. Knighton checks in at No. 101 overall, and is the top-ranked running back in Broward County and the county’s No. 2 prospect overall. He wants to make a commitment by the end of the summer and the hometown team is currently positioned as one of the rising senior’s top suitors along with the Florida State Seminoles.

Knighton decommitted from the Oklahoma Sooners in January and named the Clemson Tigers his favorite shortly thereafter. On April 10, Knighton named a top six of Miami, Florida State, Clemson, Oklahoma, the LSU Tigers and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Those six still comprise Knighton’s list and he hopes to visit all six before a potential August final decision. The tailback visited both the Hurricanes and Seminoles earlier this month, and Clemson in January. He wants to take official visits to the other three throughout June, and make return trips to the schools he’s already visited.

Miami and Florida State have distinguished themselves both through their persistence, and Knighton’s familiarity. The two in-state schools, along with Ohio State, are recruiting Knighton hardest, and Knighton said the Hurricanes and Seminoles are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to recruiting the four-star prospect.

“Florida State and UM are whole coaching staff,” Knighton said.

Knighton has been a fixture around Miami all throughout the spring. Most recently, Knighton made the trip with his family to Orlando on Saturday to watch the Hurricanes’ spring game at Camping World Stadium. A week earlier, Knighton headed down to Miami for the Hurricanes’ open scrimmage at Nathaniel “Traz” Powell Stadium. He even headed all the way down to Coral Gables multiple times just to watch Miami practice.

All the while, Knighton has built a relationship with Chaney. The two backs met in February at The Opening Miami regional, where they both landed invitations to The Opening finals.

“They say we run alike,” Knighton said. “We’ve been talking.”

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Knighton was only able to compete at the regional in Davie because he decided to push back minor wrist surgery. Knighton sustained a small fracture in his right wrist when he was a sophomore and when it healed it left a small bump on his bone, which pinched against a nerve when he carried the football. He finally had the surgery earlier this year and is in a cast until the end of May, so he’ll be heavily limited throughout the Bucks’ spring practices, which began Monday at Butler Stadium in Deerfield Beach.

“He’s Coach Knighton for the next 20 days,” Bucks coach Jevon Glenn said Monday.

It didn’t hamper Knighton in the offseason, though. The running back played his junior season at about 180 pounds and last weighed in at 191, Glenn said. The coach said Knighton’s speed hasn’t suffered, either, and Knighton backed it up by running the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at the Miami Dolphins Training Facility for The Opening regional.

It’s this sort of ability which has made Knighton so coveted by powerhouses across the country. Right now, Knighton has an idea of which school will land his services, but there’s still time for anyone to sway him.

“All the schools are recruiting me hard. I’m just really trying to have everything done, so I can focus on my season and knowing where I really want to spend my time,” Knighton said. “My heart is telling me something right now, which I won’t release.”

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