New Columbus coach breaks down some of his high-profile recruits
Columbus was a popular destination for coaches throughout the first full week of May this spring. On May 5, the Explorers’ boys’ track and field team wrapped up a state championship, and it was finally time for Xzavier Henderson, Elijah Roberts and the rest of the multisport athletes at Columbus to finally get out to the practice field.
This was the beacon for college coaches from schools across the country to head to the Miami high school. Coaches from about half a dozen universities made stops at practice in the first week after track season ending, including Ephraim Banda and Taylor Stubblefield from the Miami Hurricanes. The May 9 visit served multiple purposes for Miami — which is also recruiting Henderson and three-star running back Henry Parrish — but Banda’s presence made the Hurricanes’ interest obvious to Roberts.
“After this practice, they made it clear that I’m a top priority,” Roberts said the next day in Miami. “They still want me.”
The Hurricanes’ interest is nothing new for Roberts. A three-star defensive end in the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the Class of 2020, Roberts orally committed to the hometown school in the summer just days after former defensive line coach Jess Simpson offered.
His pledge lasted less than five months. Roberts decommitted in the fall, long before the wheels totally fell off of Mark Richt’s final season as coach and long before coach Manny Diaz’s brief departure to become the coach of the Temple Owls led to a mass exodus of defensive commitments. Roberts realized he rushed into his decision, committing to Miami despite only one other visit. The hometown appeal which led to his original pledge still has a major pull.
“Of course,” Roberts said. “I just wanted to have my options and explore all my options. When I committed, I hadn’t taken any visits. I know they want me, though.”
At the time of Roberts’ first commitment, the Hurricanes didn’t have much competition. The Syracuse Orange, North Carolina Tar Heels and Tennessee Volunteers were the only other Power 5 Conference programs to offer at the time of his decision. The list of suitors has ballooned since to include the Florida State Seminoles, the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Kentucky Wildcats, the South Carolina Gamecocks and, most recently, the Florida Gators.
The summer will finally be the chance for the 6-3, 267-pound defensive lineman to weigh his full array of options. Roberts continued to frequently visit Miami even after he decommitted — he was just in Coral Gables to watch a spring practice in March — and he has trekked up to Tallahassee to visit Florida State a couple times. This summer, Roberts knows he wants to get to Gainesville to see Florida and line up visits to some of the other schools still contacting him, like Penn State and Kentucky.
“They just want me to get up there,” the rising senior said of the Gators.
As much as the Hurricanes have changed since the last time Roberts committed, one important constant remains: Diaz. By this point, Roberts has a longstanding relationship with Diaz and is getting to know new defensive line coach Todd Stroud, who came to South Florida in March when Simpson took a job with the Atlanta Falcons. The early impressions of Stroud have been good.
“I like the way he coaches. He’s very technical,” Roberts said. “I heard his history — he had three guys drafted in the first round, and I guess that’s good.”
Diaz might be the key to it all, though.
When Diaz vacated his position as defensive coordinator for his brief stint at Temple, a rash of decommitments followed, including from South Dade four-star defensive backs Jaiden Francois and Keshawn Washington. Those two are back in the fold already because of the way Diaz reinvigorated the program. Roberts sees the same thing.
“Coach Diaz was the best thing happening to that program, him stepping in as a head coach,” Roberts said. “Basically no drop-off. There’s only up from here.”