University of Miami

‘He’s a different cat:’ New UM commit is a four-sport athlete and potential valedictorian

Diaz: ‘We need a good old competition to find out who our best guys are.’

University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz talks about finding out who the best guys are on the defense.
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University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz talks about finding out who the best guys are on the defense.

Frank Garis first watched Jalen Rivers from the opposite sideline, and the offensive lineman was impossible not to take notice of. Rivers was a freshman for Orange Park Oakleaf and already starting at left tackle when his team made the trip across the Jacksonville metropolitan area to face Ponte Vedra in 2016.

Rivers was still a few months from picking up his first scholarship offers, but there was no doubt to Garis, who now coaches Oakleaf, nd then was the Sharks’ coach, about what was to come for the massive underclassman.

“He was somewhere in the 360 range and he moved unbelievably well for someone that size,” Garis said Tuesday. “The power that he had obviously at that size was unbelievable, but also the ability to move, as well.”

Less than three years later, Rivers is committed to the Miami Hurricanes and Garis is working hands on with the four-star tackle. Rivers garnered attention early for his potential. Based on his sheer size and athleticism, Rivers picked up offers from the Florida Gators, Alabama Crimson Tide, Georgia Bulldogs, Florida State Seminoles and Miami before the start of his sophomore year.

Now the No. 152 overall player in the composite rankings for the Class of 2020, Rivers picked among those five Sunday when he orally committed to the Hurricanes. Later in the day, he made the trip all the way down from the First Coast to Coral Gables for a Manny Diaz Football Camp to spend some time with his future coaches, including offensive line coach Butch Barry.

“They’ve kind of been his school for a long time throughout his life, and he said when he came back from spring practice recently with Coach Diaz and Coach Barry, he was like, ‘Coach, it’s time,’” Garis said. “‘I feel like the time is right. It’s a situation that I’m comfortable with and I’m excited about. I’m ready to go.’”

The timing was also perfect for Miami, which didn’t land a single blue-chip offensive lineman in the Class of 2019. The Hurricanes don’t have a firmly entrenched starter at either tackle spot, so Rivers, who is slated to early enroll after he plays in the Under Armour All-America Game early next year, could find the field as early as his freshman season in 2020.

None of this would matter if the work ethic wasn’t there, too. It might just be his greatest asset

Rivers is in the running to be valedictorian of his class, Garis said, and he’s on track to have his associate’s degree completed by the time he finishes his first semester of college after he enrolls for the spring of 2020. He’s also a four-sport athlete for the Knights, who won a state title in shot put, competed in weightlifting and helped Oakleaf win its district in basketball. All the while, Rivers has shed about 25 pounds in the past year and measured in at 6-6 and 331 pounds at The Opening Orlando regional in February.

“When you see him now, you say he’s 331 pounds, people don’t believe it because he looks so good, but his body is built so well and he’s worked his tail off to try to change into the shape that he needs to be for him to be able to be at the highest level in college.

“He’s a different cat.”

Different enough for Garis to think creatively. Last season was Garis’ first at Oakleaf and he started to occasionally use Rivers in other spots on the field. Twice in 2018, Garis split Rivers out to wide receiver, so the lineman could block out in space on a screen play or a screen and go.

In 2019, Garis has even more plans. He has decided it’s time for Rivers to get some carries.

“He’s an insanely gifted athlete,” Garis said. “He’s just in a large package.”