The University of Miami began its first practice for Washington State and the Hyundai Sun Bowl on Friday morning with no head coach in sight — head coach, as in Mark Richt, who the previous Friday was being introduced as the 24th football coach in school history.
Then, about an hour later, as interim coach Larry Scott and his assistants were conducting a rather spirited practice at Greentree Field, the new head honcho walked onto Greentree with a recruit that looked rather big.
And he was, in more ways than one.
The nation’s No. 1-rated tight end, 6-4, 235-pound Isaac Nauta of Bradenton IMG Academy, made an unofficial visit to UM’s campus on the first weekend of multiple recruits for Miami and its new coach.
Richt did not speak to the media, as NCAA rules prohibit coaches to name recruits, unless the student-athletes sign grant-in-aid agreements such as the ones quarterback Jack Allison and linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney previously signed.
But Nauta did his own Canes marketing Friday, posting a photo on Twitter of himself and Richt standing in the middle of the giant orange-and-green U on campus — with the two of them using one hand apiece to form a “U.’’
“Go canes!!!” tweeted Nauta, considered by ESPN .com recruiting to be the 10th-best player in the nation. Nauta made his official visits to Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Mississippi and Richt’s former Georgia program.
Most of the players who spoke after practice Friday said it was good to see Richt observing, but that they were “motivated either way,’’ as quarterback Brad Kaaya put it.
“I’m playing for all these guys around me,” Kaaya continued. “It was good seeing him out there. I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to him too much yet. His message to us was to focus on finishing out the season. He didn’t want to interfere with our game plan or anything that we’re trying to get done in terms of getting nine wins.’’
Said center Nick Linder: “We only met him once. … He seems like an awesome guy. Very experienced coaching career. To know we got a guy like that is very exciting.’’
Scott said after practice that the players came out upbeat and ready to go after a two-week break to catch up with school and the rest of their lives.
“We needed it bad,’’ receiver Stacy Coley said. “Everybody was kind of just banged up during the season. We got a good week off, then got in the training room and worked hard rehabbing. Everybody feels good.’’
Kaaya said the break “was huge’’ for players “to get all of our off-the-field stuff squared away, whether it’s classes, finals, seeing your friends who don’t play football, seeing your friends that are in frats and sororities. We’re also human, too. We’re not just robots throwing footballs around. It’s just good to have that time off and be a normal 20-year-old college student.’’
▪ Juniors Coley and Corn Elder, a cornerback, said they still haven’t decided whether they will forgo their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft.
“I’m just focused on getting past the bowl game, and I’ll make my decision after that,’’ Coley said.
Elder said he is waiting for a response from the NFL Draft Advisory Board on its assessment of his talent.
This year, the advisory board will only project if a player might go in the first or second round. Otherwise, the player is advised to return to school.
“Right now I’m just focused on getting better and getting ready for the bowl game,’’ Elder said.