Al Golden knows if he’s going to help the University of Miami return to its glory days he can’t do it without an influx of talent from the richest backyard in the country.
“There’s no question about it,” the Hurricanes coach said last week by phone from Dallas, where he was spending a few days in the aftermath of a disappointing 6-7 season studying the NFC East division-winning Dallas Cowboys up close and personal.
“South Florida is really the recruiting focal point for us; Florida in general. We’ve got a long way to go before the finish line on [National] Signing Day, but certainly we’ve got to continue to move the program forward, and we can’t do it without South Florida.”
Golden has managed for the most part to keep plenty of quality South Florida talent home even while dealing with a cloud of uncertainty and impending NCAA sanctions.
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The class he will sign next month, though, will be the first that was completely unaffected by that. And yet, critics might look at the number of local players UM signs on Feb.4 and scratch their heads wondering why the Hurricanes aren’t keeping more homegrown stars home.
As it stands, entering this weekend, Miami had 20 commitments as part of its 2015 class, and of that group only seven hailed from Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties.
Only two of the 16 players selected from Miami-Dade and Broward to play in the three major All-American all-star games (U.S. Army, Under Armour and Semper Fidelis) pledged to be Hurricanes.
Those are Miami Killian safety Jaquan Johnson (already enrolled at UM) and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas running back Jordan Scarlett, who told the Orlando Sentinel in late December he considers himself “an 85 percent commitment” to UM and was planning trips to Florida and Florida State.
Of the 16 local All-Americans, FSU has four committed. Alabama, Texas and Ohio State — like UM — have two apiece.
That statistic is startling to Miami Central coach Roland Smith, a former Hurricane himself who has led the Rockets to their past two state titles (Central has won four in the past five years). But Smith says the fact UM has missed out on a few local elite kids is not for a lack of effort by Golden or his assistants.
Smith said UM pushed hard last year at Central to land running back Joe Yearby and offensive tackle Trevor Darling, and did the same for Mr. Florida Football Dalvin Cook, who signed with FSU. Smith said Golden did the same this year with All-American receiver Da’Vante Phillips, who followed his close friend Cook to FSU, and running back/receiver Anthony Jones, who passed on a late UM offer to stick with FIU. Smith said Jones thought he would have a bigger role at FIU than at Miami.
“[Miami’s] coaches are doing a hell of a job trying to recruit kids,” Smith said. “But to get over the hump you’ve got to win those big games. This year we weren’t able to pull off the big ones like Florida State, Nebraska. Kids these days are more impressionable. It seemed like to me, when we were coming up, when Melvin Bratton, Alonzo Highsmith decided to go to UM, Miami wasn’t dominant either. But those guys wanted to turn the program around and put it on the map. Nowadays, it seems like the kids look forward to going to programs that are winning, already established, not trying to build something. And that’s kind of surprising to me.”
According to the recruiting database of the website 247Sports.com, UM made offers to 309 players across the country in the 2015 class. Not all of the local stars were strongly pursued or received offers from UM (Central safety Calvin Brewton and Hallandale linebacker Shamar Kilby-Lane, both headed to FSU, weren’t offered). The local recruits who were heavily pursued but decided to go elsewhere included Phillips, Coconut Creek Monarch receiver Calvin Ridley (Alabama) and Miami Westminster Christian safety Tim Irvin (Texas).
Another reason the Canes’ South Florida commitment numbers might appear low: the team’s biggest needs — offensive line and defensive line — didn’t have a deep talent pool from which to draw locally. So UM looked outside the area to fill those needs (six offensive lineman and three defensive lineman are committed). Only one is local: Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons defensive end Richard McIntosh.
Golden said Wednesday: “It’s never going to be easy” for UM to fend off other programs from coming to the area and pushing for top recruits. “But obviously,” he continued, “once we get to the point where we’re more successful, that part becomes a little easier.”
But until then, there will continue to be critics.
“It’s easy to take a snapshot at this time,” Golden said of his detractors. “But for me, look at the 2014 recruits from South Florida who played for us this year: Joe Yearby, A.J. Moten, Chad Thomas, Tyree Brady, Trevor Darling, Nick Linder, Kc McDermott. Those guys, plus the ones that redshirted like Demetrius Jackson, Mike Smith, that whole group. Also, look at the group we’re recruiting next year. I look at the totality of it, not one little snapshot.”
UM’s 2016 class already is loaded with in-state stars. Of the top 50 in-state 2016 recruits according to 247Sports, 14 are from Miami-Dade and Broward. UM has seven commitments total in 2016 and all are on that list: receivers Sam Bruce (St. Thomas Aquinas), Dionte Mullins (Miami Gulliver Prep) and Ahhmon Richards (Wellington), linebackers Shaquille Quarterman (Orange Park Oak Leaf), Michael Pinckney (Jacksonville Raines), Zach McCloud (Lake Worth Santaluces) and quarterback Jack Allison (Palmetto).
Miami Booker T. Washington running back Mark Walton, who was supposed to be a part of the Canes’ 2016 class before he earned enough credits through virtual school to move up and join the 2015 class, has been committed to UM since Sept. 29, 2013. That’s the second-longest commitment in UM’s class behind Royal Palm Beach linebacker Charles Perry.
Walton, rated the seventh best at his position nationally by 247Sports, said he believes UM would do better recruiting in-state and locally if not for all the negativity surrounding the team after four consecutive losses to end the season. Entering the weekend, UM’s 2015 class was ranked 18th by Rivals, 20th by ESPN and 21st by 247Sports.com.
“Of course a lot of people look at the University of Miami very differently than past years,” Walton said. “A lot of people are going on a rampage saying they want Golden gone, saying a lot of players want out of the University of Miami. Of course, as a recruit it hurts and makes you look elsewhere. But I just try not to get bothered with it.”
TROUBLE ON HORIZON
Walton said Wednesday he has planned official visits to Louisville, West Virginia and Georgia just in case changes are made at UM. Walton and two Booker T. teammates (receiver Antonio Calloway and Texas-bound cornerback Devante Davis) were making official visits to UM this weekend.
Calloway, a three-star recruit, seems the more likely of the two not committed to UM to strongly consider the Canes. Davis said Wednesday his commitment to Texas was firm.
UM, which has had close to a dozen recruits de-commit from this class, is trying hard not to lose any others. Walton said he speaks twice a week to Scarlett, the other star running back in the class, about sticking together through the ups and downs of recruiting.
At one point, before West Orange running back Dexter Williams de-committed from Miami on Jan.2, Walton said he, Scarlett and Williams talked about forming a great trio of backs at Miami like Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore.
Then, Walton said, the comments made late last month by Duke Johnson’s mother, Cassandra Prophet Mitchell, claiming the majority of players at UM would leave if not for NCAA transfer rules, put a scare into some recruits. Walton said Williams told him that is the reason he chose to de-commit.
“There are some times where I think I might want to leave too because of the negativity, but [Scarlett and I] just support each other and say, ‘Let’s not let it get into our heads,’” Walton said. “We’re going to play it out. We’re not worrying about what the fans are saying. We’re not worrying about the negative messages. We want to go in there and make changes, help bring The U back. That’s what we want to do. Hopefully, he’ll stick it out with me.”
Goodbye to ‘U’
Of the 16 local football players selected to play in this season’s three major high school All-American all-star games, only two have committed to UM:
S Shawn Burgess-Becker
WR Calvin Ridley
WR Da’Vante Phillips
DB Deandre Baker
DB Calvin Brewton
TE Devonaire Clarington
Booker T. Washington
RB Jordan Cronkrite
QB Torrance Gibson
S Tim Irvin
S Jaquan Johnson
LB Sh’mar Kilby-Lane
CB Tarvarus McFadden
RB Jordan Scarlett
St. Thomas Aquinas
CB Rashard Causey Jr.
St. Thomas Aquinas
DB Carlton Davis
LB Dominic Sheppard