High School Recruiting

Linda Robertson: National Signing Day lottery takes years to cash

The annual lottery known as National Signing Day concluded Wednesday with lots of rankings, pronouncements and lists of hits and misses.

It’s only fitting that prized recruits are described as “blue chip,” as in gambling.

Yet National Signing Day, like the NFL Draft, has spawned a mini industry of experts and website wizards who speak with hyper authority on a football player’s “explosiveness” or “pocket IQ.”

What does the crush of names and data mean? Check back in three or four years. Whether a high school senior was rated a three-star, four-star or five-star recruit means nothing if his stars don’t shine in college.

So, the University of Miami’s results can be viewed two ways. Coach Al Golden did not get all the cards in his hand that he badly wanted, but he got enough, and the game has only started. Ratings don’t matter. Results do.

Or, UM’s class can be seen as a disappointment, according to analyzers who spend an enormous amount of time watching 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds on grainy video.

UM did not dominate the “state of Miami,” as Howard Schnellenberger surveyed it. Most notably, two kids from the heart of the city took a pass on the program located 10 miles from their state champ school, Miami Booker T. Washington High.

Two hours into the school day, linebacker Matthew Thomas and offensive tackle Denver Kirkland took time out from class to announce their destinations.

The scene was televised live, as if a nation of viewers was on pins and needles, which goes to show just how deformed this media spectacle has become. And which makes one wonder why the chemistry whiz choosing MIT over Stanford and the violinist choosing Julliard over Yale don’t get on TV. How about celebrating academic muscle, too?

Thomas picked Florida State over UM, then Kirkland picked Arkansas over UM. In the span of five minutes, UM absorbed blows on defense and offense. James Coley, UM’s newly arrived offensive coordinator from FSU and a Miami native, was supposed to be a factor in rounding up this class, but apparently not. Given his contacts here, he will be an asset very soon.

Coley was too late to undo hard feelings that might have been lingering from last week, when UM assistant coach Micheal Barrow revoked a scholarship offer to Kirkland right after the Tornadoes’ victory parade through Overtown. Booker T. coach Tim Harris said Barrow gave Kirkland an ultimatum — declare his commitment to UM over Arkansas and FSU or UM would “move in another direction.” Although UM had been privately assured that Kirkland would be a Hurricane, the senior wanted to wait until National Signing Day to have his moment in the sun, surrounded by family and coaches.

“This isn’t the way UM should be doing business, not with the kids in their own backyard,” said Harris, who worked at UM under Randy Shannon and whose sons Tim and Brandon were athletes there. His youngest son is Booker T.’s quarterback.

Golden quickly apologized to Kirkland and patched things up, but when you’re dealing with the bruised ego of a teenager, anything can happen.

UM did score by signing Miami-Dade County’s two best defensive backs, Artie Burns and Jamal Carter, as well as Oakland Park Northeast receiver Stacy Coley. Staten Island fullback Augustus Edwards chose UM over FSU, and New Jersey quarterback Kevin Olsen should be a great one. But UM’s direst position of need — defensive tackles to stop the run — did not get filled as hoped when Port St. Lucie’s Jay-nard Bostwick opted for Florida, Delray Beach’s Keith Bryant chose FSU and junior college transfer Terrell Brooks committed to Baylor.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher learned well from consummate salesman Bobby Bowden on how to close a deal, and delivered a top-10 class. UM signed a paltry total of four players from the state in its small 2013 group and didn’t rate the top 25.

Florida, highly rated on ESPN’s list, signed a hefty class toward its goal of becoming a better passing team by mining Georgia and central and north Florida, although coach Will Muschamp likes to caution, “It’s not add water, instant player.” Quarterback Jeff Driskel can’t wait to throw to top-five-rated receiver Demarcus Robinson of Georgia, hoping he will give the Gators a weapon similar to Amari Cooper, the Miami Northwestern receiver who was key to Alabama’s national title.

Other South Florida kids decided to shun the so-so ACC and venture into SEC territory. You cannot fault them for accepting opportunities to play in the nation’s toughest conference. It’s hard to turn down Nick Saban at Alabama or Les Miles at Louisiana State or Muschamp at Florida.

The SEC, whose schools have won eight consecutive national titles, is the hot choice. Arkansas, under new management, is simmering. It was no surprise that Shannon, former UM player and coach, now an assistant at Arkansas and a friend of coach Harris, was able to help lure Kirkland from the school that fired him. He might also persuade South Plantation’s Alex Collins to pick the Razorbacks over the Hurricanes.

“Florida got what they needed, FSU flipped a couple of key kids and Miami salvaged its class a little bit by signing Stacy Coley,” recruiting expert Charles Fishbein said. “So much of recruiting is relationships, and Miami is rebuilding those. Even if they don’t end up losing any scholarships, the possibility of NCAA sanctions is still hanging over them.”

Fishbein lamented the “drop-off in local talent” this year. Golden said he is taking a self-imposed slap with his small class to send another message to the NCAA — in addition to the bowl bans — that UM has been conscientiously contrite during the two-year investigation.

But Golden is also betting on the future. The class of 2014 is considered a jackpot.

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