Barry Jackson

UM putting together strong recruiting class; Assessing defensive commitments

On Thurs., Jan. 21, 2016 Miami-Dade All-County athlete Trajan Bandy of Christopher Columbus football team is photographed inside the Miami Herald photo studio.
On Thurs., Jan. 21, 2016 Miami-Dade All-County athlete Trajan Bandy of Christopher Columbus football team is photographed inside the Miami Herald photo studio. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Two months before National Signing Day on Feb. 1, UM coach Mark Richt has assembled a top 14 class and one largely bereft of the type of risky projects that the previous staff took chances on.

UM’s class is rated 10th by ESPN, 11th by Rivals and 14th by 247sports.com.

ESPN ranks eight of UM’s 21 oral commits as top 300 prospects, including four in the top 87: Sacramento-based defensive end DJ Johnson (28th), Miami Gulliver running back Robert Burns (67th), Ocala quarterback N’Kosi Perry (82nd) and Miami Central offensive tackle Navaughn Donaldson (87th).

Whereas Al Golden and his staff made offers to several players who didn’t have other major-college offers (Thurston Armbrister developed well, but most didn’t), all 21 of UM’s oral commits have multiple offers from Power 5 conference schools except kicker Zach Feagles.

In fact, all except five have confirmed offers from at least one (often more) among traditional powers Alabama, LSU, Georgia, FSU, Notre Dame and Michigan.

The latest pickup: Douglas High guard Corey Gaynor, who on Tuesday flipped from Minnesota to UM.

And Richt and his staff appear to be striking a balance between landing top local players and cherry-picking others elsewhere. Of the 21 oral commitments, 11 are from Dade/Broward and Palm Beach and 10 from elsewhere.

“I’ve heard from kids that they think Mark Richt is very likable and they like the whole staff,” said Brett Goetz, who coaches the South Florida Express 7-on-7 team and has a good pulse on local recruiting. “There are a lot of kids interested in going there. There is an excitement with having a new coach with a winning reputation. Everyone was tired of losing.”

Recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said a lot of local coaches were “lukewarm” on some members of Golden’s staff.

“The reaction is a lot more favorable now,” he said. “They like [safeties coach] Ephraim Banda, [cornerbacks coach Mike] Rumph and [defensive line coach] Craig Kuligowski.”

Even though Blustein said the new coaches have been well-received, it might take a year for UM to land more of the blue-chippers locally, beyond Donaldson.

“2018 will be the year they get those significant kids,” Blustein said. “A lot of those major stars have built-in relationships, with the Clemsons, Ohio States, with [Alabama assistant] Mario Cristobal. Miami is a new player as far as the kids are concerned on the power level. You and I remember when Miami was good, but the kids don't.”

Richt also is recruiting in Georgia, where he’s highly respected, and said there will be a “bunch” of other states that UM coaches will hit. UM has two oral commits from Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga. – four-star cornerback Deejay Dallas and three-star offensive lineman Zalon’tae Hillery.

“All the way down the coast," Richt said earlier this year, asked where he would recruit. "There are kids we’ve seen video on that have interest. If we think the interest is sincere, we’ll go. I’m sure we’ll end up in California [UM, in fact, is there tonight], all around the country. The Southeast region is where we’re going to be spending most of the time, and right down here in South Florida.”

A look at where UM stands with defensive recruiting:

Defensive end: A very good group with Johnson (39 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles), Fort Lauderdale Dillard’s three-star Jon Ford (six sacks) and Lake Worth’s three-star Jonathan Garvin (great senior year with 59 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, blocked field goal, three forced fumbles). ESPN has Garvin rated 279th in this class.

“Ford rushes the passer very well,” Blustein said. “Big time kid. He may go to the interior of the line because he’s big… Garvin is quick, fits what they want, has a motor that never stops.”

ESPN calls Johnson “a lengthy edge defender that has the ability to explode off the ball and cover a lot of ground.” He told Herald contributor Peter Ariz of caneinsight.com that he is totally committed to UM.

UM also has offered Miami Central’s four-star end Owen Carney and Dillard three-star end Jordan Wright. But Wright’s interest in playing basketball could result in him playing elsewhere, Blustein said.

And Ariz, who has his finger on the pulse of recruiting, said Los Angeles-based four-star defensive end Hunter Echols, a USC oral commit, is getting an in-home visit tonight from Kuligowski and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

Linebacker: Miami Carol City’s De’Andre Wilder (Rivals’ No. 31 outside linebacker), Jacksonville-based three-star Bradley Jennings Jr. (Rivals’ No. 29 OLB) and Miami Central’s Waymnon Steed (Rivals’ No. 21 ILB) will give UM good depth behind its UM’s three freshman starters.

Blustein: “Wilder is a work in progress. He’s very talented but probably going to be asked to bulk up and learn the first year. He’s not as big as the three freshmen linebackers they have.

“Steed could be a first-year player for them. He showed me so much this year after missing all of his junior year. After he ballooned up to 260, UM coaches put the word they would drop him and he went down 37 pounds and put on all muscle and just killed people.”

Safeties: Palm Beach Gardens’ Amari Carter (238th in ESPN’s top 300) and Miami Southridge’s three-star Billy Gibson are committed, but UM is desperately seeking more help.

“They need to hold on Gibson tight because Alabama is coming,” Blustein said. “Marquee kid, [comparable to] Deon Bush, can play either safety or corner. Carter is a big-time kid, someone everyone wanted. If that kid grows up and gets weight on him, he will be a beast.”

Cornerbacks: Two four-star prospects in Columbus’ Trajan Bandy (Rivals’ No. 9 corner; ESPN’s 270th-best player overall) and Dallas, the No. 230 ESPN prospect who played quarterback in high school.

Dallas told ESPN Radio in Georgia that UM indicated it will play him at corner but might use him some at receiver.

Dallas is meeting with four UM coaches tonight, including Richt.

Dallas has been tweeting out pictures (@DeeJaydallas5) and wrote: “I feel bad for the rest of college football next year. A storm is brewing and it’s not slowing down. It’s only getting stronger. #GoCanes.”

UM remains in the mix for Columbus’ Christopher Henderson, a former four-star commit who decommitted from the Hurricanes but is still considering them.

Meanwhile, Ariz notes here that UM will be getting a visit from South Dade High alum Jhavontae Dean, an Alabama commit who is rated the nation’s No. 1 JUCO cornerback.

For now, Dallas and Bandy give UM two highly-regarded cornerback commitments, with the possibility of more.

Though Bandy would be a natural slot corner, Blustein said “he can be a boundary corner. He’s small [5-9 1/2], but Terrell Buckley and Lamarcus Joyner are short, too. He has huge wingspan, great recovery speed. Hits like a safety. Plays the run very well. He’s going to be so physical that they’re going to have no alternative” but to play him immediately.

I’ll assess UM’s offensive recruiting class in a future column... For my post today with Dolphins and Marlins nuggets, including a network analyst with some doubts about Ryan Tannehill, please click here.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

University of Miami head coach Mark Richt spoke to the media after the Hurricanes defeated the Duke University Blue Devils, 40-21.

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