Barry Jackson

UM revisiting recruiting strategy that helped it land No. 1 class in country decade ago

Jason Munoz of St. Thomas Aquinas poses during High School Football Media Day at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, August 4, 2018.
Jason Munoz of St. Thomas Aquinas poses during High School Football Media Day at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, August 4, 2018.

Ten years ago, seven Miami Northwestern star football players – led by quarterback Jacory Harris and Sean Spence — formed the nucleus of UM’s No. 1 rated recruiting class. A decade later, UM is trying to achieve a similar haul from St. Thomas Aquinas, one of South Florida’s powerhouse programs.

Though UM has lured Michael Irvin Jr, Brandon Linder and brother Nick Linder, Mike Harley and others from Aquinas in recent years, top prospects Nick Bosa and Joey Bosa opted for Ohio State, and there has always been the perception that the Buckeyes were a favored child of sorts at St. Thomas, with hand-written notes from Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, over the years, lining the walls in the Aquinas football offices and hallway that leads to the weight room.

Safety Jordan Battle, who is orally committed to Ohio State but would consider UM again if an ongoing Buckeyes internal investigation results in changes there, said Saturday that Ohio State is appealing to St. Thomas players because Meyer and Aquinas athletic director and former coach George Smith “have a great connection, and that’s important to me. And you see [former Aquinas cornerback] Damon Arnette and Joey Bosa and Nick Bosa being successful there.”

But three of Aquinas’ top seniors (three-star defensive lineman Jason Munoz and four-star linebackers Anthony Solomon and Avery Huff) are orally committed to UM and the Canes have offers out to at least four other Aquinas seniors and a handful of juniors.

So what has put UM in the forefront of the minds of Aquinas players?

“I think Mark Richt is doing a great job,” Aquinas coach Roger Harriott said. “He’s a God-fearing man, an exceptional husband and father. He’s a positive role model and those are things that tend to take precedence in our society. With the way the climate has spiraled over the past few years, it’s extremely important to gravitate to people who have a strong character base and moral fiber. You will find that in Mark Richt.”

Anthony Solomon
St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Anthony Solomon, seen here posing for the Miami Herald Broward All-County football team on Jan. 18, is among three 2019 UM oral commitments from his high school, with the Hurricanes also having made offers to several offers. AL DIAZ

But UM also has made inroads with Aquinas defensive players because they like coordinator Manny Diaz’s attacking style. “The way they run defense is exactly how high school football defense down here is run,” Solomon said.

Munoz said getting all seven of the top Aquinas recruits to come to Miami – much as the Northwestern class did a decade ago – “is definitely a goal for me. I want to play with all my brothers. I have created such a great bond with all my teammates and I would love to keep it going. I’ve been working on it but it’s not easy.”

Beyond the three oral commitments, who among the other senior Aquinas targets does Munoz believe is most likely to end up at UM?

“Hopefully, Braylen Ingraham; we’ll see,” Munoz said of the three-star defensive end.

Ingraham said he’s considering six schools – including UM –and “I love the defense they run. I would fit the system pretty well. [Defensive line coach Jess] Simpson is a great coach; I feel he can develop me to the next level.”

northwestern02 UMmediaday A.JPG
This is the University of Miami football team media day on the school campus. UM freshman who played on the Northwestern High School National Championship team pose for pictures during media day. Left to right front row are, Sean Spence, Kendall Thompkins, Jacory Harris, Marcus Forston, Aldarius Johnson. Back row are Ben Jones, Tommy Streeter. Miami Herald file

Among the other Aquinas seniors that UM is still hoping to snag beyond Ingraham and Battle, four-star cornerback Jaden Davis said he’s a strong commitment to Oklahoma and uncommitted four-star running back Daniel Carter said UM “is definitely high on my list.”

Among the three senior UM/Aquinas commitments, Harriott said Munoz (who will play end and tackle at UM) “is a man amongst boys,” said Huff (who will play the striker position) “has a lot of range, is fast, explosive” and said Solomon (a projected will linebacker) has an “extremely high IQ. He’s like a coach on the field, tremendous feel for the game.”

UM’s St. Thomas haul might fall short of the famous seven-player Northwestern haul, but the Canes hope this group will contribute to more team success than that Northwestern class achieved.

“Those seven all have as much promise and ability as those [2008] Northwestern kids did,” said recruiting analyst Larry Blustein, whose show airs 10 to 11 a.m. Saturdays on WQAM-560. “Huff will be big-time. They will at least warrant an NFL tryout” or more.

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