Barry Jackson

UM coach Diaz’s biggest recruiting challenge at Miami and the Kevin Durant effect on it

Snagging the top high school players in the tri-county area has been priority No. 1 in UM recruiting ever since Howard Schnellenberger spoke of “building a wall” around South Florida.

But it’s an objective that will again go unfulfilled this year.

Of the 16 players from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties that are rated among ESPN’s top 300 Class of 2019 prospects, UM has commitments from just two — and they’re No. 15 and No. 16 on that list: Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna cornerback Te’Cory Couch (rated 230th overall) and his teammate, safety Keontra Smith (rated 235th).

As for the other 14 of those top 16, 11 have committed elsewhere and three remain undecided.

The three undecided: Palm Beach Benjamin defensive back Kaiir Elam (rated 67th by ESPN; UM is pursuing him but Miami isn’t the favorite); Wellington based running back Mark-Antony Richards (rated 154th by ESPN; UM is pursuing him but not considered a likely destination, per Rivals); and University School defensive back Joshua Sanguinetti (rated 162nd by ESPN; UM offered and he has said he has interest).

The 11 who have committed elsewhere: Clemson-bound South Dade High receiver Frank Ladson (rated 35th nationally by ESPN); Oregon-bound Deerfield Beach defensive end Ge’Emon Eaford (74th), FSU-bound Palm Beach Central cornerback Akeem Dent (76th); Michigan-bound St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Anthony Solomon (83rd), Georgia-bound Miami Southridge cornerback Tyrique Stevenson (100th), Alabama-bound St. Thomas Aquinas safety Jordan Battle (123); Alabama-bound Cardinal Gibbons defensive end Kris Bogle (140); Penn State-bound Delray Beach receiver John Dunmore (147), Oklahoma-bound St. Thomas Aquinas cornerback Jaden Davis (176); Alabama-bound St. Thomas Aquinas defensive end Braylan Ingraham (204); and Georgia-bound University School running back Kenny McIntosh (229).

Everyone knows what would go a long way toward fixing this problem: winning.

“Sometimes it just takes one,” coach Manny Diaz said of snagging top recruits. “Sometimes it just takes that one guy that’s like, ‘I’m staying’ and then it goes. There’s going to be more skill guys [in South Florida] than what we can take, but there’s no doubt [UM needs more of the elite recruits.]

“Look, the world has changed, and I’m going to blame the NBA. Once Kevin Durant went to the Warriors after they were 3-1 up when he was at Oklahoma City — kids want to go where the winning is. So, that’s hard because you have to create the winning to get them to come to where the winning is. So, there’s a natural tendency to be drawn to the places that are currently on top, which, that’s fair.

“OK, so the only way you can battle that is you have to put out a product that makes a kid say, ‘I’ve got to go do that,’ and they’ve thought that for a long time. Remember, what’s occurred now the last couple years is really new in their memory at Miami, but we have to continue to pound on it where the ninth-graders and the eighth-graders are like, ‘Look at the Miami Hurricanes. I want to be that guy.’

“And then [they say], ‘My friends are there, and I know that guy, and I knew that guy because he kicked my butt when I was in 10th grade and he was a senior. I want to go play where he plays.’ So, I think setting the tone like that will be the key to the recruiting.”

As opposed to automatically settling for someone who would automatically take the job, Diaz has reached high in his offensive coordinator search, which has delayed the process a bit. He contacted a coach with at least one of the college playoff teams.

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is now available for the Canes and others to pursue after he entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal. UM is interested, and Diaz and Hurts followed each other on Twitter this week.

Canesport reported that UM, Oklahoma, Ohio State and FSU are “four of his top choices.”

As a grad transfer, he would be eligible to play for another school in 2019.

This past season, he backed up Tua Tagovailoa and threw for 765 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. He has 48 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his Alabama career.

Diaz said former NFL receiver Sterling Sharpe “set the bug” in his ear that he could become a head coach while they were at ESPN together. Sharpe was a TV analyst, Diaz a production assistant.

He pursued coaching when his wife became pregnant.

“If I was at ESPN 4 or 5 more months [in 1997] I’d probably still be there or fired [from that job],” Diaz said. “She was the one [who said], ‘Let’s go do this, follow this dream.’ When you’re young, you’re naive, don’t know what you’re up against. Because you shouldn’t’ do it, we didn’t realize what we were up against. What I did was a very poor idea. But sometimes enough youthful naivete you don’t realize the odds stacked against you and that’s why it really works.”

Dennis Erickson, who won two national championships at Miami, appeared on WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline on Monday, after being voted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and spoke of the benefits of spreading the field on offense, an idea new coach Manny Diaz appears to embrace.

“If you spread them out and get them in one on ones, you’re going to win a lot of football games,” he told WQAM’s Joe Zagacki.

Erickson is coaching the Salt Lake City team in the new Alliance of American Football, which debuts next month on CBS and CBS Sports Net, and plans to continue calling his own plays, as he did at UM. He said former UM and Dolphins receiver Lamar Thomas is assisting him.

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