Barry Jackson

Why this UM class is different from any Canes class this century. And the reason behind it

Diaz: Our team isn’t far from competing for championships

The Hurricanes football coach Manny Diaz says, "Maybe it just takes me". as he speaks to the media at the University of Miami on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.
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The Hurricanes football coach Manny Diaz says, "Maybe it just takes me". as he speaks to the media at the University of Miami on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Thursday:

One of the oddities of this Canes recruiting class: Never before this century has a UM recruiting class featured so few players from Miami-Dade County. And no UM class this century had fewer players combined from Miami, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Only four of UM’s 15 high-school signees attended high school in the tri-country area - which matches the smallest haul from South Florida for UM at any time this century. By contrast, the past five UM recruiting classes had 12, 8, 8, 11 and 12 players from Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. The caveat is this is UM’s smallest high school class in a decade.

But only one of UM’s signings - Miami Northwestern linebacker Sam Brooks – attended a Dade high school.

This wasn’t by design. UM wants the best players from South Florida. But several of the top ones this year wanted to leave South Florida for college or enroll at powerhouses Alabama, Georgia, Clemson or Ohio State – schools that have won a lot more than UM since these kids became teenagers. South Dade’s Frank Ladson, the top player in Miami-Dade County, told me in August how much he loved the idea of playing for Clemson, where he ended up.

So give the Canes credit for adapting. They maximized use of the transfer portal. They found two well-regarded defensive tackles in New York (Jason Blissett and Jarrett Hunte). They found a Houston quarterback (Peyton Matocha) who is widely believed to have been undervalued by recruiting analysts.

As we reported last week, the Canes privately have conveyed they aren’t going to waste time with kids they believe are playing them. So if there’s a top local player that appears disinterested in staying home for college, UM is going to move on quickly.

But the basic core recruiting philosophy remains the same.

“We’re trying to make sure we keep the best players in the state of Florida,” said new tight ends coach Stephen Field, who worked at UM in 2007 and 2008 and then had great success as a high school coach at North Marion High and director of recruiting at Oregon last year.

But Manny Diaz wants to maximize opportunities everywhere – from Las Vegas to the Northeast to Texas. UM coaches spoke Wednesday of broadening their reach in recruiting. This isn’t necessarily a new approach but it will be a notion that will be reinforced.

“The U brand is worldwide,” receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield said. “It’s our job to protect the brand.

“First and foremost we’re going to take care of our in-home cats. If we do that, we’ll be in pretty good shape. But we do know there’ll be certain positions where we need to go outside. We’ll compete with anybody to get somebody to come to the University of Miami.”

Field said UM has one advantage in recruiting it didn’t enjoy when he was here 11 years ago:

“The facilities are amazing, not even on the same level as before,” he said. “Now other schools can’t use it to negative recruit Miami.”

He said other schools can no longer say “look at” the dorms and facilities because now UM “has some of the best in the country. We’re starting to have facilities that can match other schools. Now we have the complete package here. And we have a tradition other schools can’t compete with.”

Now comes the hard part: UM must win to keep more of the top South Florida kids from bolting. But in a year when the Canes couldn’t keep the top kids home, credit them for adapting on the fly and turning what could have been a disaster into a class that has upgraded the roster at every position when factoring in transfers.

Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Ephraim Banda credited tight end Brevin Jordan for aiding in the recruiting of Tate Martell and Bubba Bolden, Jordan’s former high school teammates at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas.

“When Brevin is done playing, I will hire him as recruiting coordinator,” Banda cracked.

Jordan conveyed to UM coaches in December that “Bolden will come here if you really want him.”

UM is optimistic that Bolden - the former Southern Cal safety - will graduate in May and be eligible to play next season. The Canes confirmed he will have three years of eligibility.

“He’s got off-the-charts athleticism,” Diaz said. “He was a teammate of Tate Martell and Brevin Jordan. Bubba is one of those guys very early on that kind of jumped in the boat and got our momentum going. We talk about what we wanted to accomplish in recruiting and The New Miami. Bubba gets a lot of credit for seeing something in us and really deciding that Miami would be the place that he could finish his career and find great success.”

Replacing Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine will be difficult, but UM would feel good about a safety group of Bolden, Amari Carter, Gurvan Hall and Robert Knowles.

“I am as excited about this group as I’ve ever been,” Banda said. ”Rob Knowles blew us away in mat drills [Wednesday]. Blake Baker [the new defensive coordinator] said, ‘That guy goes so hard.’ We’ll be young.”

Spring practice will begin on March 19, and UM said there will be one scrimmage in Dade County that will be open to fans and media. (The date and time haven’t been determined.)

Because of a Rolling Stones concert at Hard Rock Stadium, the Canes continue to look for alternate options for the spring game, with Orlando still under consideration.

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos offered some insight into his offense on Wednesday, saying “one of our goals is we want to look complex and remain simple. That’s one of base principles of our offensive philosophy. To accomplish that, you have to do sometimes the same things. Having guys that are versatile is really important.”

Enos gave this example: “In 2015 at Arkansas, we had two tight ends, Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle [both now in the NFL]. Those guys [played and in] almost 60 percent of our snaps we were in [two-tight end] personnel. But we were so multiple that we were in four wide, we were in empty, we were in I-formation, with the same people on the field. So when you broke the huddle, the defense didn’t know what you were going to do other than the fact you did a lot of different things out of it.”

Enos believes having someone who can play H-back is “so critical, so important to make you versatile and multiple. From what I hear, we have some really good young tight ends. One or two of those guys will have to fit that role for us, as far as a guy that is going to be really smart, understand and play multiple positions and put him in a lot of different areas on the field and use him. We will find out who those guys are and use them. The more guys you have like that, the more multiple you can become.”

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Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.


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