Barry Jackson

A look at six new Canes football players who enrolled Monday and their potential roles

Manny Diaz introduces Miami Hurricanes football coaches

Miami Hurricanes head football coach Manny Diaz introduces some of his hyped-up coaches at The New Miami Spring Tour event at The Wharf on April 10, 2019.
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Miami Hurricanes head football coach Manny Diaz introduces some of his hyped-up coaches at The New Miami Spring Tour event at The Wharf on April 10, 2019.

Six new Hurricanes football players arrived on campus and began classes Monday, a group including a cornerback who could compete for early playing time and the first quarterback signed by this new regime.

The six newcomers who are now enrolled: cornerback Christian Williams, quarterback Peyton Matocha, linebacker Sam Brooks, center Jakai Clark, punter Louis Hedley and tight end Larry Hodges.

What UM is getting with each:

Williams, a four-star cornerback from Alabama, has a decent chance to crack the rotation as a freshman. He will be competing with D.J. Ivey, Al Blades Jr. and Nigel Bethel to start opposite Trajan Bandy, with Ivey having emerged from spring ball as the leader of that race.

Another incoming cornerback, Te’Cory Couch, had hoped to enroll this week but is expected to enroll for Summer Session II on June 30.

Williams was rated the 141st-best player in the 2019 class by Rivals, 160th by 247sports and 174th by ESPN. Williams, 6-1, had 52 tackles and eight interceptions as a senior.

He chose Miami over offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Michigan, Texas A&M and Oregon.

“Got to give the credit to Mike Rumph; did an amazing job finishing on Christian,” coach Manny Diaz said of UM’s cornerbacks coach. “We think Christian has unlimited potential in terms of the way he can factor into our defense. … Christian’s a highly competitive guy, he’s got great length, great ability to play the ball in the air, a great young man and a very intelligent football player.”

Among the limited group of quarterbacks who were still uncommitted when Dan Enos took over as UM offensive coordinator in January, Matocha quickly emerged as Enos’ top choice.

UM believes he was undervalued as a two-star prospect out of Houston.

“As I started to investigate him, the first thing I notice is he’s very athletic,” Enos said. “Has very good size. 6-3 plus, 190, 195 pounds. He is a 6-foot-9 high jumper. Here’s a guy who was not on the track team and came out the last part of the season and won the state championship in the high jump.

“He’s explosive, and that’s important about playing the position, a guy that has good flexibility and good athleticism. Has big hands, big guy. Very accurate, very smart, very tough. The coaches there speak volumes about him as a person. He brings a lot of characteristics we look for. He’s got all the intangible things.

“From development standpoint, I think we are going to be able to do a lot with him and help him develop as a passer. We didn’t want to sign a guy to sign a guy. We wanted to sign a guy we thought could come in here and develop into a championship quarterback. We feel that way about Peyton. Great upside.”

The likelihood is that Matocha will redshirt this season and be fourth on the depth chart behind Tate Martell, N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams (listed here in no particular order).

Brooks, a three-star recruit out of Miami Northwestern High, was a consensus three-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247 Sports and rated a top-50 outside linebacker in the country by 247 and Rivals.

Brooks — who had a 56-yard fumble return for a touchdown in a 22-0 victory over Seffner Armwood in the 2018 Class 6A state title game — chose UM over offers from Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Arkansas, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oregon, UCF and others.

Defensive coordinator Blake Baker intends to have Brooks play MIKE and freshman Avery Huff play WILL, at least initially this summer. He expects both to play immediately this fall. Huff is expected to enroll for Summer Session II.

“This kid is going to be a monster,” co-defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda said of Brooks after he signed in December. “He’s huge, broad shoulders, physical, can run, can tackle, comes from a great program. When this kid gets in our weight program, which we’ve proven what we can do, when he hits those weights, gets healthy and really strong he’s going to be a really good player for us.”

Hodges, out of Tampa Jesuit High in Tampa, was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN and a three-star prospect by Rivals and 247 Sports. ESPN listed him as the No. 3 H back nationally and the No. 48 player in Florida. Rivals ranked him as the No. 22 tight end in the country.

As a senior, he led Jesuit with 17 receptions for 278 yards and five touchdowns. He chose UM over Oklahoma, LSU, Texas, Virginia Tech, Kentucky and others.

“Larry can do so much,” South Carolina running backs coach Thomas Brown said days before he was dismissed as UM’s offensive coordinator. “He can be an inline tight end, can play off the ball, can move to H back but also flex out wide and do some stuff in the receiving game standpoint. Really good route-runner, really good ball skills. Tough dude.”

Enos’ offense uses a player in an H-back role at times. Hodges will try to beat out Brian Polendey for the No. 4 tight end job behind Brevin Jordan, Will Mallory and Michael Irvin Jr.

Clark, out of Grayson High in Loganville, Georgia, was a consensus three-star recruit by ESPN, Rivals and 247 Sports, and was ranked the No. 10 center in the country by ESPN.

He chose UM over Auburn, Illinois, Syracuse, West Virginia and others.

“Can play center or guard,” Brown said in December. “Very athletic guy, comes from a great program. He’s going to push for playing time.”

Corey Gaynor is the front-runner to start at center, and starting guard Navaughn Donaldson got playing time at center this spring when Gaynor was out. But Clark figures to compete with Tommy Kennedy for a reserve center role and also could emerge as a factor at guard at some point.

Hedley, the Australian punter via City College of San Francisco, replaces beleaguered Zach Feagles, who left the program. Jack Spicer will provide competition, but Hedley — barring something unforeseen — figures to be UM’s punter. He will have three years of eligibility at Miami.

The heavily tattooed Hedley is quite the character. He will likely be the oldest Cane on scholarship, at 25. Hedley spent eight years working as a scaffolder in the Australian desert before coming to the United States to go to college and try to make it as a punter. According to ESPN, he and his friends once bought a villa in Bali, where he bought a tattoo shop.

Hedley told ESPN Australia: “I wore #94 because of @TheRock. Hopefully he comes through Miami and I can say g’day, it’d be awesome to have a workout with the big fella.”

Dwayne Johnson, the famous actor and former UM defensive lineman, responded immediately on April 5: “Thanks for rockin’ my #94 @LouHedley. Look forward to that workout one day. In the meantime, welcome to the U, keep disrupting and always be the hardest worker in the [expletive] room.”

THIS AND THAT

Grad transfers Chigozie Nnoruka (the UCLA defensive tackle) and Trevon Hill (the Virginia Tech defensive tackle) had been expected to enroll this week and they still could this week. If not, they should be here for Summer Session II beginning June 30.

Both will be candidates to start this season.

Hill, incidentally, threw up the U while on stage at his Virginia Tech graduation ceremony last week.

Those expected to enroll for Summer Session II: Couch; defensive tackles Jalar Holley, Jason Blissett and Jared Hunte; offensive lineman Adam El Gammal; linebacker Huff; defensive end Cameron Williams; safety Keontre Smith and UCLA safety transfer Bubba Bolden.

UM will enter this week’s ACC baseball tournament ranked 14th in College Baseball’s top 25. The Canes, seeded fourth in the tournament, open at 3 p.m. Thursday against Virginia in Durham, North Carolina.

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