Barry Jackson

After UM’s worst local recruiting cycle this century, Canes making waves under Diaz

Belen athlete Don Chaney, Jr. at Media Day

Belen sophomore Don Chaney, Jr. talks Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, about the upcoming season and that the University of Miami is his front runner among college choices.
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Belen sophomore Don Chaney, Jr. talks Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, about the upcoming season and that the University of Miami is his front runner among college choices.

One of the reasons Manny Diaz overhauled his recruiting department when he took over as UM’s coach in January was dissatisfaction with the team’s efforts in South Florida in recent cycles.

Only four of UM’s 15 signees in this past recruiting cycle attended high school in Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties — the Canes’ smallest haul from South Florida since 2000. But only one of those signings - Miami Northwestern linebacker Sam Brooks – attended a Dade high school.

What’s more, UM hasn’t snagged the best prep player from Broward County since Tracy Howard committed in 2012.

So Diaz said he has made a point to have one of his assistants travel to ever high school in all three counties in recent weeks.

And the early returns for 2020 are generally encouraging, with a lot more work to do. Some points to consider:

Of the nine players from Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties listed among Rivals’ 150 top prospects for 2020, UM has nonbinding commits from four of them. Four are uncommitted and one (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Derek Wingo, who is rated 143rd by Rivals) is committed to Penn State.

The four local UM commits from the Rivals top 150: Palm Beach Central receiver Bryan Robinson (77th), Miami Belen running back Don Chaney (89th), Carol City defensive end Samuel Anaele (102) and Homestead South Dade safety Keshawn Washington (131).

But the Washington commitment seems a bit flimsy. He told warchant.com last month that he and FSU’s coaches have been in contact throughout the spring, and his visit to Tallahassee for the spring game reinforced his interest.

“I loved everything on the visit and how much they want me,” Washington said. “They are my top school right now. I have always liked FSU as a young kid. Everything matched in what I was looking for in them.”

The top uncommitted local prospect, Aquinas receiver Marcus Rosemy, has been considering UM, UF, Georgia and Ohio State, among others. He’s rated 47th overall by Rivals. (St. Thomas’ No. 2 receiver last year, Xavier Restrepo, committed to UM on Wednesday. He has since transferred to Deerfield Beach.)

The No. 2 uncommitted South Florida prospect on the Rivals list, Carol City receiver Marc Britt, decommitted from UM last December but still has Miami in his top six. He’s 93rd on the Rivals list.

The No. 3 best uncommitted South Florida prospect, based on Rivals’ rankings, is Deerfield Beach’s Jaylon Knighton, rated the No. 5 all-purpose back for 2020 and the 140th best player in the country.

A previous Oklahoma commit, Knighton is said to be considering four schools: UM, FSU, Clemson and Ohio State.

The No. 4 best uncommitted local prospect, based on Rivals’ rankings: Miami Central cornerback Henry Gray, the 145th-best overall prospect and No. 15 cornerback.

Gray previously decommitted from Miami and is now considering Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Texas A&M and Alabama.

So he’s one on this list who appears out of reach for Miami.

Wingo stands as the only South Florida-based Rivals top 150 recruit for 2020 who is uncommitted or not committed to Miami.

But Wingo — rated the 143rd-best prospect overall and fourth-best inside linebacker — told Canesport in March that he’s speaking with Diaz and other UM officials “pretty much on a daily basis.”

But even if Wingo decommits from Penn State — and there’s no indication he will — UM would face competition from FSU, UF (“I love Florida” he told Rivals), Ohio State and Michigan.

UM has had some success with Aquinas kids through the years but not nearly enough to anyone’s satisfaction at Miami (though the odds were always stacked against them against Ohio State in their pursuit of a generation of Bosas.)

So those are the nine players from the tri-county area among Rivals’ top 150 for the 2020 class.

Among the Miami-Dade/Broward/Palm Beach players listed from 151 to 250 on the Rivals’ top 250 prospect list for 2020, one is a UM commit (Homestead cornerback Jaiden Francois), one is an FSU commit (Central cornerback Jalen Harrell) and one is an Alabama commit (Carol City receiver Thaiu Jones Bell), while four others are uncommitted.

Some chatter on those:

Francois, rated the 238th-best player and the 21st cornerback, committed to UM on Feb. 4, told Canesport last month that he’s “100 percent right now” with Miami, but that “I’m still taking visits. So far I’ve only seen Florida.” Miami hopes to hold onto him.

As late as late March, Central cornerback Harrell called Miami his front-runner. But he surprisingly committed to FSU on April 20 after visiting there.

Harrell, rated 153rd overall on Rivals’ top 250 and the 17th-best cornerback, told Warnchant.com: “Oh man, I was blown away [by FSU]. I mean, it was everything that stood out. I can’t even describe it. I loved it.”

Harrell is the only FSU commit from the 16 Miami-Dade/Broward/Palm Beach players in the Rivals top 250. (UF has none of the 16 committed.)

Alabama has only one commit among Rivals’ top 16 players from Miami-Dade/Broward/Palm Beach: Jones Bell, rated the No. 239 player overall and 44th receiver.

Bell, who committed to the Crimson Tide on Monday, said in January that Penn State was his leader and UM No. 2. But not even friendly lobbying from Canes players Mark Pope, Cam Harris and Brian Hightower could persuade him to bypass Bama for Miami.

Among the four uncommitted South Florida players between 151 and 250 on the Rivals list: Marcus Dumervil, the 6-6, 300-pound offensive tackle from Aquinas, remains a high priority for UM. Dumervil, rated 165th overall and the 19th-best offensive tackle, reportedly enjoyed his visits to Auburn and Oklahoma and has been noncommittal about any interest in UM, beyond saying the Canes are one of many schools on his radar. Alabama and Georgia also are pushing for him…..

Deerfield Beach’s Aydin Hennigham (182nd overall, 36th receiver) doesn’t even have an offer from UM, according to Rivals. He told Rivals that more players from Florida are leaving the state for college because “they want to experience other cities and different environments.”…

Jonathan Denis, the South Dade High guard, remains a high UM priority even though he previously decommitted from Miami. Rated 206th on Rivals list and sixth among guards, Denis said in February that he was tempted to recommit to UM but wants to be absolutely sure this time. He also has been considering Oregon, FSU, Penn State, LSU and Mississippi State.

Asked last month by Warchant.com whether UM is his favorite, he said: “FSU is up there pretty high. I wouldn’t say they [UM and FSU] are even, because FSU could be a little higher. I just don’t know yet. That’s why I want to take all my visits and figure it out for sure. I want to give every school a chance.”…

Aquinas defensive end Davon Betty, rated 219th overall in the Rivals 250 and eighth among weak-side defensive ends, has a UM offer but told Canesport in March that UM wasn’t recruiting him hard, which diminished his interest. Kentucky and Michigan have pursued him hard, but there’s the sense that UM has a good chance if it intensifies its pursuit of him.

There are other local priority players for UM who fall outside the Rivals 250, including Miami Norland four-star offensive tackle Issiah Walker, a South Carolina nonbinding commit who has said openly that he’s still considering UM, LSU and Penn State.

Asked by former UM and NFL standout offensive lineman and Jacksonville radio host Leon Searcy about keeping the best South Florida high school players at UM for college, Diaz said: “I’m sure every coach since coach [Howard] Schnellenberger has tried to do the same thing. It’s a lot harder to keep a kid a secret. There is so much more information out. That is still our emphasis. We made sure in this recruiting period [that we] have a coach on our staff in every school” in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.

Speaking to a Jacksonville radio audience, Diaz said: “We are covering Duval [County as well]. We got great kids from Jacksonville area and we consider this part of the state of Miami as well.”

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