Third in a three-part series
A look at where UM stands with linebackers and defensive backs in 2020 recruiting:
▪ Linebacker: This is a need position, with Shaquille Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud entering their final year of eligibility, and UM unsure if any of the backups will be certain starters (though Bradley Jennings Jr. and Patrick Joyner Jr. certainly have a chance).
UM has four nonbinding commitments: Texas-based three-star Corey Flagg (Rivals’ No. 21 inside linebacker), Largo three-star prospect A.J. Mathis (the No. 31 outside linebacker), Georgia-based Romello Height and most recently, three-star New Jersey-based inside linebacker Tirek Austin-Cave, who committed on Thursday.
Flagg’s high school numbers are awfully impressive, including 144 tackles last season, 33 tackles for loss, five sacks and five forced fumbles. So are Austin-Cave’s numbers; last season, he had 162 total tackles, 13 1/2 tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and three passes defended while also contributing as a running back.
Both are fast and highly productive and, in UM’s estimation, better players that the star-system has given them credit for. Manny Diaz insisted at Paradise Camp that he pays no attention to how many stars a player is given by Rivals or 247 Sports, while adding he means no disrespect to either.
Recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said Mathis “has a lot to prove because he’s been hurt. He’s really, really good. He was always around the ball. May not be flashy, but he’s a playmaker. That’s what Manny Diaz likes.
“I watched Corey Flagg on film and he looks the part,” Blustein added “A friend told he he’s at a pretty good school [in Texas]. Moves around extremely well.”
Rivals rates Height the No. 49 outside linebacker in this class. He originally rated Kentucky ahead of UM, but that changed when he committed to Miami on Miami. Height also can play defensive end.
And keep in mind that former UCLA defensive end/outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips, the No. 1 recruit in the country in 2017 at any position, is expected to play in 2020 after using this season to get fully healthy from a neck injury.
Targets: The pie-in-the-sky targets are three West Coast-based linebackers: Five-star California based Justin Flowe (Rivals’ No. 2 overall player in the nation; Miami likely would need to win big this season to improve its chances), Washington-based five star Sav’ell Smalls (the No. 7 player in the nation) and California-based four-star Kourt Williams (the No. 100 overall prospect). It would be a surprise if the Canes can land any, but they’re trying.
More realistic targets include Georgia-based three star Choe Bryant-Strother (No. 23 inside linebacker; UM is in his top 10). Also, Miami has been pushing hard for three-star Hollywood McArthur linebacker Ruben Hyppolite, a soft Maryland commit who said he’s considering UM. Rivals rates him the No. 25 inside linebacker in this class. St. Thomas Aquinas three-star linebacker Andy Garcia has been awaiting a Canes offer and likely would commit if offered.
Even with four commitments, UM could still add one or two more at a high priority position.
▪ Cornerbacks: The Canes – who have only six on scholarship but no seniors among them - want to add three or four.
UM has nonbinding commitments from South Dade High’s four-star Jaiden Francois (Rivals’ No. 24 cornerback) and Louisiana-based three-star Daran Branch (the No. 43 cornerback).
Blustein said Francois “is a big-time player, a ball-hawk. Long arms. He will come up with picks, will be a Sheldrick Redwine-type of guy. He will be in the mix to play early.”
Targets: That group includes four-star Texas-based four-star cornerback Christian Gonzalez (the No. 25 cornerback for 2020 says he will consider UM), Winter Park three-star Marcus Clarke (has said UM is high on his list; can also play receiver), Kansas-based junior college cornerback Brian George (enjoyed Paradise camp), Winter Park four-star cornerback Ethan Pouncey and Lakeland-based three-star Kendall Dennis. UM is competing with the Gators and many others for George and Pouncey.
▪ Safeties: UM has nonbinding commitments from South Dade High’s four-star Keshawn Washington and Davie Western High’s three-star Justin Hodges. Washington decommitted in December but recommitted in March.
Blustein said Washington, who’s rated by Rivals as the No. 9 safety in the 2020 class, “has good size. Played at a high level against decent teams and always stood out. The thing about Hodges is he’s really athletic; you can play him at any position you want. Hodges will be a cover guy; Washington is a little bit of a thumper. But during seven on sevens, Washington’s cover skills were really improved.”
Targets: UM lost out on Tennessee-based four star Keshawn Lawrence (Corn Elder’s cousin; he committed to Tennessee) but likely will keep pursuing him and four-star Houston based Bryson Washington (the No. 8 safety; Texas, Oklahoma are his top two).
UM remains in pursuit of four-star Deland-based Avantae Williams, an Oregon commit who is Lorenzo Lingard’s cousin. He’s rated the nation’s No. 1 safety and attended Paradise Camp but was non-committal afterward about UM’s chances, even while noting he learned a lot from the experience.
UM also has offered, among others, Miramar safety Brian Balom (Louisville leading, but Miami is close) and Georgia-based three star safety Doneiko Slaughter, who committed to Arizona State last week but enjoyed UM’s Paradise Camp and still plans to take visits.