NCF On The Trail: Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Quarterbacks are committing earlier and earlier in the recruiting process. With 15 of the 27 signal-callers in the ESPN Junior 300 already having given verbal pledges, there is increased pressure to get a top quarterback in the fold early. Five programs are ahead of the curve headed into the spring evaluation period.

In June, Miami was rolling on the recruiting trail. The Canes had the No. 10 class in the country, with commitments from five ESPN 300 players.

But in the months that followed, Miami suffered one decommitment after another, with 11 coming between mid-August and signing day. In the end, Miami ended up with the No. 23 class in the country and six ESPN 300 prospects. But of the ESPN 300 players pledged to the Canes in June, only one signed: linebacker Charles Perry. The falloff led ESPN RecruitingNation reporter Gerry Hamilton to tab Miami the biggest disappointment in the ACC.

Why? Hamilton writes:
"While Miami finished No. 23, including getting area running back Mark Walton and a pair of talented ESPN 300 offensive linemen, the class ended with a whimper after a promising start. Only two of the 11 targeted prospects in the ESPN 300 from Dade and Broward counties ended up signing with the Hurricanes, the same number that inked with Alabama, Florida State, Florida and Texas."

Ouch. In all, Miami signed 20 players -- only seven came from the South Florida area.

Losing big in South Florida simply cannot happen for the flagship program in the area. Not when it built its reputation and tradition with players in the area. Al Golden had an explanation waiting when reporters asked him on signing day about why there were not as many South Florida kids in the class. He said the numbers were misleading because Miami had to go after offensive linemen, and the best linemen were outside the area.

As for the rash of decommits, Golden was not as specific, saying, "It's a variety reasons, and they're individually based. It's tough to just sit up here and paint a brush and say why it happened."

Miami has moved on, of course. But what happened in this recruiting cycle could be instructive moving forward. Miami has gotten a terrific jump on the class of 2016, with eight commitments already from the ESPN Junior 300. That's more than Florida State and Clemson combined. Six of those players are from the South Florida area. But there is nearly one year to go before the next signing day so the logical question to ask is this: Will Miami be able to hold onto these players?

There remains so much uncertainty in Coral Gables. Miami went an unacceptable 6-7 a year ago, raising the negativity surrounding the program. Some believe Golden is on the hot seat because his teams have produced mostly mediocre results. If Miami stumbles again, how many of the guys who have given a verbal pledge will stick around? Recruits are so fickle. Committing, decommitting, flipping and flopping have become the norm.

The commitments in the fold for 2016 are only a start. But the staff knows it must continue to work on keeping these guys in the fold, while bringing in its best class yet. Nobody will have any answers about the 2016 group until next February.

Top Miami decommits for 2015 class and where they ended up:

RB Jordan Scarlett, ESPN 300, Florida
RB Dexter Williams, ESPN 300, Notre Dame
WR Terrell Chatman, ESPN 300, Arizona State
QB Dwayne Lawson, ESPN 300, Virginia Tech
TE Bowman Archibald, ESPN 300, Wake Forest
WR Emonee Spence 4 star, Louisville
RB Jordan Cronkrite 4 star, Florida
OT Kevin Feder, 3 star, Ohio State
WR Therrell Gosier, 3 star, Kentucky
OL Geron Christian, 3 star, Louisville
LB Claude George, 3 star, Texas A&M
OL Leeward Brown, 3 star, Tulane
It’s been seven years since a team other than Florida State or Clemson won the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and after the Seminoles and Tigers each signed a top-five recruiting class this year, the balance of power doesn’t appear poised to shift any time soon.

That might be a problem for the ACC overall. With FSU and Clemson jockeying for command of a conference that has struggled to keep up appearances compared with the neighboring SEC, consolidating power at the top while the rest of the league picks up the scraps might not be the best way to convince the public -- or future playoff committees -- that there is more to the ACC than its top two teams.

But what if a great rivalry at the top also means a boon for the teams farther down the ladder? Consider it trickle-down economics for the college football set.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson coach Dabo Swinney, left, and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher lead elite programs that are forcing the rest of the ACC to keep pace.
The last time the ACC signed two top-five classes was in 2008, back when the playoff was a pipe dream, conference realignment was but a whisper, and Deshaun Watson was in the seventh grade. Miami and Clemson put together the nation’s two best signing classes, but neither program saw immediate dividends. An NCAA investigation unmoored any hope the Hurricanes could return to national prominence, and Clemson parted ways with its head coach just eight months after he signed the country’s No. 2 class.

At the same time, the balance of power was shifting in the SEC. Alabama had hired Nick Saban the year before, and by the end of 2008, the Crimson Tide were back in the national spotlight. Auburn, meanwhile, finished 5-7, and the gauntlet was thrown.

Over the next few years, the longtime rivals traded blows -- on the recruiting trail, on the fund-raising circuit, and on the field. The SEC was already the nation’s preeminent conference, but investment in maintaining that success grew exponentially. Alabama and Auburn paced the growth, but if Georgia and Tennessee and LSU and Florida wanted to keep pace, they had to go all-in, too. Cut-throat coaching changes, major renovations in facilities, bloody recruiting battles, huge pay raises for assistant coaches -- these became the norm. It was an arms race, and the two teams at the top set the pace.

The same groundwork isn’t there for the ACC just yet, but what Florida State and Clemson are doing could set a similar precedent. Just look at what’s happened in the past few months.

NC State had its best signing day in years.

Virginia Tech signed a solid class in spite of hot-seat rumors for head coach Frank Beamer. That group joins an already outstanding group of rising freshmen in Blacksburg.

Duke signed its best class under David Cutcliffe, too, while renovations to the stadium are ongoing.

North Carolina is still fending off its own NCAA black cloud, but to fix its disastrous defense, it brought in the same coach who engineered Auburn’s national title in 2010.

Overall last week, the ACC had six teams finish in the top 30 in ESPN’s recruiting rankings (the most by any conference other than the SEC), had 12 in the top 50, and saw Louisville, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest all jump at least 13 spots from the previous year’s rankings.

Meanwhile, FSU and Clemson keep chugging along, raising the bar again and again. The Seminoles will send more players to the NFL combine this year than any other program in the nation. Clemson just announced a $75 million investment in upgrading its athletics facilities. These two programs push the goal line a little further down the field, and everyone else is forced to keep pace.

That is not to suggest the ACC is poised to change perceptions on the national level just yet. The league signed 47 members of the ESPN 300 this year, which would sound pretty nice if the SEC hadn’t nabbed 116. Those six ACC programs that finished among the top 30 signing classes still represent just half of the SEC’s tally. North Carolina and Miami still must escape NCAA purgatory and build consistent winners, Virginia Tech must capitalize on its young talent to salvage Beamer’s job, and the young coaches at NC State and Wake Forest need to prove they can develop the talent they’re bringing in.

But there is a standard being set at the top, with Florida State and Clemson upping the ante in recruiting, player development and financial investment in their programs, and that’s good for everyone. It’s not Auburn-Alabama yet, and it probably never will be, but it’s a spotlight on a conference that has long coveted a bigger stage, and it’s a pace-setter for the second tier of the league that now needs to run a bit faster just to keep up.
"Signing day delivers usual intrigue and drama"

The headline that capped the madcap fun that is the first Wednesday of every February did not apply to the ACC this year.

That had to be a relief to coaches across the league.

While No. 1-rated ESPN 300 prospect Byron Cowart dawdled between Auburn and Florida, the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 each withstood their share of nationally televised signing day announcements, flips and flops.

In ACC country, nobody had to wait on a hat choice. Clemson finished up its No. 4 class by mid-morning with nary a surprise. Of course, it helps that 15 of its freshmen had already enrolled, including five-star offensive lineman Mitch Hyatt.

Florida State did not have to wait on pins and needles for wavering recruits, either. The Noles had eight early enrollees themselves, including elite players Josh Sweat, George Campbell and Derwin James.

As FSU reporter Jared Shanker wrote:
"A program once known for its signing-day surges had no surprises as all 20 commitments faxed their letters of intent by mid-morning. Even the signing-day addition of ESPN 300 safety Marcus Lewis was mostly expected, capping the nation’s No. 2 class at 21 signees."

The same went for Virginia Tech, which had nearly its entire Top 25 class ready to sign for weeks. The Hokies had seven early enrollees, but several commits withstood late offers -- including tackle Mike Arnold -- to hold firm.

"We had one guy make a decision to join our class in the last two weeks,” Virginia Tech recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “The rest of them have been committed. We held on to this class, and I think we're really proud of that."

It was an unusual feeling, considering every coach is prepared for the twists and turns that come with 18-year-olds making big decisions about their future.

“You have those signing day moments every year,” Stinespring said. “That's what you expect. You hope they're to a minimum. This is one we really felt good throughout with this class. I like for it to always be that way, but we know it's probably not going to go that way often.”

Louisville may have provided the most drama not only on Wednesday but in the days leading up to signing day: first offering troubled defensive end Devonte Fields, then coming under scrutiny for asking long-committed back Matt Colburn to grayshirt.

On signing day itself, Louisville held on to commitments from defensive end G.G. Robinson and quarterback Lamar Jackson after late pushes from SEC schools (Auburn for Robinson; Florida for Jackson). The Cards lost just one player, defensive end Sheldrick Redwine flipped to Miami.

Still, Louisville finished with the No. 30 class in the ESPN RecruitingNation rankings, as 12 ACC teams finished in the top 50.
  • No. 2 Florida State
  • No. 4 Clemson
  • No. 23 Miami
  • No. 24 North Carolina
  • No. 25 Virginia Tech
  • No. 30 Louisville
  • No. 33 NC State
  • No. 41 Georgia Tech
  • No. 42 Wake Forest
  • No. 45 Duke
  • No. 46 Virginia
  • No. 48 Pittsburgh

"It's a celebration," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after announcing his class Wednesday. "And no drama. That’s the way it ought to be.”

Completed class: Miami Hurricanes

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
Miami-FL has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
Tyree St. Louis OT -- IMG Academy, Florida
Mark Walton RB -- Booker T. Washington High School, Florida
Kendrick Norton OG -- Trinity Christian Academy, Florida
Jaquan Johnson ATH -- Miami Killian High School, Florida
Bar Milo OT -- Chaminade College Prep, California
Charles Perry OLB -- Royal Palm Beach High School, Florida

Jerome Washington TE-Y -- Mercer County Community College, New Jersey

Robert Knowles S -- Miami Edison Senior High School, Florida
Lawrence Cager WR -- Calvert Hall College High School, Maryland
Scott Patchan DE -- IMG Academy, Florida

Jamie Gordinier OLB -- Red Bank Catholic High, New Jersey
Ryan Fines DT -- IMG Academy, Florida
Jahair Jones OT -- ASA College, Maryland
Hayden Mahoney OT -- Malvern Prep, Pennsylvania
Richard McIntosh DE -- Cardinal Gibbons High School, Florida
Brendan Loftus OT -- Godby High School, Florida
Sheldrick Redwine S -- Miami Killian High School, Florida
Tyler Gauthier OG -- Venice High School, Florida
Michael Jackson CB -- Spain Park High School, Alabama
James King OLB -- Booker T. Washington High School, Florida
If there is one program that is off to the fastest start in the 2016 class, it's the Miami (FL) Hurricanes. Al Golden and staff had five ESPN Jr 300 commitments headed into Jan. 25's Junior Day, and have added to that number with the verbals by safety Cedrick Wright and defensive end Joseph Jackson.

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Four schools remain in the mix for ESPN 300 defensive tackle Rasheem Green. Arizona State, Miami, Oregon and USC will battle all the way until signing day for the nation's No. 41 prospect. With two weeks to go and one visit left, things are heating up for the big lineman.

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ESPN 300 receiver Van Jefferson is no longer committed to Georgia and the news was definitely disappointing for the Dawgs. So who’s in the driver’s seat now for the one of the best receivers in the country?

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With 30 days to national signing day, there are still plenty of headlines left to be made in the 2015 class. One of the biggest will be how Jim Harbaugh does in recruiting’s home stretch.

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UA practice notebook: Day 2 

December, 30, 2014

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Day 2 of the Under Armour All-America game practices was overcast and rainy, but the dreary weather didn't stop Team Armour and Team Highlight from having an exciting practice.

The two teams had a spirited first day of practice, however, two offensive linemen, Keenan Walker and Lester Cotton, suffered injuries and won't be able to play in the game on Friday. With the shortage of bodies along the offensive line, ESPN 300 offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis was asked to drive up from IMG Academy in Bradenton to fill in.

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Recruit and return: Miami Hurricanes 

December, 27, 2014
In most seasons, Miami’s top-20 recruiting class would be generating a lot of headlines, but with the success Florida State has had and with Florida under a new coach, it seems like a lot of folks have forgotten about the Hurricanes. They shouldn’t. Miami’s class ranks as one of the best in the ACC and is full of offensive difference-makers.

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Torrance Gibson, Nick Bosa win state titles 

December, 13, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage defeated Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby 38-0 and Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas defeated Kissimmee (Fla.) Osceola 31-0 in the FHSAA class 5A and 7A state championship games on Friday. The games featured several prospects in the ESPN 300 and ESPN Junior 300, including five-star athlete Torrance Gibson and the 18th-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, Nick Bosa.

Snelson opens recruitment

The 25th-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, Dredrick Snelson, recently backed off his commitment to Miami. The 6-foot, 192 pound wide receiver said he felt he made a decision too soon in the recruiting process.

"I just felt like I did it too early," Snelson said. "I just want to do what’s best for me and give everyone an opportunity."

After opening things back up, Snelson said there are five schools he is now focusing on -- Florida, Florida State, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. He has no time frame for when he would like to make a decision.

Gibson likes what he sees from Ohio State quarterbacks

Five-star athlete and Ohio State commitment Gibson took notice when Ohio State’s third-string quarterback Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 win against Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship game last Saturday. The 13th-ranked player in the ESPN 300 said he is excited about how Ohio State has developed their quarterbacks this season.

"It excites me a lot," Gibson said. "They were down to their third-string quarterback, and look what Tom Herman did with him. 59-0, that’s very impressive."

Now that Ohio State is in the inaugural football playoff and will take on Alabama in the opening round, Gibson said he will be watching the game closely.

"It’s going to be a great, close game," he said. "Urban Meyer and Tom Herman, they believe in their system. It’s going to be a good game and I’m going to keep my eye on that game."

Bosa names a leader

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Mark Walton now part of 2015 ESPN 300 

December, 12, 2014
Headed into the 2014 season, running back Mark Walton had hopes of reclassifying from a 2016 to 2015 recruit.

In November, that became a reality when the Miami (Florida) verbal commit saw the returns from the extra classes he took over the summer combined with a heavy course load this fall.

Once Walton knew where he stood regarding core classes, with a core GPA and knowing he would have the cores needed to graduate a year early, he needed only to match the SAT or ACT on the sliding scale, and he would be set to graduate in June as a member of the 2015 class.

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Three reasons why Miami disappointed 

December, 12, 2014
On the recruiting trail, Miami overcame lingering uncertainty of NCAA sanctions and the loss of some scholarships to sign four top-15 classes over the past five cycles. Yet even with Duke Johnson, one of the nation’s most electric playmakers, Miami finished 6-6 and behind programs like Georgia Tech and Duke in the ACC Coastal Division. While head coach Al Golden deserves credit for navigating the Canes through rough seas, the Canes and their fan base are still hungry for a return to the glory days of The U.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian defeated Delray Beach (Fla.) American Heritage 27-7 in the FHSAA class 3A state championship game on Saturday afternoon. Trinity features five players in the ESPN 300 and nine prospects who are committed to FBS schools. Here is a look at the latest recruiting updates for a few of Trinity’s top players.

Kevin Toliver II remains firm in his commitment

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