Cory Mccartney
Thursday February 14th, 2008

Little went right for Miami in its first year under Randy Shannon.

There was the 51-13 loss at to Oklahoma, the program's most lopsided defeat in nine seasons. Then there was the Hurricanes' last game at the Orange Bowl -- where they won three of their five national championships and once held a 58-game winning streak -- when they suffered their worst shutout loss in 71 years in the stadium, 48-0 to Virginia.

Shannon finished his debut season at 5-7 (2-6 in the ACC), which left Miami out of a bowl game for the first time in a decade. The defense, which Shannon had overseen for the previous six seasons, gave up more points (312) than any Hurricanes unit since 1984.

So of course, it should only stand to reason that a season full of frustrations ends with a recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 by ESPN, third by and fourth by Much like Notre Dame, which was second in Rivals' rankings after going 3-9, the Hurricanes were able to overcome a historically woeful campaign by cleaning up on the recruiting trail.

"If you're 5-7 and you can get some good student-athletes, some good football players to come here, you're doing pretty good," Shannon said.

The 33-player class includes the nation's top-ranked defensive tackle, Marcus Forston from Miami Northwestern, and three of the top-five outside linebackers, led by Arthur Brown, who is already enrolled in school and will participate in spring practice.

Shannon credits the impressive haul to the staff focusing on the type of players "that have a lot of passion for the game, a lot of passion for the team and a lot of passion for the University of Miami." But he might as well say it was a dedication to dominating his own backyard.

When Shannon took over for Larry Coker, the Dade County native made it clear that the Hurricanes would be zeroing in on the fertile South Florida area that delivered many of the key players during the heyday for "The U." He made some headway with last year's 19th-ranked group, which included 10 local players, but he made a statement this Signing Day. The Hurricanes signed 19 players from the area, with eight of them coming from Miami's Northwestern High, which has gone 30-0 the past two seasons.

As much as having two of the game's top recruiters in recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Clint Hurtt and linebackers coach Micheal Barrow aided in the 'Canes' class, Shannon was quick to praise his unheralded weapon in selling prospective players: Miami president Donna Shalala.

"She talked to every student-athlete that came in on his visit and she was basically one of our top recruiters because she sold the school and sold the goals of what this university is all about," Shannon said.

There's no denying that the community approach to recruiting resulted in a class Hurricanes fans will point to as tangible proof that, while the Miami brand name may have lost some of its luster after its two worst seasons since 1997, Miami remains a heavyweight.

While this class does appear to signal a bright future and speaks to the widespread reach of the program -- especially the signing of Brown, a five-star prospect out of Wichita, Kan., who chose the Hurricanes over the likes of Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and USC -- Shannon sees it as a testament to recruits buying into what he and his staff are building.

"I think it was more of the kid that we're recruiting understanding what we're trying to get done at the University of Miami and they see that our coaching staff and program is going in the right direction," Shannon said.

Prestige and upward trajectory are all well and good, but the biggest thing that Shannon had to offer recruits after going 5-7 was immediate playing time.

After ranking 110th in total offense and 33rd in total defense last season (one year after finishing seventh in the same category), Miami loses 14 starters, including seven on defense. Shannon says they sold the program as a chance at "coming in and competing for playing time and restoring what we've got done at Miami."

Shannon knows about what it takes to restore that luster at Miami because he's seen it before. He was linebackers coach in 1997 when Hurricanes went 5-6, after which they brought in a recruiting class that included Dan Morgan, Santana Moss, Ed Reed and Reggie Wayne, a talent pool that eventually led to a fifth national title in 2001.

But at least for now, Shannon's not prepared to dwell too much on the perceived ranking of the newest group of Hurricanes or their chances of ushering in a rebirth, a la that '97 class. It's not like Miami hasn't been disappointed by would-be stars in the past. The 2004 class was also ranked fourth by but the group didn't live up to its billing. Also, Kyle Wright, who came to the 'Canes as Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 2003, finished a largely underwhelming career last fall.

"The only thing that we've discussed about this class is the eager players that we've got to come to the University of Miami and that's the only thing that matters," Shannon said. "Now we have to coach them up and get them better for the upcoming season."

That preparation begins in less than two weeks, with spring practice starting Feb. 26. The 'Canes enter the spring without either of the two quarterbacks they used last season and the perceived frontrunner for the job, redshirt freshman Robert Marve, missed '07 due to injuries sustained in a car accident. Last season -- offensive coordinator Patrick Nix's first on the job -- Miami finished second-to-last in the ACC in scoring and total offense. Marve will need to step up in a hurry if this group hopes to improve on those marks. But Marve could get a push from incoming freshman Jacoby Harris, one of those homegrown Northwestern signees who threw for more than 3,500 yards and 35 TDs as a senior.

Shannon took action after the defense's mammoth decline in '07, firing coordinator Tim Walton. "It was just time for a change," Shannon said. Bill Young is taking over after spending the last five years at the controls of Kansas' defense. He'll have to make up for the loss of the unit's two best players, defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Kenny Phillips, who both left early for the NFL.

Miami looks to restore its place in the college football pecking order and it all begins with a group of players willing to buy into the Shannon way.

"This is the foundation with this recruiting class," Shannon said, "and once you set the foundation, good things happen after that."

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