Miami and new coach Mark Richt are off to a hot start with their 2017 recruiting class, but will the success continue?
Miami hit rock bottom on Oct. 24, 2015. Clemson crushed the Hurricanes 58–0 in their own stadium, a loss that expunged any remaining optimism that the Al Golden era could be extended beyond ’15. Accordingly, Golden was fired the next day, and aside from a controversial win over Duke involving an eight-lateral touchdown, Miami retreated from the national conversation. The uncertainty that hovered over the Hurricanes while under the charge of interim coach Larry Scott bore a destructive potential every program looking for a fresh start hopes to mitigate: How could Miami compile a decent recruiting class?
Hiring one of the best candidates available in a robust coaching market—former Georgia head man Mark Richt—was a good start. Then Richt went to work bolstering the Hurricanes’ 2016 haul. He added 10 players, including four-star wide receiver Ahmmon Richards, who had previously decommitted from Miami the day after that embarrassing loss to the Tigers. Another one of the nation’s top wideouts, Sam Bruce, reaffirmed his pledge to the Hurricanes in late January amid speculation that he would flip to Ohio State.
Richt did solid work in a narrow window, but how will he fare over his first full recruiting cycle in Miami? The early answer to that question: pretty good. A recent rash of commitments—five since the beginning of March—has pushed the Hurricanes to No. 5 in Scout.com’s national team rankings. Miami counts pledges from 14 players, the most in the country, according to Scout.com. Its class includes one of the nation’s most highly regarded defensive tackles (Jonathan Ford), offensive tackles (Navaughn Donaldson) and athletes (Christopher Henderson), as well as two talented quarterbacks in four-star N’Kosi Perry and three-star Cade Weldon (whose father, Casey, the 1991 Heisman Trophy runner-up, was coached by Richt at Florida State).
The recruiting surge has injected some positivity into a program that spent last off-season dealing with hot-seat talk while reeling from a four-game losing streak to close 2014. And Miami, thanks to its location, is uniquely positioned to leverage that positivity into major gains on the recruiting trail. It’s no secret South Florida is crawling with elite talent, and the Hurricanes have shown they can pull high-level prospects from other locales, too: Denton Guyer (Texas) High’s Brian Polendey, a three-star tight end with reported scholarship offers from Michigan, Arkansas and Nebraska, among other programs, committed to Miami on March 21.
One recruit, Kevaughn Dingle, a three-star wide receiver who pledged to the Hurricanes two days earlier, is so bullish on Miami’s future that he recently said, according to The Palm Beach Post, “I see them winning championships. There’s going to be a change. It’s going to be like the old ‘U’—they’re bringing it back.”
It’s no surprise to hear a recruit express optimism about the program to which he’s committed, but let’s slow down before projecting greatness for Miami under Richt. For one, the Hurricanes’ recruiting class ranking is built more on quantity than quality. Miami’s average star rating of 3.29 checks in well below the four teams above it in the class rankings: No. 4 Notre Dame (3.78), No. 3 Clemson (3.89), No. 2 Oklahoma (3.91) and No. 1 Ohio State (4.00). Plus, the player rankings upon which these class rankings are built will change between now and early next year. These prospects are months away from even starting their senior seasons of high school.
Another reason to question Miami’s recruiting success is that it could be a result of a phenomenon from which many new coaches benefit: an early boost caused by, among other things, the ability to sell a future that’s brighter than what the program experienced in the previous regime. USA Today’s Paul Myerberg found in September 2013 that the “rating of a new coaching staff's first class exceeded that of the previous staff's final class” in almost 70% of 79 examined coaching changes.
Setting aside the “new car smell” element to Richt’s pitch, Miami fans need look no further than last year for evidence to doubt whether the Hurricanes can keep this going. According to the blog State of The U, 25 players in the class of 2016 who originally committed to Miami later parted ways with the Hurricanes. Corey Bender, a Scout.com recruiting analyst covering the state of Florida, mentioned the likelihood of some “turnover” in Miami’s ’17 class because of the nearby presence of high-profile programs such as Florida and Florida State. “I know a lot of these schools tell Miami kids, ‘Well, look at our stadium. We fill up every game,’” Bender says. However, he adds one thing that could help the Hurricanes as they try to keep their committed ’17 prospects on board is that there are “a lot of guys that are diehard Miami fans in this class, a lot of local kids.”
What definitely won’t help Miami is if it struggles on the field this season. The Hurricanes bring back one of the nation’s most talented quarterbacks in junior Brad Kaaya, but they’re rated behind two other ACC Coastal programs (North Carolina and Pittsburgh) in SB Nation writer Bill Connelly’s initial S&P projections. They also face challenging games against College Football Playoff contender Florida State (No. 5 in S&P) from the Atlantic Division as well as independent Notre Dame (No. 11). If Miami flops and other programs like the Seminoles and Gators ramp up their pursuits of the Hurricanes’ commits, Richt’s first full class could crumble leading into Signing Day.
Regardless, this is a promising start and certainly preferable to the alternative of Richt failing to generate buzz on the recruiting trail. But let’s wait until February before passing judgment on this class.
Social media item of the week
Actress Gabrielle Union is a big fan of Nebraska football. The Omaha native and wife of Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade attended the Cornhuskers’ game last year against BYU. Apparently she’s excited about Nebraska’s latest recruiting victory. Union tweeted the following to her 3.03 million followers after four-star wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr., the son of former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, pledged to the Cornhuskers last week.
Three things to know
• Bishop Gorman (Nev.) High product Tate Martell took an unofficial visit to Ohio State last week. Martell, the top-ranked quarterback in the country, according to Scout.com, committed to Texas A&M last August. However, the Aggies have since changed offensive coordinators, with Jake Spavital leaving for Cal and Noel Mazzone replacing him after a four-season stint at UCLA. In addition, Texas A&M lost its two top quarterbacks, former five-star recruits Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, to transfers (Oklahoma and Houston, respectively), and questions have emerged about the program’s culture in the aftermath of Johnny Manziel’s run of success. As Martell took a look at Ohio State, four-star quarterback prospect Danny Clark, who has been committed to the Buckeyes since December 2013, reportedly was on Michigan State’s campus. But Clark’s father clarified that his son was not actually on a “visit” to the school.
• Two of the top programs in a state known more for basketball than football landed big-time gridiron recruits. Benedictine College (Va.) Preparatory standout Ellis Brooks committed to Duke. "My commitment is 100% and I don't plan on visiting any other schools," Brooks told Scout.com, which ranks him the No. 4 linebacker in the class of 2017. "When you commit, you stay committed." Brooks attends the same school as wide receiver Scott Bracey, the highest-ranked prospect in the Blue Devils’ 2016 class. While Brooks can improve Duke’s defense, the Blue Devils’ longstanding rival, North Carolina, picked up a prospect who will contribute on the other side of the ball. Clearwater (Fla.) High’s Adarius Lemons, the No. 20 running back in the class of ’17, according to Scout.com, pledged to the Tar Heels. Lemons is the fifth member of the class of ’17 Scout 300 to pledge to North Carolina.
• Last week SI.com wrote that quarterback recruit Jake Bentley could be a candidate to join Alabama’s 2017 class after four-star prospect Jake Fromm flipped his commitment from the Crimson Tide to Georgia. Instead, Bentley pledged to South Carolina. Bentley’s father, Bobby, was hired as the Gamecocks’ running backs coach last year after spending two seasons as an offensive analyst at Auburn—where current South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp served as defensive coordinator for one season. Though Bentley played his junior year at Opelika (Ala.) High, he grew up in Duncan, S.C., and reportedly remains uncertain whether he’ll transfer to a high school in that state for his senior season. (Prior to joining Auburn’s staff, his father coached at James F. Byrnes High in Duncan.) Bentley, the No. 9 signal caller in the class of ’17, according to Scout.com, passed for 2,834 yards with 28 touchdowns as a junior at Opelika, according to MaxPreps.