NCF On The Trail: Miami Hurricanes

PLANTATION, Fla. -- The Nike football camp in Miami is generally regarded as one of the top camps, talent-wise, in the country every year and this year’s camp held at American Heritage School didn’t disappoint.

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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
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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.”
Brandon Martin surprised observers by coming out of nowhere to become one of the nation’s most highly-coveted prospects. He also surprised many when he made a commitment to Missouri last weekend. However, Martin showed us with his latest move, the surprises aren’t over yet.


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Now that Randy Shannon has been officially announced as a part of the Florida coaching staff, the expectations for success in South Florida are high for the Gators.


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UA practice notebook: Day 2 

December, 30, 2014
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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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video Malik Jefferson's commitment could alter recruiting landscape in Texas, says one Big 12 coach. Plus, where do the Power 5 conferences stack up when it comes to ESPN 300 commitments.

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Torrance Gibson, Nick Bosa win state titles 

December, 13, 2014
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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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Three reasons why Miami disappointed 

December, 12, 2014
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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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Top 2015 juco classes 

December, 3, 2014
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National signing day is quickly approaching, but first up is the mid-year junior college signing period. The opportunity for junior college prospects to sign with FBS schools starts Dec. 17, and many prospects have already made commitments. With the release of the ESPN Junior College 50, let’s take a look at five programs (in alphabetical order) having success in the junior college ranks.


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LSU and Texas A&M have become bigger rivals on the field and in recruiting now that both are in the SEC. Plus, few programs are trending like Ohio State is on the field and on the recruiting trail.


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TAMPA, Fla. — The Florida State Seminoles have been on a tear. The success extends from the field, where the Seminoles have won 24 straight games and a national championship and have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner leading their potent offense, to recruiting, where they continue to stockpile top prospects.


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UA jersey tour: D'Anfernee McGriff

October, 22, 2014
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- ESPN 300 athlete D’Anfernee McGriff was presented with his Under Armour All-America Game jersey Wednesday afternoon in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance. The ceremony took place in front of family, friends and teammates at Leon High School's indoor practice facility in Tallahassee, Florida.

Leon head coach Tim Cokely said his star prospect suffered through a personal tragedy that helped mold him into the person he is today.

"When I first got here he was kind of living with his uncle and his uncle died of a heart attack, and I think that really shaped him,” Cokely said. "So he rededicated himself to football at that time and that really paid off. He’s a laid-back guy, likes to laugh and likes to make every one else laugh.”

McGriff has been committed to Auburn as an athlete since April and Cokely thinks his star quarterback can do multiple things for the Tigers.

"On the field, we’ve been fortunate now. We’ve had a lot of good players play for us since ’89. He’s got a unique skill set. I think he has NFL arm talent. I’ve signed 10 Division 1 quarterbacks, which is the most in the country by five, so he’s No 11 but he’s got the ability to run and throw. I’m not sure how Auburn will use him but he can do a lot of things with his arm and legs. He can probably throw the ball about 80 yards.”

Depsite being committed to Auburn several teams continue to pursue the 207th-ranked player in the country.

“South Carolina and Miami are still on me pretty hard right now,” McGriff said. "I’m pretty solid to Auburn, though. I like it up there."

Eight questions with D'Anfernee McGriff

Who is one player you are looking forward to competing against?

McGriff: I know I want to go against Kevin Toliver, the No. 1 defensive back. He’s the best, so I want to go against the best.

If you were to start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be?

DM: I’d start with Trenton Thompson. He’s a big dude and you need big defensive linemen.

Who is the best player to ever play in the Under Armour game that you know of?

DM: Definitely Jameis Winston.

What is your earliest football memory?

DM: My earliest football memory, I was just a few years old but Tamarick Vanover was my uncle and he played football. I never really knew what was going on but I’d watch it on TV.

Which football player did you idolize or be like when you were a kid?

DM: I’d say Michael Vick, because I’m left-handed and can run, too. I tried to model my game after him.

If you could take on any pro player in their sport, who would it be?

DM: Definitely LeBron James, just to be on the same court with the best player in the world.

What number do you wear?

DM: I wore No. 11. But in the spring we had a battle and whoever won the battle would wear No. 1 during the spring game, but I liked wearing it, so now that’s what I wear.

What is the one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

DM: I actually came to Leon to play basketball. But I don’t play anymore, I’m just a football guy now.

Best of the visits: SEC

September, 14, 2014
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There were some great games around the SEC over the weekend. Several prospects attended games and used social media as a platform to share their experiences. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts:

The No. 2-ranked inside linebacker in the country, Roquan Smith, visited South Carolina for its 38-35 victory over Georgia. The Under Armour All-American tweeted out a picture of his family in Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia is one of Smith’s favorite schools, while South Carolina has fallen behind. A big win against the Bulldogs could have given the Gamecocks a boost.



Former Florida defensive back commit Marcus Lewis is still considering Kentucky and Florida. The four-star prospect might not have attended the game, but Lewis was definitely watching on TV. The ESPN 300 prospect tweeted out his thoughts on how Kentucky looked.



David Womack tweeted a picture of his son, Matt Womack, an LSU commit, with Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Womack has been committed to LSU since July, but it appears the Alabama offer could give this three-star offensive lineman something to think about.



Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, despite suffering a shoulder injury Friday night, visited Florida for the third consecutive week. In this photo he tweeted out, Jefferson is in the Florida locker room holding a “Chucky” doll. The doll, which is usually taken through the Gator Walk prior to the game, is a recent Florida defensive tradition started by New England Patriots defensive tackle and former Florida player Dominique Easley and passed down to defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.



ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Brandon McIlwain poses with his mom for a photo in front of Williams-Brice Stadium. McIlwain has narrowed down his choices to South Carolina, Duke, Florida, Auburn, Penn State and Virginia Tech. The strong-armed quarterback is one of the top signal-callers in the country for 2016.



Miami running back commit Dexter Williams visited Florida for its thrilling 36-30 victory over Kentucky. Despite his commitment to the Hurricanes, the Gators have continued to pursue Williams. Williams tweeted about his time in Gainesville.



2017 OL prospect Jack Anderson, who already holds offers from Arizona State, New Mexico, Texas Tech and UAB, visited Texas A&M for its 38-10 victory over Rice on Saturday night.

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