Although I will not make it my business to cling to every word a teenager says over the next 10 months before National Signing Day 2008, for those of you interested in what is happening with local kids and the current state of recruiting with The U this blog entry is for you.
Saturday, as promised, I attended Recruitflix.com's combine at Traz Powell Stadium and watched as 83 high school football players, mostly from Miami-Dade and a few from Broward, participated in three events -- the shuttle drill, the 40-yard dash and the bench press. Among the attendees, were five kids the University of Miami is very much interested in: Northwestern offensive lineman Brandon Washington (pictured on the left, center back), defensive tackles Marcus Forston (right back) and Benjamin Jones (left back), Booker T. Washington cornerback Brandon Harris (front on the bench) and Chaminade linebacker Jordan Futch (pictured below). I did about 5 to 6 minute interviews with each and got to know them a little since they figure to be on the Canes radar from here until February.
The most interesting development came from Washington, who as I suspected, told me his recruiting process is far from over. The 6-4, 305-pound offensive lineman was said to be a UM commitment. But he sure didn't sound like one when I asked him about it.
"It's more like a soft one," Washington told me. "My recruiting process is not over with. I just got an offer from LSU and I want to go out of state. I want to go to Southern Cal, that's my school. UM, it's a school I grew up on. But it ain't over though, I'm being recruited by other schools."
I think Washington, who told me he has a 2.65 GPA and still needs to pass the state-mandated FCAT exam, will still likely end up a Cane. When I asked him what he wanted in a college, he said "a good education and a school where my mom will be able to see me play every game, one right down the street." But his "early commitment" should teach all of us a lesson. Although, he didn't admit it to me in his own words, he basically shrugged his shoulders in agreement when I asked him if he "committed to Miami" to get people in the media -- those guys at Rivals and Scout.com -- to stop calling him. After all, I think we all kind of forget these kids are teenagers. The last thing they want is some dorky guys in eight different cities asking him how they feel about the Hurricanes, Buckeyes, Gators and Trojans every other day.
Me? I'm going to try and stop being called dorky for as long as I can. My philosophy is simple, I speak to a kid once before the football season and get an idea of what he likes, what he's looking for a college, who likes him and what he ultimate deems the biggest factor in his search. A week before signing day, once the trips are over with, you usually know where they're headed.
To me, what I got out of Saturday's combine was simple: The attitude about The U and at The U has changed. This time last year, when I did the same thing and asked Doug Wiggins, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Major Wright and Armando Allen and others about UM, the attitude was "We love UM, always have, grew up rooting for them, but I haven't really heard much from them. They came out and watched me, but I don't have an offer."
It appears Coach Shannon has made it a point to be aggressive locally because all five kids I spoke with claimed to already have UM offers. And I truly believe in the end, it will make a difference. Had Larry Coker and company really pushed early for kids like Wright and Allen, they might be at UM today. Personally, I think the Canes are headed toward a great signing class and its really all because of Shannon and the fact Miami-Dade and Broward are supremely loaded with talent in the Class of 2008.
Futch told me many local players having been talking about the buzz surrounding The U again.
"Miami has Coach Shannon now, they're coming back," Futch told me. "There is definitely word going around trying to entice all to go to UM together and help turn things around. High school coaches have been telling me, [Northwestern LB Sean] Spence, Brandon [Harris] and Brandon [Washington] to get there and make it a dynasty again... I think a lot of guys want to be a part of that. In South Florida, we got a lot of talent that has been tending to leave the state... It's an opportunity to stay home. It would be great if we could all do that."
Last year, that same buzz was about Florida. The Gators made off like bandits, recruiting the No. 1 class in the country. But that happened because the Gators were on the minds of all recruits early and often. It appears Shannon and company have beaten the Gators to the punch -- at least locally -- this time around. And it appears the players in 2008 are making deep relationships with players and coaches.
Jordan Futch, who lists UM No. 1 on his top five (Wisconsin, Auburn, West Virginia and South Carolina are the others) and at the front among his 23 offers, recently made an unofficial visit to UM and spoke with linebackers coach Michael Barrow. Futch said he has developed a deep friendship with current UM linebacker Glenn Cook and speaks to him nearly everyday. Unlike the other four players I spoke with Saturday, Futch told me his plan is to make his college choice sometime next month. The other four told me they all want to take their trips. Saturday, Futch posted his best shuttle time, 4.01, to take top honors. He said his fastest 40-time is 4.56 and the most lifts on the bench press among the many camps he attended is 18 (Players lift 185 pounds).
As for the other kids, Marcus Forston (6-2, 286) told me he is not scared off by the fact UM already has three early commitments at defensive tackle. "The best guy is going to play anyway," he said. Forston, who will likely be the highest rated player in Miami-Dade this coming season, told me he has 23 offers including ones from USC, Tennessee, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Rutgers, North Carolina and Ole Miss. He said he has a GPA of 2.8 and grew up admiring former Cane Warren Sapp. He said what he is looking most forward to this season are one-on-one battles with Washington, who transferred to Northwestern a few months back. They'll get their chance starting May 1st when the spring officially begins.
"For me, it's all going to come down to the coach that comes to my living room, sits down with my mom and be right with her,'' Forston said. "I don't want any B.S. Straight up."
Saturday, Forston tied his personal record for bench press lifts at 33. The runner-up was teammate Benjamin Jones, who also lists a UM offer among his four (LSU, North Carolina and FIU are the others). Jones (6-6, 270) lifted the bar 29 times and ran the 40 in 5.1 seconds. He said his personal best, run at the Scout.com camp, was 4.8 seconds. Jones said he too has a 2.8 GPA. What he is looking forward to most is just playing. Last year, he tore his meniscus and dislocated his left knee when teammate Terrell Killings rolled over on him during practice. Jones missed the season. This year, he play next to Forston and likely help him avoid the double-teams that limited Forston's number of sacks.
As for Harris, whom I told you before I thought was destined for UM because his brother Tim runs track for the Canes, he told me Saturday he will not commit early and wants to take all of his trips. He seemed excited by the fact USC is close to offering him and said the Gators are also in the mix. Still, I think he's destined to be a Cane.
"I grew up rooting for UM, going to all the home games," Harris told me. "When I went to the FSU game last year, I could visualize myself on that field, making big plays. But I'm not in a rush. I want to take my time with picking a school."
Brandon Harris (5-10, 180) is as good a cornerback as there is the country in my opinion. He's played football his entire life, mostly as a quarterback and has tremendous instincts. In addition, he has gotten tremendous training by going up against the likes of teammate and another UM target Davon Johnson on a regular basis. Harris ran a 4.6 40 on Saturday, but ran a 4.45 at the Scout.com camp not long ago. In the shuttle drill Saturday, he ran the third fastest time at 4.3. He also managed to bench 185 pounds four times. Not bad for a kid who weighs less than the weights itself.
The kid with the fastest 40-time Saturday is nowhere on UM's radar, but maybe he should be. Bay Point High's Lavaris Edwards, who won the state 100-meter title as a freshman, ran a 4.4 flat. Edwards (5-11, 186) was out of football his sophomore season at Southridge with an injury and returned to Bay Point last year as a junior. He said he has offers from Akron and Troy State. Another kid who caught my eye was Northwestern linebacker Quavon Taylor. The kid has offers from USF, UCF and FIU, but could be in for a huge season at the West.
Eventually, I'd like to post my audio interviews with The Big Five from Saturday, but need someone at The Herald to help me out with getting it on the blog. Unfortunately, the quality isn't great because of the windy conditions.
ON A SIDE NOTE: In case you are wondering, Recruitflix.com is a new website set to launch sometime next month that will feature all of the top prospects in Miami-Dade as well as a handful in Broward as well as team pages, game footage and highlights from all of last season and this coming season as it progresses. I don't want to get too much into it because I am writing a story on them in the coming month, but basically it will revolutionize how colleges recruit, allowing them to watch game film from their computer without having to wait for tapes to come in, a process that can often take a long time. I've been told the public will eventually be able to access these videos too for a fee.