I went out Thursday night to watch the high school football jamboree at Traz Powell Stadium and to check out some potential recruits. I got much more. I caught up with Coach Randy Shannon, who was there scouring the field for talent along with defensive coordinator Tim Walton. Coach was cool enough to provide me enough content for an unexpected Q&A. The topics we covered: recruiting and the new emphasis UM has in making South Florida feel loved by the Canes, why he wants the team to get faster this spring, his feelings on the OB, Paul Dee's departure and more.
Before we get to the Q&A, though, I want to fill you on what else is in store in this blog: A new video highlight reel of Canes basketball recruit Edwin Rios, my thoughts on the recruitment of Devin Ebanks, the top kids I saw with my own eyes Thursday night (got some photos I shot too), my conversation with Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe and why he took former Cane Willie Williams and of course another poll. I also wanted to thank The Eye on The U family for participating in the last three polls I've posted as well as your comments. Any more messages after this are greatly appreciated. Feel free to leave me a question. When I get enough good ones, I'll put together an Ask Manny Q&A session.
Thanks. And now to the Q&A with Coach Shannon. (By the way, doesn't the picture I snapped look like he's saying 'South Florida, this is my turf!')
Q: So I know you've obviously been out recruiting, where have you been focusing on mostly since the end of the spring?
A: Basically, I've been staying locally. Schools in the Florida region from Tampa to Orlando down and kind of concentrating on doing what we're doing in South Florida.
Q: I know you can't talk about specific recruits, but it seems this year the talent level has picked up a little bit with the Class of 2008 -- especially in South Florida.
A: There is a lot of talent in South Florida and that's the one thing everybody knows and everybody is coming down for. It's like I tell everybody in our coaching staff as long as we do right by coaches, the parents and the kids, we'll be fine and we'll get the players that want to be at Miami. But if you don't do right by the coaches across Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties and by the kids, you won't get them.
Q: Is that why you feel the need to be out here showing your face instead of just having your assistants out here? To show the community you guys are serious about keeping the talent at Miami?
A: Yeah. It is. It's like I tell everybody, I'm still the same coach. I'm not going to change. I went to a couple of schools today and mingled with a couple coaches, joked around with them like when I was an assistant. I don't want to be put on a pedestal and I never will. Because I think even though I'm the head coach we should always be treated the same way.
Q: Knowing the community and covering it the way I did as the high school writer in Dade for five years I got the sense from some local coaches that they didn't feel UM was making the effort recruiting locally as it should have been before you became coach. Did UM not put enough emphasis on South Florida in the last couple of years?
A: No. I was out [recruiting]. I had North Florida up. From West Flagler up. I was always at the jamborees and doing the things I was doing. I guess some people get used to seeing me all the time, they're like well, we need to see other people. But everybody had a part of a recruiting area. Myself, I'm not able to go on the road as much as I used to. But now we've put four coaches in Dade County. Four coaches in Broward County. Palm Beach has three coaches. We're kind of concentrating now on having a lot of coaches being seen. And I think that's one reason people might have felt that way because they didn't see Miami, but they saw me all the time. And now it's more faces. And when you got more faces, more coaches in one area and you have a chance for one coach to focus on 12 schools instead of having 28 schools or 24 schools and now this coach can really spend time with those high school coaches.
Q: I know you've seen some pretty great teams come through here. Northwestern could be No. 1 in the country next year, not talking about players, but have you seen a team that talented here in Dade before?
A: There's been some teams that were talented in Miami. A lot of teams. I would never count no team out in Dade County. Northwestern, Central, Norland. Talent isn't always going to win the game. And I think the coaches in Dade County understand its going to come down to those one or two plays in the season where a kid has to be disciplined to win the game. And that's where winning all comes from.
Q: But are they the best team, you think?
A: I don't know. That's the thing about Dade. There's always a sleeper team out there. That nobody don't know about and they come up and get you.
Q: I know from talking to your players there's been a different focus in the weight room this spring -- speed, speed, speed -- is that something you wanted them to focus on?
A: Yeah. Because that's the one thing we want to do. We want to be a fast team. A fast paced team. We want to play fast, think fast and never get in a lull where you are just going through the motions and I that's when your going to fail.
Q: Is that something you think you guys got away from?
A: I don't know about all that. The past is the past. I don't worry about that. I just concentrate on what I believe in and what we're doing. And we'll be successful that way.
Q: Any specific rules to the guys as far as what you want them doing and what you don't want them doing this offseason?
A: No. I just told them to enjoy football. That's what they're there for and to go to school and enjoy life. If you don't enjoy football and don't enjoy school, don't go to college. That's just like you wake up everyday and enjoy what you're doing and I wake up everyday and enjoy what I'm doing. If I can't enjoy it, I got to do something else.
Q: There's been a few things that have happened since the end of the spring, Paul Dee of course, stepped down. Can you talk about that and what he's meant to the university.
A: Paul's done a lot of great things at the university as far as getting facilities built on campus, fund-raising and doing things I think the campus is proud of. He felt like it was time for him to move on and find a new role to find something he could get done. But the university is excited about it. They're proud of what he's done. Sometimes it's a sad situation, but sometimes change is good.
Q: There is obviously the issue with the Orange Bowl, I know its a question many people at The U are trying to sidestep, but how do you feel about it?
A: I don't even worry about it. You can't control it and you can't do anything about it. When that decision is made by the President, and Paul Dee and everybody that is involved with it, it will be. Until then, I don't worry about.
Q: But what do you like about the Orange Bowl as far as home field advantage?
A: I don't even like talking about it to be honest with you. For me as a player, it was great for me to play there, but I can't... wherever your going to play your going to play. Being here at Traz Powell, this is a great to play, but I never got a chance to coach back at Traz Powell. So, you got to move on.
Q: We didn't really get to talk to you after the spring and when you and your staff made your evaluations, but who were you excited about as a coach?
A: All the guys competing and not relying on their laurels and thinking they're really good when they're really not. And I think we did a good job of that and we're going to keep doing that.
Q: Any guys have any injuries that might keep them out of the fall?
A: No. Only one guy is Reddick. Other than that, everybody else is fine.
Q: How is Anthony? How are his spirits?
A: He was great. He was cracking jokes today. Good spirits. It's part of things that happen. Sometimes you can't control things and he's not worried about it.
Q: How is your son, Xavier, doing over at FIU?
A: He's doing alright. He likes the new staff over there. He loves Coach Cristobal and the staff. They're excited and he thinks they're going to be pretty good and going in the right direction. And that's how he feels.
Q: So what are the next couple of months are going to be like for you? You going to take a break?
A: I'll take a break. But for now I just worry about what I got to do each day and I only got a few days left with recruiting. And when the summer comes, I'll go to the next job and get it done.
There's no doubt there is a different feel now in Dade about the Canes with Randy as coach. I know when Susan Miller Degnan and I wrote a story a few years back about coaches in South Florida feeling ill toward the Canes' recruiting habits, there were a few people who criticized us for writing it. They said we were crazy. But after talking with Randy, I feel a bit vindicated. There's no doubt The U wasn't doing enough locally in trying to nab talented football players. The fact Randy has now assigned four coaches to Dade and Broward each and three to Palm Beach tells you he was feeling a need for Miami to resupplant itself in South Florida. He's just not the type of guy to call Coach Larry Coker out on it. That's not his style. Just look at some of his other responses. Randy knows what to stay away from, but he also knows how to get his point across in other ways when you read between the lines.
As for Randy himself, what he did Thursday at Traz was not a drive by hello. He spent several hours talking to not only coaches, but parents, school administrators and people in the community. I actually left the stadium before he did. I was impressed.
Now, to the other topics.
TOPIC OF THE WEEK -- HUNTING DEVIN EBANKS: After my Q&A with highly touted 2008 recruit Devin Ebanks ran earlier this week, I had about a half hour conversation with coach Frank Haith Wednesday. He can't talk specifically about recruits, but we did talk about recruiting and his concerns. Without a doubt, Haith is concerned about negative recruiting and says that has become the toughest hurdle for him in his quest to sign big name kids. He isn't the first coach to tell me how message boards and comments left in blogs are all read by potential recruits.
With the Canes competing against Indiana for Ebanks, Hurricanes fans should try their best to make Ebanks feel wanted. On this blog alone, there were just about as many messages from Indiana fans pushing Ebanks toward their school as there were Canes fans. I didn't specifically ask Ebanks if he reads message boards, but plenty of football recruits have told me over the years they do and they do feel more enthusiastic about a school when there is support for them and not angst.
As it stands, Miami is in a hole with Ebanks. His mother is pushing Indiana and so is his AAU coach. As much as he may like the Hurricanes, going against mom and coach is not going to be easy. The fact UM is still even in with Ebanks is startling and says a lot about the way he feels about Haith.
Even if UM doesn't end up getting Ebanks, Canes fans shouldn't fret. Haith has a history of missing some big time recruits, then landing another. At Texas, he lost out on a highly touted recruit to Arizona in 2002 then got P.J. Tucker, the Big 12 Player of the Year the following year. At Wake Forest, he lost Matt Carroll (now with the Bobcats) to Notre Dame and replaced him with Mavericks forward Josh Howard.
"One player doesn't make our team," Haith told me. "We're going to get good players."
From reports, Miami has been doing well in the Northeast in the New Jersey, Washington, D.C. area with a few other potential recruits and have apparently made up ground for local 6-10 forward Eloy Vargas, who was supposedly a shoe-in for Pitt. Also, don't count the Canes out for 2009 recruit Kenny Boynton from Pompano Beach Ely.
WILLIE'S NEW COACH: Among the many college coaches on the sideline at Thursday's jamboree -- I saw coaches from FIU, FAU, Central Michigan, Maryland, Florida State and Bowling Green in attendance -- was new Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe.
I introduced myself and talked to him for about 10 minutes about one of his more controversial first moves as coach of the Cardinals, signing former Hurricanes linebacker Willie Williams. Kragthorpe told me he met Williams, the consensus No. 1 linebacker in the country in 2004, the first week on the job and visited him and his family in Miami. He said what he liked most about Willie was his personality.
"I think a lot of us would agree Willie made some decisions he was not proud of when he was younger," Kragthorpe said. "But it doesn't mean he hasn't grown up or matured. He has. He's learned from those mistakes. And he and his family are excited about the opportunity he'll have with us at Louisville."
Kragthorpe said football-wise, he was very impressed with what he saw from Williams when he was playing JUCO ball West Los Angeles Community College and says Willie reminds him of Lawrence Taylor. But just because Williams may be talented and more mature, Kragthorpe said that doesn't mean he won't be given a tight leash.
"All of our uys are representatives of our football team and state," Kragthorpe said. He's got to make good decisions just like everybody else."
I spoke to Williams' older sister, Sharia Williams, who is currently seeking her masters at Florida State, earlier this week. She said Willie, who was arrested 11 times as a juvenile and violated his probation on a recruiting trip to Florida, has matured greatly and says "he's ready to do all the things he's always wanted." She said he has his own two-bedroom apartment in Louisville. Williams' younger brother, Monsignor Pace offensive lineman Greg Shaw, is a player in the 2008 class UM is recruiting.
WHO IMPRESSED ME THURSDAY: I didn't stay for the entire jamboree, but long enough to talk to the coaches and players from Carol City, American, Central, Norland, Krop, Jackson, North Miami Beach and Edison.
Without question the most impressive specimen was Krop linebacker Etienne Sabino. The kid not only has size, 6-2, 230 pounds, but he was quick and had a tremendous nose for the football. I spoke to Sabino earlier this week and he told me he has more than 30 offers. I believe it. He's legit and a high priority for the Hurricanes in my opinion considering they could use some talented linebackers. I'm not sure where Sabino will eventually end up, but his defensive coordinator is former Southridge and Florida State linebacker Lamont Green. Sabino told me he grew up a Canes fan after he and his family moved down to Miami from New York. But that won't play a role he says in his decison.
I got a good look at some other kids including Carol City safety Robert Sands, who at 6-5, 200 pounds looks a lot like current Canes safety Kenny Phillips. He even wears No. 1 like Phillips did when he was playing for Walt Frazier. But just because he looks like Kenny, doesn't mean he plays like Kenny. Sands is a nice player, he starts both ways at tight end and safety. But he doesn't have that special quality Phillips had when he was a senior. At least not from what I saw from two quarters Thursday.
There were a few other guys who looked good. American 6-4, 190-pound receiver Marquise Law, whom scout Larry Blustein told me did well at a few combines and is being looked at by South Florida and Louisville. American had a tough defensive end, though, that I liked a bit more, 6-2, 220-pound defensive end Oliver Vernon, a 2009 recruit, who has long arms and a nose for the football.
--> Also on my spotted list, Norland's 2008 class of 5-11, 170-pound corner Emmanuel Sourin, 6-4, 220-pound defensive end Sean Ferguson and 6-4, 250-pound offensive tackle Kenneth White. Ferguson was the most impressive and from what I heard has lots of schools looking at him. He's tough and plays both ways. Sourin is a good, quick corner.
--> Central had a handful of kids I liked including 6-1, 200-pound linebacker Matt Darden-Sims, who made at least 15 tackles. He's got Louisville, UCF and USF on his tail. Central has a 2010 graduate in quarterback Jeffery Godfrey who has as strong an arm as I've ever seen on a kid his age. He's certainly one to watch in the future.
VIDEO CLIP OF THE WEEK: Ok, last but not least. More video highlights from future Canes point guard Edwin Rios. I'm not trying to hype the kid any more than he already is, but I keep getting emails with new video links on YouTube from his family. This is the final one, I promise.