I just got back from the most talent-rich high school football lockerroom in the country and wanted to share my thoughts from my one-on-one half hour interview with new Miami Northwestern coach Billy Rolle. (For those of you who want to read the latest, Andre Fernandez and I wrote a story this afternoon, check it out here)
I know there is a vested interest on the part of Canes fans considering the Bulls currently have two Hurricane commitments and a number of 2008 recruits UM is very much interested in. But knowing Billy Rolle for as long as I have and speaking to him again today, there should not be an idea out there that Rolle will steer propsective recruits away from the Canes. In fact, it's my opinion the changes at Northwestern might end up paying dividends in the long run for UM -- especially for those talented recruits who still may not have the grades or test scores to get into The U.
Northwestern principal Charles Hankerson, who was brought into clean up the mess the Bulls made with the Antwain Easterling fiasco, has made it very clear to me his focus is to improve the academic situation at Northwestern (a school that has traditional received F-rating the past several years). Aside from Superintendent Rudy Crew's initiative to raise academic standards for players and have players sign behavioral contracts, Hankerson has made it his mission to take academics seriously at Northwestern. As he so eliquintely told me Friday, "We're going to have school here. Real school. And there is not going to be any negotiating."
Rolle may not be the shining example of the education-focused football coach. After all, it was some of his best players at Miami Killian High who got involved with the diploma mill scandal here locally a couple years back. But he's no problem-seeker either. At 45, Rolle has enough experience (having coached the West to the title in 1998 and Killian to another title in 2004) to not only keep his new players focused on the field but off it too. He's respected and that goes a long way at the 'West. Plus, Hankerson has made it clear no antics will be accepted in his house. One slip-up, Hankerson said, and Rolle is gone. No questions asked.
So how does that all benefit UM? If all goes right, none of the players Miami signs from Northwestern come February should end up an academic casuality. With the eyes of Crew and Hankerson fixed on the football program, there shouldn't be any grade-changing, nor any test-taking scandals. The kids should really be in class, learning something all year.
As for Rolle, he told me one of the first people to call him and congratulate him on Wednesday (two days before Friday's announcement) was UM coach Randy Shannon. Rolle said he laughed when Shannon called and told him not to worry. Rolle said Shannon told him UM wants as many as nine players on Northwestern's roster. Even if Randy gets Northwestern's top seven -- QB Jacory Harris (already a UM commit), WR Aldarius Johnson, TE Tommy Streeter, OL Brandon Washington (already a UM commit), DT Marcus Forston, DE Ben Jones, and LB Sean Spence -- one scout told me Miami will instantly have one of the nation's best three recruiting classes.
Stay tuned. I fully expect at least two more Bulls to pull the trigger within the next month. As for Harris, Canes fans should keep up with what he does this weekend at the EA Sports Elite 11 passing camp. Canes fans can vote for Jacory in a make-believe tournament on the StudentSports website here.
Even though I'm not officially supposed to be back at work until Monday, I took some time Friday to give UM hoops coach Frank Haith a call to catch-up, especially after the team lost one of its two 2008 recruits this week when Tyreese Breshers, a 6-7 power nationally forward from Los Angeles, switched his commitment to Washington.
While Haith can't talk specifically about recruits, there is no question UM figured it might lose Breshers anyway. Breshers was apparently tentative when he made his commitment and wasn't exactly sold on moving across the country. Haith told me he and his staff have not and will not stop recruiting even if the team has filled its three scholarship vacancies for the Class of 2008. As for the recruiting focus, Haith said the team will not take a point guard until 2009 and is focused on getting a post player and a wing player for now. The post player could end up becoming American Heritage High's Eloy Vargas.
As for the current Canes, six players are playing in the Pharmed League at FIU -- guards Lance Hurdle and James Dews, forwards Ray Hicks and Adrian Thomas and incoming freshmen Edwin Rios and Julian Gamble. Hurdle has been getting rave reviews as has Thomas, who missed nearly all of last season. Hurdle's emergence should make Jack McClinton's move to point guard even easier. Haith said McClinton did not have surgery on his injured wrist.
While Haith is not allowed to watch his players during the summer per NCAA rules, he said he heard small forward Brian Asbury did very well during his two-week trip to Taiwan with Athletes In Action, a sports ministry team comprised of several US collegiate players. Haith said Asbury reported finished second on the team in scoring and showed an improved scoring touch on his jumpers. Forward Jimmy Graham is supposed to go on a similar trip to Australia next month.
Dwayne Collins, meanwhile, was cut from the U.S.-under 19 team. Haith said Collins is still a little too raw and apparently showed that during the tryouts. "He's disappointed," Haith said. "But at least he knows he has to work harder."
One guy who is certainly working hard is Anthony King, who has begun in the last week to play real pick-up games with his teammates. Haith said he be surprised if King didn't start the season at center. "He's really improved his offensive game and is making great, great strides," Haith said. "He's the most experienced guy we've got."
PARTING THOUGHT: For those of you gamers out there, one thing I have been able to enjoy in the past week has been the debut of NCAA College Football '08 on my PlayStation2. I've been a gamer my entire life, but there is no game I enjoy more than this series. My policy, though, since playing the game was too easy -- was to simply remain as coach.
So far, I've been able to get the first seven games of the season in with the Canes and am off to a surprising 7-0 start. The defense has been amazing. Four shutouts. Not that any of this should matter, but the stars of the team -- aside from Kenny Phillips and Calais Campbell (clearly the two best players on the team -- have been Eric Moncur (10 sacks) and Charlie Jones, who has proven to be a more dependable back than both Craig Cooper and Javarris James.
My toughest game was a 24-0 shutout of Oklahoma, a game decided when Bruce Johnson took the opening kickoff back 90 yards for a score. It was 10-0 until the fourth quarter when Calais produced, a sack, fumble and touchdown all on the same play.
I know this is all fantasy world, but I just wanted to see who else out there has been able to play the game. What has your experience been like? Give me your thoughts / best fantasy football playing moments. Among my initial thoughts on the game, how about Kyle Wright getting an 87 rating and the starting nod above Kirby Freeman, who was rated with an 86?
* Anyway, I'm out. I'll be back fulltime on Monday. Until then, enjoy the rest of your summer and feel free to chime in on anything you like including the bad car accident with Robert Marve, Jermaine McKenzie and Colin McCarthy (Can the Canes ever catch a break?). I stayed away from it on purpose in this blog, but plan to address it with some of interviews of my own when I get back.
* Also, check me out on 560 WQAM today. I'm supposed to be doing an interview with The Beast around 3:30 p.m. tomorrow regarding Northwestern. See ya.