For the last two weeks, I've spent the better part of my time picking the brains of the Canes' local football recruits about what I consider the biggest story this offseason at The U: the magical transformation of the Canes' image in the eyes of recruits and the giant success its produced in early commitments.
This week, I delved deeper as I spent time working on our high school football section (I'm going to be an integral part of The Herald's improved local coverage). From Monday through this afternoon, I spent more than 40 hours filming video interviews during The Herald's High School Football Media Days with players from every team in Dade and Broward. It was a lot of fun. And before I delve into the point of this blog, I want to share some of my personal highlights with some of the top guys in Dade and Broward including several Canes recruits:
--> Playing catch with Northwestern defensive tackle Marcus Forston and later seeing him outleap receiver Aldarius Johnson for a jump ball on a pass 20 yards down field. Yes, true story. Forston not only leaped as high as Aldarius, he tipped it to himself for a catch. Then did the same against 6-5 teammate and fellow receiver Tommy Streeter. "I'm not just big boned," Forston told me. "I got a 30-inch vertical. I'm more than a big boy."
--> Watching Northwestern quarterback Jacory Harris connect with left tackle Brandon Washington on a 40-yard seam route down the field for a touchdown. Then, seeing Washington fire the ball right back at him on a perfect strike. Harris by the way told Streeter jokingly that if he didn't commit to Miami he wasn't going to pass him any more balls this season.
--> Finding out from Forston that the day coach Roland Smith and his staff were fired, he and Harris held a team meeting, told players to come back in two days. Then, when the team returned on Monday for workouts, how Forston and Harris led a full Bulls practice with no coaches.
--> Getting a thank you from linebacker Sean Spence Wednesday morning for not ruining his moment and announcing his commitment on a blog last week. "I'm going to do it Friday by the way. I'll call you as soon as I leave coach's office."
--> Talking to Columbus offensive tackle Mike Goodman, who has over 30 offers, and finding out just how serious is about education and how he really values picking a good character school. Goodman, whose father once played on Nebraska's offensive line in the 1970s, said he wants to pick a place that really goes after character commitments and doesn't just say it will. I think its Wake Forest, BC or maybe any Ivy League school for him.
There is a lot more. An hour interview with Chaminade LB Jordan Futch (he was great and really is very smart); a conversation with Homestead LB Marcus Robinson (who sounded anything but like a Hurricane commitment); a chat with Pace offensive lineman Greg Shaw (who said how much he admires his brother Willie Williams); and a talk with a Coral Springs LB who looked like a clone of Dan Morgan.
I'll get back to all that in the coming days, but for now I want to get back to the point of this blog, which is how Miami has managed to rally in the recruiting world. As many of you know, a few recent commits in the past week have cited Randy Shannon and his assistants as the primary reason as to why the Canes are the team to beat again even on the heels of a Gators national championship.
They've all pointed to the same reasons: the new disiciplines instilled by Shannon (his no gun rule, the team's GPA rule to live off campus and the swiping of names off jerseys), the honesty of Miami's coaches during recruiting, and the strong focus on South Florida. Futch echoed those sentiments and really broke down the message that has won recruits over better than I think anyone else has. (CHECK OUT HIS FULL AUDIO INTERVIEW).
"I think discipline, it's been a big thing. Coach Shannon, he's always been a big recruiter. And now he has a great team behind him. He understands that the best talent is the local talent. For years, he's been going after local talent. And when Coker got there, they weren't able to do that. They were going all over the state and places like Utah for talent when we were right here at home. So, now, coach Shannon has said he's going to get the talent down here. And even with all that negativity, everybody talking about The U fell, The U fell, coach Shannon understood he had some problems and he could fix it. So, that's what he's been doing. He's been disciplining the guys at The U right now. He's just really cracking down. He's taking the guns back. He's taking the names off the jerseys. So, his regime should be a nice one because he's not playing any games. He's in there to win. He's in there to teach the kids and be their father figure away from home. He's changing everything around, back to the way things have used to be."
But as much credit as Randy deserves, and he deserves plenty, I believe there's more to Miami's success than just Shannon and company talking a good game. Never in all the years I've been covering high school sports or followed the Canes have I seen so many kids commit to Miami this early in the game. Not ever after a national championship season. The 16 commitments are 14 more than there were last year at time. Almost as eye-opening, a dandy dozen are from the South Florida area, a place where signing day drama and suspense is as important to recruits as winning a state title.
Somehow, some way, Randy and his guys have managed to easily weed through the ego boost the recruiting process can be for these kids and convince guys like Forston (a kid with over 40 scholarship offers) to pick the Canes before even taking an official visit somewhere else. And while things can always change and likely will (I'm sure one or two guys will end up switching at the last second and many more will still take their trips) the battle in my opinion has already been won. This next recruiting class at Miami is going to be insanely special. And it can't all be because of the message Randy and his coaches have been delivering.
At the FSWA Media Days, Shannon pointed out how he believed his relationship with many of the recruits' parents -- from his old playing days in high school -- has played a big role in Miami being very successful this early in the recruiting game. And to a point, I agree. But I also believe the bigger bond that paid off was the connection between these recruits. How else can you explain this perfect recruiting storm for this Canes coming out of nowhere? So early?
Many of these recruits have known each other for years, played against each other in Pop Warner and admired each others talents. Futch told me Monday how he and Harris' father used to work together and how they grew up playing together. Harris' dad played against Shannon in high school. Northwestern receiver Aldarius Johnson played with Futch at Miami Lakes Optimist. Brandon Harris, who is not a commitment (yet), told me he always wondered in Pop Warner what it would be like to play with the boys at The West (who he played against in Pop Warner). Same with Patrick Johnson, who did his thing up in Broward. It's like little by little, all of these guys who grew up dominating local Pop Warner leagues and rooting for Miami as boys during the Canes' last few great seasons (in 2000, 2001 and 2002) had this future coming and have embraced it.
Harris and Futch told me how they've spent a lot of time together at UM, even since before commiting. They've gone down to watch 7-on-7 practices, hung out in the dorm rooms of current players and stayed up all night playing video games with each other in Demarcus Van Dyke's dorm room. Patrick Johnson told me how he and Kenny Phillips talk on the phone all the time. There's plenty more stories I've come across in the past few weeks about these bonds. All of them prove to me the bond between Canes and future Canes may be deeper and stronger than its ever been. And it couldn't have come at a better time for the program.