I'm leaving to the land of mouse today for the state high school football championships at the Citrus Bowl and I've got to say this is probably the most excited I've been about covering football all season.
Northwestern, St. Thomas and Booker T. Washington have a chance to do something special as teams. But what's most exciting to me will be seeing this amazing collection of talent -- many of them future Canes -- play their final high school games. The past couple of months, I've grown to get to know these kids, like Jacory Harris, Marcus Forston, Sean Spence and Brandon Harris about as good as I did guys like Kenny Phillips, Bryan Pata, Dwayne Bowe and many others while I was on the high school beat for six years.
This group of seniors is about as talented and as special I've ever been around. Not only are they amazing on the field, but they have tremendous character and personality off it. And they're all smart kids too, who don't want to be around trouble. I spent four hours at Northwestern on Tuesday watching Forston and Spence break down film, then chucked it up with the guys during practice. With the exception of Streeter, whom I'm still convinced is 50-50 on the Canes, I think all of the best players on the Northwestern and Booker T. rosters will end up Canes.
Not that other coaches aren't trying to stop that from happening. Forston and Spence told me North Carolina's Butch Davis stopped by last week. Florida assistant Doc Holliday was there on Tuesday when I was at there and Andre Fernandez spotted Tennessee coach Phillip Fullmer there on Wednesday. On Tuesday, I saw Holliday take Spence and Forston into Billy Rolle's office for 10 minutes alone.
But Canes fans have no reason to worry. Behind the scenes, I get the sense these Northwestern kids are simply having fun with this recruiting process. But what about the rumors? The players are just having fun with the people who call them everyday to bother them about where they're leaning. The biggest thing is they're trying not to be rude to these college coaches -- or those recruiting reporters -- who stop by their schools to see them. When Holliday left, Forston rolled his eyes and told me, "That guy doesn't quit. But I guess he has to because if not he'll get fired."
Forston, who is slowly becoming a bit of a UM fan favorite through this recruiting process because of some of his comments, hit me with some great lines Tuesday when I asked him about what opposing coaches were telling him to try to sway him from The U. Forston said many opposing coaches are trying to put down Miami's facilities, they bring up safety, the shooting deaths of Pata and Sean Taylor, the current losing going on and the future of Randy Shannon as coach. Forston, though, isn't buying any of it. And he's even got a nickname for Holliday -- "Snake Eyes."
"Like I said before and I'll say it again even though they don't care, I'm committed to the Hurricanes. That's the first thing I tell them. The things the tell me is how big their facilities are. How they got a stadium on their campus. How they got an academic building inside the stadium. But that doesn't matter to me. It's the coaching staff around you and the work ethic that's built in you that's going to get you to the next level, not no facilities. The University of Miami might have two whirlpools and the next one might have six, but it's still doing the same job.
"The worst thing anybody said was how Miami is not a safe environment. But they don't know where I stay at. I live in the Pork 'N Beans projects, Liberty City housing. It can't get no worse than that. So, I tell them, if I can stay out of trouble around there, how am I going to get in trouble in Coral Gables? You can take me to hell and I'll find a way to get out of that."
"Another thing, people have been saying, 'Oh its not the old Miami. They're finished.' But I'm going to prove them wrong. Once you're a great program, you'll always be a great program. Everybody has a bad season... they had a group of young guys. Now, we come in, guys from Northwestern and Booker T. who have played together for a long time and things will change."
Forston said he expects for him and Spence to be roommates when they enroll in classes in January. Although, Forston told me he's still waiting on his test score to return before he can enroll. "I'm going to be there," he promised me. "Don't worry about that."
- As for quarterback Jacory Harris, who told me he liked Oregon last week and caught slack on websites for saying what he said, he told me Tuesday that after a day or two he realized it was crazy to think about leaving South Florida. Jacory, though, did tell me his feelings were hurt a bit by some of the comments he read online from irate fans. "People we're saying on your blog, we don't need Jacory. Forget him. We got Robert Marve. That's messed up man." Can't say I didn't warn you guys.
- As for Spence, he told me he did like his trips to North Carolina and Tennessee earlier this year, but like Harris realized "there's no place like home." Spence, who is close with cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, said he had conversation with linebacker coach Michael Barrow that made him feel better in the recruiting process and "sealed the deal." He said he and Forston love the fact UM players have been treating them "with open arms."