The University of Miami football team put together one of the nation's top recruiting classes in 2008 because it got off to such a great, early start. Tuesday, less than two weeks after the ink dried on the '08 signing class, the Hurricanes officially got started on '09, nabbing a commitment with a last name quite familiar to UM -- Highsmith.
A.J. Highsmith, the son of former Hurricanes running back Alonzo Highsmith, told UM coaches Sunday night he wanted to become the first official member of UM's 09 recruiting class. The 6-foot, 188-pound senior at Fort Bend Hightower High in Texas (just outside of Houston) will come to the Hurricanes as a quarterback. But just like his father, who once starred as a linebacker and defensive end at Miami Columbus High before switching to fullback with the Hurricanes, A.J. Highsmith could potentially switch to another position.
Either way, his father, who played at UM from 1983-86, is excited his son is going to be a Hurricane.
"He loves playing football and I think in the bottom of his heart he’s always wanted to be a Hurricane," Alonzo Sr. told me by phone Tuesday. "He’s listened to my friends, former Canes who come to my house and talk about Miami. He’s always sat there attentive and listened. The funny thing is he never really said I wanted to play football for the Miami Hurricanes and I never pushed him toward Miami because I didn’t know if they were going to be recruiting him. I actually pushed him to check out other schools because I didn't want him to be heartbroken if they didn't recruit him. So, when Miami finally started recruiting him, he called me and said UM was at my school today and they were scouting me and they like me. I said 'Oh man, that’s awesome. But don’t get too excited, it’s a long process.' So, they finally saw enough film and they liked him and offered. I knew what his answer was going to be."
NOT VERY HIGHLY TOUTED: Highsmith, whose first name is short for Alonzo Jr., is not a very highly-touted recruit. Neither Rivals.com nor Scout.com have him listed among any of the top recruits yet in their early lists for 2009. But at Hightower High, he's proven to be a pretty good quarterback despite no experience in playing the position prior to the ninth grade. Last season, he threw for 2,299 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in leading Hightower to a 10-4 season and the fourth round of the playoffs in Class 5A (the top classification in Texas). As a sophomore he passed for 1,516 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions and his team went 9-4, reaching the third round of the playoffs.
Highsmith Sr. said UM didn't start recruiting his son until last month when running backs coach Tommie Robinson passed by the campus and saw his highlights on tape. Eventually, Highsmith Sr. said offensive coordinator Patrick Nix made his way to Houston before coach Randy Shannon and his staff decided to make a formal offer. Boston College was the only other school to make an official offer for Highsmith.
"I think he's similar to me in that he's a team player and he's going to do whatever the coaches want him to do when he gets to Miami," Highsmith Sr. said. "I think in the bottom of his heart he's always wanted to be a safety. He's only been playing quarterback since the 9th grade because his coach told him he's the smartest kid in the program for us. To the kids credit, here's a kid who has never thrown a pass growing up. He's worked so hard he's become one of the better quarterbacks in the city of Houston and the state."
DEEP CANES CONNECTION: Highsmith lived in Miami for three years with his mother and sister (up until the end of his eighth grade year) before moving back to Houston. During his time in Miami, Highsmith Sr., who is now in his 10th season as a scout for the Green Bay Packers, said his son spent many summers at UM running side by side with his childhood idols, dreaming of becoming a Hurricane. His grandmother has worked in the UM bookstore for more than 30 years. Highsmith said his son, who has a 3.5 GPA, will try to enroll in UM in January and said he doesn't expect his son to take any other visits.
"His heroes have been Sean Taylor, Ed Reed and all those type of people," Highsmith Sr. said. "He sees all the University of Miami helmets in my house. He definitely knows about the UM program."
To listen to the complete audio interview, click on the following link, Alonzo Highsmith Sr. interview.
EBANKS WATCH: I know some of you have been inquiring about the recent developments surrounding the University of Indiana, former Hurricanes recruiting target Devin Ebanks and the chance he could end up backing out of his commitment to Indiana -- and choosing the Canes -- if coach Kelvin Sampson is fired. (For those of you who haven't heard here is an SI story to give you some background).
Well, I haven't spoken to Ebanks, but today I did inquire with my sources at UM about the situation (the Canes can't comment publicly) and I did get to speak to Ebanks' coach Jere Quinn. Here is what Quinn had to say about Ebanks, a 6-8, 185-pound swingman who is rated the 13th-best recruit in the '08 class regardless of position.
"Right now, Devin is just comfortable with waiting and seeing what happens with Indiana," Quinn said. "We've decided to instead of being proactive, we'll be reactive with this situation. We've heard that Indiana is supposed to decide what happens with Coach Sampson this weekend. Even if Coach Sampson leaves, Devin made his commitment to Indiana. That's something he'll have to think about."
Ebanks, who signed a scholarship in November, would need to ask Indiana for a release from scholarship if Sampson is fired in order to choose another school. Quinn said he and Ebanks have not discussed other possible destinations because "we're in the middle of our season." But he said Ebanks has been contacted by other schools since the news broke that Indiana and Sampson we're in hot water.
"Without a doubt Miami was a finalist before," Quinn said. "But like I've told you, right now he's Indiana's and he hasn't talked with me yet about where he would like to go if he doesn't go there."
So, would the Canes take Ebanks considering they've already signed another standout at the same swingman position in 6-6, 195-pound DeQuan Jones? From what I heard today "without question." UM still has a scholarship available for 2008 and while coach Frank Haith has said he's looking to sign a combo guard, the chance to get Ebanks should he come available would likely be too enticing to pass up. The one roadblock will be convincing Ebanks' mother, who wasn't very fond of her trip to Miami with her son last year. She is likely to push her son toward Rutgers, the other finalist for his services, because it is closer to her home in the greater New York area. What Miami has in its favor, though, is that Haith and Ebanks had a great relationship through the recruiting process.