DURHAM, N.C. -- It's been more than 48 hours since Randy Shannon and recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt wrapped the 2009 Signing Class. And now that I've had time to get through my basketball assignments, I can reflect on what I learned, what I like and what I don't like about the 19 players UM inked (as well as the ones that got away).
> What the original goal was: Much to my surprise (after I went back and looked through the Eye On The U archives) Hurtt told me on National Signing Day last year the program was looking to sign between 19-21 recruits. Hurtt's exact breakdown? 1 QB, 2 RBs, 1 WR, 3-4 TEs, 4-5 OLs, 2 DEs, 2 DTs, 1 LB, 3 CBs, 1 S.
> What ended up happening: With the exception of falling a few tight ends short of the goal (blame the Robert Marve fiasco for UM not getting Orson Charles), Miami basically nailed exactly what Hurtt targeted a year ago. Yes, UM swung and missed on some big times. But in my opinion they set a goal to fill needs and accomplished it.
Quarterback: With Robert Marve and Jacory Harris expected to be a part of the future for a long time, UM never made this position a priority. That's why you never saw the Canes really make an effort to go after Miramar's Eugene Smith (West Virginia). So, when A.J. Highsmith (6-0, 190) committed back in February, the Canes were content with taking a player who could potentially switch positions. Now, because of Marve's departure, Highsmith will come in as a quarterback. And he's not a bad one. Highsmith led his team to the Texas state championship. As a senior at Hightower High, he thrw for 2,192 yards, 28 touchdowns and four interceptions. I wouldn't be surprised if he never switches positions after all.
Overall grade: B+. By not scrambling at the last minute to take another QB after Marve left, UM kept itself in position to sign another top-tier quarterback this year and not have him be scared off by the depth chart.
Looking ahead: Central's Jeffrey Godfrey is obviously the local talent Miami could chase after and I expect the Hurricanes will (his former high school coach is Randy Shannon's right hand man, Corey Bell). But I suspect his size (6-feet, 190-pounds) could play a role. If Miami has a chance to get a taller quarterback with similar skills or better, they will.
Running backs: With Javarris James and Graig Cooper close to seeing their careers end as Canes, Miami targeted two talented backs from the get-go -- the nation's top back Bryce Brown and Killian's Lamar Miller. That was supposed to be it. But when fears of possible academic problems for Miller were raised, Miami went out and got themselves something better than an insurance policy, 5-11, 220-pound running back Mike James from Davenport, Fla. Now, Miller and James are the two running backs who are signed and it's Brown (who committed way back in February) who is iffy.
Overall grade: A. Even if Brown decides not to come, I think Miami has scored huge with Miller and James. So, should Bryce decide he doesn't like UM's offense, the offensive line, the weather in January or the color of the tulips in June, don't worry, the Hurricanes will be just fine. Miller (5-11, 205) isn't another Bobby Washington, Charlie Jones or Tyrone Moss. He's a passionate kid who takes care of his body and runs hard every time he touches the football. And he proved it against not only a tough Dade County this year, but against the great Northwestern teams of the past few years. Ask Sean Spence about the blur he and his teammates couldn't catch when Miller was a sophomore and junior. In the end, he may not turn out to be another Willis McGahee or Frank Gore, but Miller will certainly be better than the other local guys who have come through here and were average at best.
As for James, I don't know a whole lot about him because I never watched him play in person. But from what I've heard from guys like Larry Blustein and Charles Fishbein is he's a better between the tackles runner than Miller, who is more of a hit the corner and see-you later guy. What I like about Mike and the conversations I've had with him over the phone is that he's an intelligent guy who is thoroughly excited to be playing at UM. Too bad Bryce isn't that way.
Looking ahead: There is certainly a wealth of talent available locally at this position. In Dade, you have Central's Brandon Gainer, Booker T.'s Eduardo Clements, Columbus' Jakhari Gore and Northwestern's Corvin Lamb. In Broward, you got Taravella's Devon Wright, St. Thomas' Giovanni Bernard and James White. Still worried about Bryce Brown not coming? My guess is UM will take between 2 or 3 RBs depending on whether or Brown comes.
Receivers: Considering the number of receivers Miami signed in its last class, the Hurricanes were simply swinging for the fences with the 2009 class. They took two real cuts -- going after Bastrop, Louisiana's Reuben Randle and Sanford Seminole's Andre Debose.
Overall grade: B. How do you get a grade when you don't sign a receiver? You get graded on everything all the time. And the Canes get a good grade here for being smart. Even though they didn't get Randle or Debose, they didn't waste a scholarship on some other receivers just to say they did. That being said, while Jamal Reid will probably be used as a cornerback, don't rule out the possibility he becomes the one receiver Miami has in this class. And if that's the case, I think Reid will be really, really good. Of what I saw of him this season, I really liked.
Looking ahead: The Hurricanes are going to need to go out and sign at least two in this class if they're smart because there is a real possibility Aldarius Johnson and LaRon Byrd could be heading to the NFL after the 2010 season. Locally, there are some good products to choose from -- Booker T. Washington has two in Ted Meline (6-2, 170) and Quinton Dunbar (6-3, 177). But my favorites are Northwestern's Michael Lee Harris (6-1, 175), Central's Joshua Reese (5-10, 170) and Miramar's Ivan McCartney (6-2, 175). If I had to pick two, I'd take McCartney and Harris.
Tight ends: Of all the positions UM recruited, this is the one area I think Shannon and his assistants could have done much better. While it's obviously hard to recruit tight ends in South Florida, UM had the opportunity to go after St. Thomas' Gabe Holmes (signed with Purdue) and didn't. Instead, they put all their eggs into two baskets -- Tampa Plant's Orson Charles (Georgia) and Billy Sanders. Then, they got desperate and went all out after Sheldon Richardson (Missouri). Miami ended up getting Sanders back in the end, but it would have been disastrous had they not. Stephen Plein (6-6, 250) is listed as a tight end, but I doubt he ever catches a ball.
Overall grade: D. Sanders could turn out to be a good tight end. But I don't envision him being a superstar. When I spoke to his mother she told me part of the reason he was turned off by UCLA was because they talked to him about playing defensive end. If the Bruins are thinking that how good could Sanders, who played in Idaho, really be? The good news is he has some good genes. His father Bill played in the NFL with the New York Jets.
Looking ahead: With two seniors slated to leave after next season in Dedrick Epps and Richard Gordon, Miami obviously is going to have to make this position a priority. Locally, Miami has a chance to go after Monsignor Pace's Charles' Fashaw (6-5, 210) or Palm Beach Dwyer's Gerald Christian (6-3, 230). But the emphasis is probably going to have to be put on places like Texas, Georgia and California.
Offensive line: For a school that hardly ever reels in high-caliber offensive linemen, I have to give the Canes credit for at least being in the game late for several of the nation's best. From my conversation with coaches, they really believed they had a great shot at getting not only Marcus Hall (who signed with Ohio State) but also Peter White (Maryland). Both would have been the home runs Miami was looking for. Instead, the Canes kept Brandon Washington (2008 signee) and flat out snook in Jermaine Johsnon (6-6, 304), who by the way is two years removed from high school and very good. Both should instantly find their way into coach Jeff Stoutland's rotation, if not the starting lineup by season's end.
As for the others, Malcolm Bunche (6-5, 315) is a player I really like. The fact he is not some big, flabby kid, but a real muscle, moving athlete tells me the Canes got themselves a heck of a player. He's going to need time to adjust to the speed as his coach told me, but I think it Bunche is the type of kid you will be able to count on as a two-year starter. Next up are Plantation American Heritage's Jared Wheeler (6-6, 305) and Fleming Island's Cory White (6-5, 250). Wheeler is a good player, who has the ability to play anywhere on the line right now. But he's going to take time and I envision him being sort of an A.J. Trump type talent, who will flourish late in his career. The same figures to happen for White, who started at left tackle all season in high school. White some thought he might be at tight end, Canes coaches fully expect White to put on weight.
Overall grade: B. The Canes had a chance to really finally land the big-name out of state lineman they needed. But they missed. In the end, though, they fixed their immediate problems.
Looking ahead: There isn't a player Miami needs to land more in its 2010 class than St. Thomas Aquinas' Brandon Linder. This kid has been the best offensive linemen in the state since he was sophomore. Miami offered him on the first day they could -- along with Florida and Notre Dame. He will be Broward's No. 1 recruit this year and quite possibly the best overall player in South Florida. After Linder, look for Miami to lock up Northwestern left tackle Torrian Wilson (6-3, 315). The kid is a quality prospect. If Miami gets those two, everything else will be gravy. Booker T. Washington's Jose Jose (6-0, 340) and Monsignor Pace's John Ragoo (6-6, 340) are nice fall back plans for now. I also like Cypress Bay's Joe McNamara (6-2, 275). I consider him this year's Stephen Jacques (USF).
Defensive line: Considering Miami was able to get talents like Marcus Forston, Micanor Regis and Jeremy Lewis, the fact Miami didn't grab one of the nation's best at defensive tackle doesn't both me one bit. As it stands with Luther Robinson (6-3, 280), and Curtis Porter, a clone of Antonio Dixon at 6-2, 334, what the Canes got was more than enough. Defensive end was the bigger need and I thought Miami did as good a job as they could there, yanking Dyron Dye down and holding onto the best defensive player in South Florida this year in Olivier Vernon. If Vernon can get healthy, he will be another great pass rusher alongside Marcus Robinson.
Overall grade: A. Miami tried to get Richardson, Gary Brown (Florida), William Campbell (Michigan), Arby Jones (Georgia) and Nick Kasa (Colorado). They just weren't going to win the battle playing on the road. Although, it will be upsetting if South Dade's Ed Stinson (Alabama) turns out to be a stud. Miami never really went after him.
Looking ahead: You can tell who the best recruiters are in the business when you've already got kids locked in for the next signing class before the current one is finished. Both of UM's 2010 commitments are defensive tackles. And both are studs. Louis Nix (Jacksonville Raines) and Todd Chandler (Miami Northwestern) are going to be Top 100 players nationally and both are already committed to the Canes. Tip your cap to Mr. Hurtt. The next player UM needs to lock down is Hialeah defensive end Corey Lemonier (6-4, 240). Get him and keep him and you are set for 2010. FYI, should Nix skip out on the Canes, look for Ricky Joseph (6-2, 300) at Miami Northwestern or Delvin Jones (6-6, 235) from Miami Palmetto to jump into the picture.
Linebackers: After tight end, I'd consider linebacker the next biggest disappointment in terms of recruiting in the '09 Class. Yes, Miami signed seven linebackers last season. But two will never play here -- Zach Kane and Antonio Harper -- and another, Brandon Marti, needs to overcome some off the field issues. While UM should be in good shape with Sean Spence, Jordan Futch, Ramon Buchanon and Arthur Brown for the next few years, they would have been smart to get at least two linebackers in this class. They tried to get Jacksonville's Sam Barrington, but he passed and went to South Florida. They did, however, get 6-2, 235-pound Shayon Green from Tift, Ga. Green could sprout into the big middle linebacker Miami needs down the road. But right now he looks a lot like another Spencer Adkins to me.
Overall grade: C. There were two really good local players Miami didn't really go after hard enough -- Gulliver Prep's Frankie Telfort (USC) and St. Thomas' Conner O'Neil (Wisconsin). Either one of those two guys should have been part of this class. Hopefully, the Canes won't regret it down the road.
Looking ahead: Coach Randy Shannon said in his press conference linebacker is going to be one of his priorities next season. I'm not sure the guy he wants is in his backyard. Gulliver Prep's Ralph Williams (6-1, 215), Hallandale's Rashad Gaitor (6-2, 205) and St. Thomas' Bincent Mauro (6-2, 210) are nice options, but not game breakers.
Defensive backs: Here's where Miami signed their most talented playmakers -- and in the area where it needed it sorely. No, the Canes didn't go out and get the natural corner, but who is these days? Most kids in high school do not play in very complex coverage schemes.
What UM got were talented, smart, heady kids. Nobody impresses me more in the group than Ray Ray Armstrong (6-4, 215). Here's a kid who has superstar written all over him. When I close my eyes and picture Ray Ray two images come to mind: The guy that took off from about the five yard line in the state championship game against Northwestern, leaped over two defenders and landed in the end zone. And when I visited him and he found out I was from a Miami newspaper before the Class 6A state champion game. Armstrong got angry because he thought I was there to scout for the Bulls and refused to talk to me. Got to love that if you bleed green and orange. He's that crazy and that competitive. Armstrong isn't the only special talent. Jamal Reid (6-1, 175), Brandon McGee (5-11, 180) and Prince Kent (6-3, 195) are all physically gifted to.
Overall grade: A. It was obviously disappointing to lose Kayvon Webster to USF on Signing Day. But it's not the end of the world. Webster was probably right. He'll have a better chance to play with the Bulls. He's a very good player, but probably just on par with the four Miami did get.
Looking ahead: With a few more seniors heading out the door after this coming season, UM once again has to bring in at least 2 to 3 more defensive backs. If that's the case, the Canes might just want to setup shop at St. Thomas where Cody Riggs (5-10, 165) and Brian Robinson (6-0, 195) are two of the best around. Or, they could try and do all they can to keep Southwest's Lamarcus Joyner (5-8, 160) from heading up the road to Tallahassee (he's an FSU fan). Personally, if they don't get Joyner, I'd settle for Gideon Ajagbe (6-2, 200) from Ransom Everglades or Devin Drane (5-11, 175) from Plantation. Both of those guys are very good.