St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Brandon Linder told me back in August that as long as there weren't any coaching changes at the University of Miami come December or January, he'd be a Hurricane. Linder stayed true to his word.
"I always liked Miami and I just wanted to see the other schools and make sure it was the right school," said Linder, whose other finalists included Notre Dame, Florida and Ohio State. "Coach Shannon and Coach Stoutland are just regular people. So is the rest of the coaching staff. They all care about each other. They're like family. That's what I saw this past weekend when I visited. And that's what I like."
Linder, a U.S. Army All-American and ESPN Top 150 Recruit, is rated the third best center in the country (the position he played his sophomore year) according to Rivals.com. But UM will likely ask him to protect the blind side of their quarterback once he settles in. Linder said his first goal at UM is to simply find a way to contribute.
"Every freshman wants to go in and compete. I just want to go in there and help out," Linder said. "I can see myself playing any position on the line. Wherever I can fill in and play faster -- tackle, center -- that's what I want to do."
Aquinas, ranked the No. 1 team high school in the country until it was beaten in the Class 5A state semifinals by Bradenton Manatee two weeks ago, will also be sending right tackle Jermaine Barton (6-7, 290) and cornerback Keion Payne to Miami with Linder. Barton, a second-year football player, also called UM coaches Sunday to give him his commitment.
Linder said he and his two teammates spent their official weekend visit weekend with fellow UM commitment and Glades Central tight end Clive Walford and Byrnes, S.C. defensive lineman Brandon Willis, a Tennessee commitment.
"They put us up in a nice hotel, went out to dinner, had a great time," Linder said. "We also went down to UM and watched practice. Me and Jermaine are just motivated to start working out and helping out as much as we can. Jermaine is a great player. He's got a great body, great athleticism. He's 6-7, 6-8, 290. He looks lean as can be. He has a lot of talent that hasn't been discovered yet. He's a great learner. I think we're going to have great careers."
Linder said he hopes he can convince Willis to join UM's class. The two went head-to-head when Aquinas played Byrnes in the regular season.
"Brandon is a great kid," Linder said. "I'm going to start talking to him now. Going against him, he's probably the best we faced all year. I definitely want him to become a Cane."