ROANOKE, VA. -- They grew up playing football together at the Pop Warner level and spent most of their lives in homes just a 10 minute drive apart in of the richest areas for football talent in Georgia. Tyrone Cornelius and Storm Johnson always thought there might be a chance they could be college roommates one day. They just never thought it would be at the University of Miami.
"We've known each other since we were little kids," said Cornelius, a 6-2 1/2, 190-pound outside linebacker with 4.5-speed from Stephenson High in Stone Mountain, who played up the road from Johnson, a 6-1, 217-pound All-American running back from Loganville with 4.48-speed.
"For the longest time I thought he was going to LSU. Then, he decommitted and joined the University of Miami in November. I was stunned. But it made me feel better. At least now I know I can go down there with somebody I have a bond with."
Little by little, the Hurricanes have begun creating stronger bonds with top-notch recruits in Georgia. Call it the Wesley McGriff factor. UM's defensive backs coach is from Tifton, a three-hour drive south of Atlanta. Last year, he plucked defensive end/linebacker Shayon Green (6-2, 225) from his hometown (Green missed the season with a knee injury). This year, McGriff was all over Cornelius and was ready to pounce on Johnson, an ESPN Top 150 player, the moment he parted ways with his first choice, LSU.
All three Georgia players represent more of what the Hurricanes are looking for in their recruiting classes: players that don't just have more size, but are smart enough to handle more complex schemes and have the grades to get into school early.
Cornelius, who hopes to add on 20 pounds of muscle to his frame, graduated from high school with a 3.0 GPA and scored a 20 on the ACT. When you talk to him, he sounds just as smart as Jordan Futch and about as football saavy as Sean Spence. Johnson, who graduated with a 3.2 GPA and ACT score of 20, seems destined to make the same type of impact Mike James made last season.
"Coach McGriff actually came at me and showed me a lot love the spring before my junior year," said Cornelius, who plans on majoring in Forensic Science.
"The one thing he said he loved about me from the start were me academics. I've always been on top of my books. I think I've made only one C in high school. Graduating early has always been a big deal for me. Starting off on college early, getting that head start on football and academics is huge."
The Hurricanes could certainly use reinforcements at both linebacker and running back. Last season, after Futch went down with a torn ACL, UM rotated four linebackers -- senior Darryl Sharpton, junior Colin McCarthy, sophomores Sean Spence and Ramon Buchanon -- the rest of the season. Entering the spring, Cornelius said he hopes to learn a lot from the veterans to put himself in position to compete with Arthur Brown and Futch for playing time.
"As long as I'm on the field and helping the team out, that's all I care about," Cornelius said. "Either side -- weak or strong -- is good for me. I think I'll be able to catch on pretty quick. Their run defense is a lot like the one we ran at my high school, a pro style 4-3. Zone coverages, blitzes, stunts, I've done those before. I'm actually a very smart kid on the field.
"I could be a big hitter. But I prefer to see myself as a real fast linebacker. I can get from one side of the field to the other in a matter of seconds. I'm fast, take on blocks as well. I can also drop back in pass coverage. I know a lot of linebackers can play the run extremely well, but can't drop back in pass coverage with ease. But I can do that. Coach McGriff told me he wouldn't be scared to put me at safety either."
Cornelius, a three-star recruit and Top 40 outside linebacker according to Rivals, Scout and ESPN, finished his senior season with 108 tackles, an interception, two forced fumbles, two blocked punts and eight tackles for loss and helped lead Stephenson to an 11-1 record and the second round of the playoffs.
He didn't get to play against Johnson, who literally lives 10 minutes from his house, because Loganville is in a different classification and county. But he respects his game plenty.
"Storm is a fast, bruising back, a North-South runner who you better be ready to take on," Cornelius said. "He's a strong worker in the weight room and very smart when it comes to the books. He does everything he has to do to stay on his game."
Johnson, who ran for 1,933 yards and 32 touchdowns on 252 carries his senior season in 11 games, said Cornelius "is gifted."
"Tyrone is a good guy, quiet, hard working and very smart," Johnson said. "He just flies to the football."
Johnson will arrive in Coral Gables Sunday night (a day after Cornelius) and said his goal is to make an immediate impact -- whether its carrying the football, blocking or handling kickoffs. With Javarris James gone and Graig Cooper (torn ACL) expected to miss all of 2010, UM's available backfield veterans are senior-to-be Damien Berry, redshirt freshman Mike James and junior Lee Chambers. Redshirt freshman Lamar Miller is also expected to make an impact.
Johnson's recent performance at the Under Armour game in Tampa elevated his recruiting ranking on Rivals from a three-star recruit to a far star level and his him ranked 106th nationally overall. He will be joined by Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements, ranked 156th overall by Rivals, in the spring.
"If I could wear the number 5 [a jersey number expected to be available after the departure of Javarris James] that would be great," Johnson said. "But other than that, I just want to come down, be another hard worker and get after it.