CORAL GABLES -- The first thing Al Golden did after putting the finishing touches on UM's 2012 signing class Wednesday afternoon was thank everyone who helped him put it together.
Everyone got a shout out: UM President Donna Shalala; school professors; the wives of his assistant coaches who never saw their husbands; the fans and boosters who lent their private planes to allow Golden and his assistants to fly all over the country; the current players who hosted recruits; the recruits who became early enrollees and the longtime commitments who recruited the recruits on the fence.
Nope, this job wasn't easy. The way UM arrived Wednesday to a Top 10 nationally class of 33 recruits (second most in the nation behind Troy St. and Tempe who each brought in 35) was grueling process, a job only made tougher by looming NCAA sanctions, a 6-6 season and a whole lot of negative recruiting.
"This was the most grueling six or seven weeks in my career in 17 years in the business," said Golden. "I can't remember any time when we were at Temple and we took over that we were facing anything harder than this.
"It was an incredible effort in light of all the things we encountered, all the obstacles in the last couple months. I won't sit here and tell you we didn't get absolutely crushed by opponents [with negative recruiting]. They saw a soft spot and they took it, went after it."
> The Hurricanes dealt with another dose of negative recruiting Wednesday after West Boca Raton linebacker JaWand Blue switched out of his commitment to Virginia Tech and picked Miami.
When Blue called Virginia Tech assistant coach Charley Wiles by phone, Palm Beach Post writer Matt Porter was there with Blue and overheard their conversation. According to Porter, Wiles tried to sway Blue by touting his program’s success in the ACC and cleanliness – a shot at Miami following the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
Without naming Virginia Tech directly, Golden fired back close to the end of his 40 minute press conference Wednesday: "At times [negative recruiting] can enter in the realm of vicious. I heard that happened today. You give them enough rope, they hang themselves. Let them say all those nasty things. At the end of the day when you're in the pressure cooker, how you react in front of recruits and their parents says a lot about you and the program. You lose kids, we wish them good luck."
Golden's fight is far from over. Until the NCAA hands down its punishment, UM will continue to get pelted. The good news for the Canes? None of it really appeared to affect the 2012 class Golden was able to put together.
Miramar All-American cornerback Tracy Howard said the NCAA investigation really didn't play a factor -- playing time did. Blue told 760 ESPN in West Palm Beach all he was thinking about was staying home and that he trusts the Canes aren't in big trouble. Same with St. Thomas Aquinas defensive end Jelani Hamilton.
> Golden said the reason UM's class grew to be so large wasn't because of fear of impending NCAA sanctions but rather the departure of key underclassmen. So how many scholarships are available should a player come along? According to Golden, none.
> Golden said of the class: " I think it personifies and embodies what we're looking for. Lot of guys that want to be Miami Hurricanes. Lot of guys that understand what it means to be part of the tradition, not only how they play, but conduct themselves off the field, the passion they exhibit, the toughness. [They come from] a lot of championship programs, a lot of captains. A lot of tough guys. I'm probably a little surprised we're ranked as high as far as all the rankings and that stuff goes. Primarily I'm surprised because so many of them came from [UM camps]. A lot of the guys that came from the camp are under the radar. We've never been catalog shoppers."
> Golden said he looks for in players at his camps is character. "Our guys, if they're under the radar guys, we really don't care," Golden said. "They came to the camp - Jake O'Donnell and Dwayne Hoilett come to mind. I didn't care if either one of them had any offers. What we saw at camp with their speed, the tenacity they exhibited. Those are guys we need to get in the program. Herb Waters is another guy who came to camp and did a good job. We're not worried about the stars. We're grateful we have the recognition that goes along with having a highly ranked class."
> So when did Golden begin to believe UM really had a shot at luring Tracy Howard? After his in-home visit two weeks ago.
"The last couple weeks we started to build some momentum there and I just felt he was listening more. Then we had an opportunity when we went into the home, I think I left out of there and I felt good. I sensed something different. I think the more we talked to Tracy about football, academics, commitment to core values, I think the more his family understood. I think Shaiy and Tracy Sr., they were looking for something to carry on with the young man."
> On late addition Dequan Ivery, a 6-1, 300-pound defensive tackle from Lake City Columbia, Golden said: "A lot of people chase stars down the stretch. I kept challenging the staff to find me another nose guard in this class or next class. He's on the strength team, over a 400 pound bencher already, has leverage, can bend. He wanted to be a Hurricane."
> Golden likes all four players UM got from Palm Beach County: "[Receiver] Angelo [Jean-Louis] had a great week at Under Armour. All the coaches said `Who is this kid?' He did a great job up there. Gabe Terry is one of those guys, finished runner up in wrestling in his weight class, has a 3.6 (GPA) and the tape that he had. A beautiful young man, had a chance to visit with him during the season. He'll play [strongside linebacker] for us. Jawand [Blue] is a late addition for us today not because of his talent but because of scholarships that were promised before we got to him. He communicated with us down the stretch. We're grateful that he decided to join us. He'll help us at linebacker. [Receiver] Robert Lockhart I think is going to be a really good player. He'll be with us in May. He brings us length. That's a really good group in an area we haven't done great in. "
> Westminster Christian quarterback David Thompson has the green light to play baseball, Golden said. " He's going to help both programs out, is a tremendous young man. We'll see which way it goes. Coach [Jim] Morris and I have talked about how we'll manage it; we're both on the same page there. The wildcard is pro baseball, the draft. We'll see where that goes. [Quarterbacks] Preston [Dewey] and Gray [Crow] are doing well. Those guys are doing a great job for us and we're really excited about them competing. I think we've improved that position."
> Golden said cornerback Brandon McGee isn't running track this year and is instead focused on football by his choice.. walk on linebacker Nantambu Fentress apparently has interest in playing baseball... Golden confirmed Dallas Crawford has been switched to running back. "Dallas was a wildcat quarterback [in high school]. We ran him on scout team, will take a look at him [at running back] in the spring. We can always move him back to DB."