Booker T. Washington senior Matthew Thomas showed up to school Wednesday wearing a Hurricanes hat.
"But just because you like a team doesn't mean you should go play for them," Thomas is quick to point out. "You got to average everything out, weigh your options and see what is best for you and your family."
Truth is, the Florida State Seminoles appear have the inside track on Miami-Dade's top 2013 recruit. Thomas has an older brother, Jonathan, who goes to school in Tallahassee. He also has grown extremely tight with FSU assistant coach James Coley (a Miami native). Coley is also close friends with Booker T. coach Tim "Ice" Harris, whom Al Golden has maintained a good relationship with even though he didn't ask Harris to stick around at UM when he took over for Randy Shannon.
Are the Hurricanes completely out of it for Thomas? "No. Not in the least," he says.
Thomas said Wednesday UM and FSU are his top two schools with Alabama a close third (he likes their depth chart situation). But a big win by Florida State Saturday night (the Seminoles are three touchdown favorites) could go a long way in further pushing Thomas towards Tallahassee. Same with a lot of other local 2013 and 2014 recruits, whom the Seminoles have been hot and heavy on for awhile, and will be at Sun Life Stadium to watch Saturday's game in person.
"To be honest, Miami is in good shape as far as recruiting me," Thomas said. "I got a good relationship with Coach Barrow. He keeps it straightforward, keeps it real. He talks about how things are going to benefit me and how he can help me because he's been through it himself and done it.
"I could see myself in their plans and stuff. Coach Barrow talks a lot about how he needs linebackers and how some of their linebackers have been injured and how they've got a walk-on playing. He said I can come in and compete for a job right away. I think honestly the best place for me to play early is Miami. FSU's got a couple guys that are leaving and they got a couple guys committed at my same position, so that's a little bit of a drawback. But this is also more than just about playing time. I want to win a national championship. Everybody does, and right now Alabama seems like the best place for that."
Thomas said his mother, who works as a housekeeper, wants him to stay close to home. His father, whom he doesn't live with, is also pushing the Hurricanes. But the fact Thomas has a brother living in Tallahassee makes him feel comfortable about leaving home, too.
"We talk about going to Florida State, doing stuff together," Thomas said. "They definitely got a lot of love for me up there."
Do the pending NCAA sanctions at Miami play a factor for Thomas at all?
"Yeah I think about it," Thomas said. "People talk about it. But the stuff that happened, it's going to fly by. They're still going to be the University of Miami. If they got some stuff taken away from them, they'll eventually come back. So I'm not too much worried about it."
Thomas, who says he doesn't plan to make his announcement until National Signing Day, said what he plans on paying attention to Saturday night is how both teams respond to adversity and how coaches really utilize their players in schemes.
"In the end, what's going to matter most is how comfortable I really am with the coaches," Thomas said. "I'd also like to play right away and get my full experience of college as much as I can. So those two things."
> Thomas' teammate Denver Kirkland, also a high priority for UM and FSU, said he also is excited about attending Saturday's game at Sun Life Stadium. Kirkland, a 6-4, 330-pound right tackle and excellent run blocker, said he and many of his 2014 Booker T. teammates -- QB Treon Harris, WR Lamar Parker -- will be at the game.
"FSU is a great program, great football team. They just catch my attention in different ways," Kirkland said. "Miami is just a regular school I grew up off of. I saw a lot of great players come out of there."
Kirkland, who said he has a 2.9 GPA and scored a 22 on the ACT, said his other finalists are Ole Miss, USC, West Virginia and South Florida.
"Matthew and I are trying to go to the same school, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen," he said.
If you look at it, it's pretty remarkable what the Seminoles are doing in South Florida in terms of recruiting over the next two years. Not only are they in hard on Thomas and Kirkland, but they've already got the No. 1-ranked player in Dade in the Class of 2014 Miami Central running back Joseph Yearby all wrapped up.
FSU, which already has three Top 25 commitments from Dade and Broward as part of its 2013 class (Chaminade CB Adrian Baker, Booker T. CB Michael Johnson and Columbus WR Jesus Wilson -- UM didn't offer any), is also hot and heavy on at least three South Florida-area UM commitments according to Chris Nee, who covers FSU and statewide recruiting for 247sports.com.
Those players are: South Plantation star running back Alex Collins, Miami Northwestern safety Artie Burns and Delray Beach Atlantic defensive tackle Keith Bryant. FSU had Collins up on official visit last weekend according to Nee. They are working on getting Bryant up for an official visit as well, Nee said.
Of course there are also quite a few uncommitted seniors and underclassmen FSU is also trying to impress like Oakland Park Northeast receiver Stacy Coley. Coley and Collins are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 among the senior class in Broward by The Miami Herald. Kirkland is ranked fourth in Dade, teammate Michael Johnson (FSU commitment) is sixth and Burns is the seventh-ranked senior in Dade.
FSU's 2014 class also includes Coral Reef receiver Jacob McCrary (No. 4), Northwestern two-way star JoJo Robinson (No. 7) and South Dade receiver C.J. Warton (No. 8). The Semionles are also pushing hard for top juniors Ermon Lane (No. 3), a standout receiver at Homestead, Booker T. defensive end Chad Thomas (No. 6) and UM commitment Trevor Darling, a 6-5, 300-pound offensive tackle from Miami Central who is rated the 10th-best junior in Dade.
"FSU knows the importance of recruiting down here," said Charles Fishbein of South Florida-based Elite Scouting Services. "Just look at their roster now. Half their secondary -- Xavier Rhodes (Norland) and Lamarcus Joyner (Aquinas) -- are from down here. Their top two receivers -- Rashad Greene (Aquinas) and Rodney Smith (Archbishop Carroll) -- are too. If Miami were to lose out on some of those kids here in their backyard like Collins, Thomas, Kirkland it would definitely hurt them."