Al Golden was hoping for a big finish on National Signing Day.
So far, it hasn't panned out that way for the University of Miami -- even though the Hurricanes' biggest recruiting battles are happening right in their backyard.
Booker T. Washington All-American linebacker Matthew Thomas, the top player in Miami-Dade County and a consensus five-star recruit, picked Florida State over Miami, USC and Georgia Wednesday morning, a decision announced in front of a national cable TV audience on ESPNU, family, friends, coaches and teammates in the school auditorium.
Five minutes later, All-American offensive lineman and teammate Denver Kirkland announced he was going to Arkanas and passing on UM, which six days prior appeared to be the leader for his services before they pulled his scholarship following the team's state championship parade through Overtown. Two days later, UM invited Kirkland and his mother down to campus to smooth things over and put the scholarship offer back on the table. But it apparently wasn't enough to divert him away from Tallahassee.
Miami, which swayed offensive coordinator James Coley away from FSU last month, was hoping Coley might provide some help in the important recruiting battle. Coley had been Kirkland's and Thomas' prime recruiter for the Seminoles. But FSU and Arkansas -- where former UM coach Randy Shannon is now an assistant -- got the last laughs in the end.
Thomas (6-3 1/2, 210) produced 70 tackles, 10 sacks and two blocked field goals for the Tornadoes en route to All-Dade and All-State First Team honors. Kirkland (6-3, 333) anchored an offense that averaged 416 yards and 49 points a game on its way to a 13-1 record and the Class 4A state championship.
Miami came into the day in the running for seven highly-touted prospects.
Earlier in the morning, the Canes got some good news when Staten Island Tottenville (N.Y.) running back Augustus Edwards, ranked the No. 1 fullback in the nation by Rivals.com, announced he had picked Miami over Florida State.
Edwards, a 6-1, 222-pound three-star prospect according to Rivals, was previously a Syracuse commitment. He visited UM recently and came away impressed. He ran for 868 yards and 10 touchdowns on 107 attempts this past season for Tottenville. He also produced 11 tackles and three sacks on defense.
Tailback was a position of need for UM, which lost out South Plantation blue-chip running back Alex Collins when he committed to Arkansas on Monday. Although the Hurricanes are heading into the 2013 season with Atlantic Coast Freshman of the Year Duke Johnson as the star tailback UM had just three other scholarship running backs on the roster. The Canes are hoping Edwards can provide depth along with senior Eduardo Clements (5-9, 192), redshirt sophomore Dallas Crawford (5-10, 190) and redshirt freshman Danny Dillard (6-2, 225).
About an hour after Edwards' announcement Wednesday, UM lost out on Port St. Lucie Centennial four-star defensive tackle Jaynard Bostwick (6-4, 280). Rated the 286th best prospect in the country regardless of position, Bostwick chose Florida over Miami and Alabama. Bostwick is the cousin of UM linebacker Thurston Armbrister. He tallied 65 tackles and two sacks his senior season.
The Hurricanes have been in dire need of an upgrade at defensive tackle. UM finished 112th in run defense last season out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, allowing 217.92 yards per game. Tuesday, three-star Navarro junior college (Corsicana, Tex.) defensive tackle Terrell Brooks (6-4, 300) passed on the Canes to sign with Baylor.
How much has the two-year long NCAA investigation hurt Miami's class this year? ESPN recruiting analyst Corey Long said he doesn't think it "plays as much of a factor on a day-to-day basis" and some people think.
"I just think they hit on some and missed on some," Long said. 'I'm just really surprised Miami didn't focus more on defensive linemen. Maybe the NCAA forced them to keep their numbers down so they kind of have to pick and choose where they go. But I would have expected more defensive lineman."
UM is still in the running for three more highly-touted prospects -- including one defensive tackle.
The top player in Broward County Oakland Park Northeast receiver Stacy Coley (6-1, 175) is set to announce his decision at 11:05 a.m. on ESPNU. His coach, former UM running back Donnell Bennett, said Coley was choosing between Miami, Florida State and South Florida. Coley, rated the 13th best receiver in the country by Rivals.com, caught 29 passes for 513 yards and 10 TDs his senior season en route to All-Dade First Team honors.
Delray Beach Atlantic defensive tackle Keith Bryant, an Under-Armour All-American and four-star recruit, will announce his college choice at 1:45 p.m. on ESPNU. Bryant (6-1 1/2, 302) was a UM commitment but pulled back on it and has since flirted with South Carolina and Florida State.
Miramar High four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American linebacker Jermaine Grace, once thought to be a strong UM-lean, will choose between the Hurricanes and Louisville at 2 p.m. on ESPNU. Grace (6-1, 195) racked up 115 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions his senior season.
The Hurricanes came into National Signing Day with 14 commitments as part of its class including five early enrollees (four-star JUCO tight end Beau Sandland out of California; three-star tight end Standish Dobard from New Orleans; three-star pass rushing specialist Alex Figueroa out of Virginia; three-star lineman Hunter Knighton from New Jersey; Three-star offensive tackle Sunny Odogwu from prep school in Virginia).
Of the remaining nine non-binding commitments who were supposed to fax over signed national letters of intent, the school had announced the arrival of seven of them on Twitter as of 9:45 a.m.
Those were: Miami Northwestern All-American cornerback Artie Burns; All-American defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad of New Jersey's Don Bosco Prep; Four-star quarterback of the future Kevin Olsen; Miami Southridge four-star safety Jamal Carter; Cincinnati Moeller three-star offensive tackle Alex Gall; Lake Mary Prep athlete Ray Lewis III, whose father is former Hurricane and recent Super Bowl winner and Butler Community College (Kan.) three-star defensive tackle Ufomba Kamalu.
Those that haven't arrived yet: California JUCO three-star pass rushing specialist Devante Bond and Virginia three-star athlete Ryheem Lockley.
National recruiting analyst JC Shurburtt of 247Sports.com, who ranked UM's class 27th coming into Wednesday, said while the Canes needed to do better in their own backyard Golden and his staff still have put together a solid class.
"They did go get a quality player out of New Orleans in [tight end] Standish Dobard," Shurburtt said. "I like Hunter Knighton a lot. I think Sunny Odogwu is going to be a very good player. Alex Figueroa is a guy I saw in a camp who I thought had tremendous physical upside. Sandland is the top JUCO tight end in the country.
"Kevin Olsen is the perfect quarterback to go in there and distribute the ball to speedy playmakers like Miami always had. They really haven't had a quarterback with his type of upside in quite awhile.
"But then you look and you've got Artie Burns and Jamal Carter holding down the fort as the only South Florida kids and Ray Lewis III, a legacy kid, being the third kid from Florida. If you are Miami you like to see more guys from South Florida."
Charles Fishbein of EliteScoutingServices.com said he thinks the best player in UM's class is Muhammad.
"He's fills a major position of need," said Fishbein, who pointed out UM finished 113th in the country with just 13 sacks last season. "He's somebody who could get pressure on the quarterback. He's probably their top player along with Jamal Carter and Artie Burns. They're probably the most elite of their class. Artie has the potential to be very good. He has size and speed. He has the physical attributes to be a very good corner. If he works hard he has the potential to play at the next level.
"I think Olsen is the best quarterback they've signed in five, six years. He's got a good arm, can make most of the throws, has been brought up in a football family. In Miami's system they don't need the super physical skills. They just need the guy who can get them the ball. He's going to get them in the right plays, make good throws. He's been trained very well."
UM coach Al Golden will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the 2013 signing class.
UM's sports information department is hosting a show with UM assistant coaches on HurricaneSports.com and ESPN3 throughout the morning. The show concludes at 12:30 p.m.
UM is hosting a Fan Signing Day party at Buffalo Wild Wings in Sunset Place (across US-1 from the UM campus) from 5 to 7 p.m.