AUDIO: Al Golden National Signing Day Press Conference
The Hurricanes lost three-star receiver and commitment Terrell Chatman, but they picked up a trio of talented recruits on National Signing Day and a very intriguing former five-star prospect too.
Coach Al Golden, speaking during his annual Signing Day Press Conference, said Miami agreed to a financial agreement with former Florida Gators defensive lineman Gerald Willis III, who was dismissed on Jan. 6. Willis got himself into a fight with UF's third-string quarterback over cleats back in October and had other issues on the team.
Listed at 6-2, 255 pounds, Willis was a teammate of Hurricanes tight end Standish Dobard at Edna Karr High School in New Orleans. Golden said part of the reason UM was willing to take Willis III was because of their relationship.
"He's technically not part of this class, but he's part of our plans for this class," Golden said of Willis III who won't be eligible to play until 2016. "He will have to sit out a year, but that's part of the equation as we start to lose [Ufomba] Kamalu and some of those guys. We have other guys in place to pick them up. He's a great football player, a great motor and a guy we coveted a year ago. We did not get him. We're glad to get this time around."
Asked why UM was willing to take a player with a bit of a troubled past, Golden said Miami did it's research.
"It was things we didn't think were to the point it would discourage us," Golden said. "I think that's one of the things we tried to do, a good background check really on everybody -- all the players. We're not perfect. But in his case it was stuff that was a lot of immaturity, things of that nature. But nothing that without the right group, right mentor [can't be addressed] and Stan has offered to do that for us.
"I don't know that we would be sitting here without the connection with Stan and obviously the testimony of Stan in terms of the environment, the enjoyment he's having in this program and what that represents. I know Gerald was excited about becoming a Miami Hurricane. When he's finished up with classes, he'll enroll this summer."
WHAT ELSE DID GOLDEN DISCUSS?
> Golden said former walk-on punter Justin Vogel paid his own way on to the team last, but will count as one of the scholarship player this season.
> Golden told ESPN The Ticket Wednesday Miami will be between 78 and 79 scholarships next season with the hope they will be done with the nine scholarships they need forfeit before 2016.
> Golden said he likes the defensive tackles UM now has in the program.
"All three nose guards we had last year were inexperienced a year ago -- Courtel Jenkins, Michael Wyche and Calvin Heurtelou. They all played. Plus we redshirted Earl Moore. So I'm pleased with that position," he said. "Obviously defensive tackle we got Ufomba Kamalu, AJ Moten, Jelani Hamilton. You mention Kendrick Norton. He's a young man we're really excited about. He brings us strength, brings us power. He's a big man. He's got to be 315, 320 pounds in that range. So we're excited about that and obviously we added Gerald Willis to that mix."
> Golden said he's fine with the numbers Miami has at running back (five with incoming four-star freshman Mark Walton), receiver (nine with incoming four-star freshman Lawrence Cager) and tight end (five with incoming No. 1-ranked JUCO tight end Jerome Washington). Quarterback (UM didn't see any, but picked up Texas Tech transfer Vincent Testaverde) is an area Golden said the team will continue to monitor.
"The one position we had to overcompensate for was offensive line," he said. "I prefer not to do that in any single year. I think if you can take four offensive lineman a year you would be really happy. That would give you 14 or 15 over a four-year period. When you have to take six in a year it shows you how we're not really where we needed to be a year ago on the offensive line. It takes away from you getting a skill guy or somebody that can do something with the ball in your hands.
"We're good [at running back]. We got Joe [Yearby], Gus [Edwards], Trayone Gray, Mark Walton and then Tucker will do what he has continued to do for us. He'll be a fullback when we need him. But Tuck is a really good one back and he's doing a great job with track. He's lean. So he'll do a dual role. Because if he doesn't he sits around a lot. If we use the fullback 12 times a game that's probably on the high side."
> Of UM's 20 signees, only seven are from South Florida. Golden said those numbers are skewed by the high number of offensive linemen UM had to take.
"I don't think we would drive past any kid in South Florida to go somewhere else," Golden said. "You guys may no better than me how many power-five offensive linemen were offered in the three counties. But for us, we had to go to Venice, Bradenton and we were lucky with Milo from Kaaya's school. Obviously, Loftus was a young man from Tallahassee Godby we liked who came down from camp. Those six and then the tight end wasn't from down here either. That's seven guys from one-third of the class that were not from South Florida for sure."
> How would Golden evaluate the way UM recruited skill talent in South Florida?
"Well, again, it wasn’t a big skill year," he said. "We needed two corners and two safeties, we probably would’ve taken one more wide receiver, but we only lost one wide receiver, so it’s just the way it shaped out," he said. "We played 34 first and second-year players a year ago and redshirted 17 guys, so those 51 are all guys that are coming back on our roster. You can’t lose one, Phillip Dorsett, and replace him with three. It doesn’t work that way in terms of the roster. That’s not where we are right now. Hopefully we’ll get to 78, 79 this year and get to 85 by ’16, so we’re still at a cap deal. Again, Justin Vogel did a great job. We’re appreciative of him and his family paying for this year. He ended up being an all-conference candidate or he might have made one of the all-conference teams, which is great for him moving forward. So it counts, it counts as part of this class. The offensive line obviously was one of the positions that we were hoping to stay healthy, ‘cause we were? There, so we had to compensate there as well."
> In general, how would Golden say he's done recruiting South Florida these four, five years?
"Obviously last year, again, I don’t know overall, but last year was clearly our best year and not just, it’s really not about numbers, but it’s about performance and production," he said. "Chad Thomas and Joe Yearby, KC McDermott, Nick Linder, Trevor Darling, all of those guys were either starters or big contributors and there’s so many other guys like Demetrius Jackson who we think is going to be a really good player. TJ McCray, we had so many kids from South Florida a year ago.
"Again, this number’s a little bit skewed because of the number of offensive linemen and none of them were local, but we just gotta keep doing it. I think we have 13 commitments in next year’s class and all of them are from Florida. Again, sometimes that’s just the way it breaks down. There’s obviously a great number of skill players here, so if you’re not taking three or four wideouts, next year we’re going to probably take five wideouts. We should have a good year in South Florida, I think five wideouts. That’s just the way it shakes out. I think every one of our players in next year’s class is already from Florida, so I think when you couple that with the overall body of work in the last three years, I think that’s when you’ll find our commitment to South Florida."
> Golden said freshman defensive end Scott Patchan "is doing great" in his recovery from a torn ACL which cost him his senior year. "He's already 245 pounds," Golden said. "The biggest thing is [trainer Vinny Scavo] is trying to slow him down. He's already wanting to go full speed. So we're going to be careful with him early in spring ball. He will participate in spring ball, but from a preventive measure standpoint we're going to hold him out probably until spring break. That's something I have to check. All the reports are he's doing good. He's got work ethic and he's long. So he's going to be really big."
> As for the high-number of decommitments for UM this year, Golden said reasons are "all the above." "Maybe it's that just the direction we're going," he meant in terms of the way college football is trending. "We don't want to get into that business. At the end of the day we're happy with our class and the needs we met in our class. It's a variety reasons and really they are individually based. It's tough to just sit up here and paint a brush as to why it happened. But obviously moving forward, we’re excited about this group and anxious to get started on the 2016 group tomorrow."
“Again, just keep moving the program forward. Infrastructure is improving. Do a great job on the field, move the program forward there. And just continue to show them the impact that they can have and obviously we’re excited because it’s going to be a skill-laden group. I don’t think we’re going to take many offensive linemen. So there’s going to be a lot of wide recievers in the group, probably two tight ends, I’m still going through it. Two running backs. Multiple corners. Multiple safeties. From that standpoint, we’re ecited about it. Keep moving forward.”
Q: A couple of the defensive backs you got in on late, [Sheldrick] Redwine and [Robert] Knowles in particular: Big year for DBs in South Florida, a lot of them went to different places. How did these two compare in your evaluations to some of the other kids that maybe were more highly regarded by the outside world?
“Yeah. I think, so, to answer your question, for all the kids – and again, it was what we needed this year, in terms of – Michael Jackson came to camp, had South Florida ties, he was 6-1, had length, at corner. I think there were two guys, three including Sheldrick, maybe I’m wrong, in South Florida in terms of length. We got one of the three. It’s really not a function of when you get them, it’s can they do the things you need them to do--
Q: But when you guys evaluated them, did you see them as a comparable-level player to some of the other [higher-ranked players]?
“I think you’re splitting hairs. It’s like that scene in Moneyball, when he sits across from him and says, ‘You think you know. You don’t know.’ We think we know. Everybody thinks they know. All around the country, everybody thinks they know. And then when the kid comes and all of a sudden he’s great, everybody says, man, we’re awesome evaluators. We’re awesome. But the reality is, you’re splitting hairs. There’s a lot of corners down here, a lot of corners down here this year. The guys that were not 6-1, we just needed length at that spot. In terms of Robert Knowles, when his film came in, and we had a chance to meet him in person and see his size, see his stature, you’re talking about 6-1 and a half, and gonna be big. Gonna be a 215-pound safety. When you turn on his film, his physicalness … again, why do guys like Khalil Mack go to Buffalo and end up being first-rounders? It’s because a lot of guys are filled up in the recruiting cycle and not really looking. We got fortunate there with Robert Knowles and I feel the same way about Sheldrick. But you’re splitting hairs in terms of who’s really – it’s going to come down to character, it’s going to come down to makeup, it’s going to come down to who’s consistent off the field. If they’re consistent, they’re going to keep learning, keep growing, keep improving, all of those things. Those guys wanted to be Miami Hurricanes, and I think that’s important here too. I don’t want to lose that. Those guys wanted to come. Robert Knowles wanted to be here and he’ll go to work and fight his ass off for us.
Q: You talk a lot about size, and not recruiting some kids because you’re looking for a 6-1 corner for example. Is part of the reason because some South Florida kids are fast and don’t have the size?
I hate painting with a broad brush. There’s so many different players and so many different varieties. I don’t know; do you guys have a count of how many guys are going Division I? There’s so many. There’s so many. You can’t get them all. Just make sure the ones you get can do what you need them to do and fit your system. But because our skill numbers will be high, I expect our South Florida numbers to be really high next year, as is already evident by every single one of them – 100 percent of the 13 committed for next year – are from Florida. We are gaining a little bit of traction in Jacksonville, we’ve done well in Tampa obviously and now we’re kind of moving down the west coast a little bit which is great. It’s great for us to do that. We’re getting a little bit more Bradenton, a little bit more Venice, got somebody committed from Naples the other day. We should be in that whole area and if we don’t have to leave there, we’re not going to.