It’s been a wild past 12 months for the 2018 recruiting class, but now, as Signing Day has officially come and gone, we can finally put the cycle in the rear-view mirror and reflect a bit.
The Canes secured a consensus Top 10 class on Wednesday according to the major recruiting sites, and the accolades ranged from #6 overall on Rivals to #8 overall on 247Sports. ESPN was smack dab in the middle of the two with a #7 overall ranking to boot.
Miami locked in the majority of it’s 23-man class during the early signing period back in December, but 4 prospects signed on Wednesday. They were: 4-star DT Nesta Silvera, 4-star WR Marquez Ezzard, 3-star DT Jordan Miller, and 3-star CB Nigel Bethel.
I’ve heard some negative chatter about Miami’s recruiting the past few days, so I wanted to take this recap piece to address it in part. “Huh?”, you may say. “How did we get to the point where the fanbase is criticizing a top 6 at best, top 8 at worst, class?”.
Many of these takes are actually somewhat fair and layout valid concerns. And I get it. I really do. We all love this U, are passionate about our team, and want nothing more than to see Miami at the pinnacle of college football again like we know it can be. But, while a lukewarm close with late misses at positions of need put a damper on this class to some, it’s important to take a step back, take a deep breath (PHEW), and keep everything in perspective as we head into the 2019 cycle.
It’s easy to forget or lose sight of how far this program has come in only 2 years, but consider this: Miami has improved it’s national recruiting ranking each year since the hire of Mark Richt. On 247Sports, they’ve jumped from #22 (2016) to #12 (2017) to #8 (2018). On Rivals, they have gone from #23 (2016) to #11 (2017) to #6 (2018). And on ESPN, they’ve bounced from #19 (2016) to #12 (2017) to #7 (2018).
Maybe 2018 didn’t quite live up to the standard of the “GREATEST CLASS ALL OF TIME” many were pedaling after Miami came out of the gates on fire with the #1 class for about 6 months, but progress was surely made in terms of the image and perception high school players have of Miami both locally and nationally. A Miami offer means something again.
Everyone wants to talk about the failures at American Heritage, but, I’d actually argue, you need to look no further than American Heritage to see the slow and steady results Mark Richt and his staff are bringing to the table in only 2 short years. For those that are unaware, Miami has struggled to recruit Heritage FOR YEARS going back to the Randy Shannon era. They weren’t getting anybody, not even life-long Canes fans like Sony Michel. No, 2018 Heritage 5-stars Patrick Surtain Jr. and Tyson Campbell are not coming to the U, and that sucks, but the most important player from Heritage relative to Miami did become a Hurricane in Silvera.
A 4-star and #2 DT in the nation, Silvera instantly upgrades what was a bleak DT situation after RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton bolted early to the NFL, and will immediately compete for a role on the 2-deep in 2018. He was an absolute necessity, while guys like Campbell and Surtain Jr. were relative luxuries if we’re being honest. Richt also pulled 4-star OT Kai-Leon Herbert from Heritage in the 2017 class when he was considered a UF lean.
Richt is slowly building back in-roads at Heritage, where his predecessors made some grave mis-steps in the past, but success won’t come overnight at a place with a staff that admittedly still holds some grudges and a negative vibe permeates regarding Miami due to not offering certain kids over the years. And yes, it’s true Campbell and Surtain Jr. are the types of elite talent that the Hurricanes’ legacy was built on. If the Canes are ever to reach the heights of past championship teams, they’ll have to start winning the battles for the Campbell’s and Surtain Jr.’s of the world. Point blank, no doubt about it.
Still, it’s certainly no reason to downgrade a class that brought in some pretty good defensive talent while absolutely loading up on ELITE players on the offensive side of the ball. The side of the ball that, in case you forgot, was a constant achilles heel for Miami at key times last season. With the reinforcements brought in by the 2018 class, depth at RB and TE have gone from shoddy at best to a relative strength, QB recruiting continues to be dynamite, and their future targets at wideout are among the nation’s best. All while the Canes continue to stack chips on the offensive line.
For frame of reference, last season, Miami started out with the uninspiring Trayone Gray as their #3 back. In 2018? That role will, at least to start, belong to 5-star and consensus highest-ranked Storm18 member Lorenzo Lingard. And the likely 4th stringer? That’d be the #7 ranked running back in the nation for 2018, 4-star Camron Davis. No doubt about it, this is how a Miami backfield should look. The TE position brings dual top 8 talents Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory to Coral Gables to supplement returners junior Michael Irvin II, who got starts after Chris Herndon’s season-ending knee injury last season, and sophomore Brian Polendey.
When Richt’s consensus preseason top 100 overall QB commit Artur Sitkowski had a meltdown at IMG this season, what did Richt go do? Went out and got a better option in U.S. Army All-American 4-star Jarren Williams, even though it was late in the cycle and most of the top QB’s were already snapped up. The weapons they are surrounding him with at receiver would be hard to match at the vast majority of programs in America. 4-star Mark Pope, 4-star Brian Hightower, 4-star Ezzard, and 3-star Daquris Wiggins all have unlimited upside and gives Miami an embarrassment of riches in an already deep WR corps. The Canes will also bring in 4-star OG Delone Scaife and 4-star OG Cleveland Reed (both Under Armour All-Americans), plus 3-star OT John Campbell to supplement last year’s very good offensive line haul.
You’re slowly but surely starting to see the depth beginning to fill out the roster.
So, while it’s true key misses at DT and CB can’t be ignored, I am confident Miami will dust themselves off, develop the players they do have for 2018, and go full-speed ahead at those areas in 2019. At the end of the day, raw, on the field results are what matters, and Miami has two of the best on-field coaches in America at those spots in Craig Kuligowski and Mike Rumph to bring the absolute best out of the players that did want to be Hurricanes.
Thinking back to last year, corner was in dire straights. Only 5 total players were at the position, 3 of which had never played a snap at Miami, and 4 if you discount Michael Jackson as a player who almost exclusively played on special teams in years past. Rumph turned that weakness into a strength and got the absolute most any coach could have out of that group; that was even with the two projected starters (Dee Delaney and Jhavonte Dean) instead becoming mere rotation players. Jackson, before a transfer candidate, finished the year Second Team All-ACC and in the NFL Draft discussion. Malek Young (RIP) was probably Miami’s best pure cover corner as only an undersized sophomore and was also All-ACC honorable mention. And Trajan Bandy went from lost rookie to looking like a seasoned vet.
This is all important because Miami could be in a similar situation this season with only Jackson, Bandy, and Dean back. But there’s no doubt in my mind Rumph can replicate last season’s success because he has a better mix of experience and talent than he even did last year.
The Canes added 4-star Gilbert Frierson, 4-star Al Blades Jr., 4-star DJ Ivey, and 3-star Bethel at corner alone in this class. Like WR, that’s a deep class that many in the college football world would be jealous of. While Bethel has blazing speed, but is somewhat of a project, the other three could absolutely play a Day 1 role at Miami. Hell, Ivey and Frierson are already enrolled on campus getting comfortable with the playbook, getting proper strength and conditioning, and acclimating to college life. And the Canes really only need one or two to be ready to play in 2018.
So sit back. Relax. And take everything for what it is. Because the truth is, Miami’s stock is rising. This class will be the cornerstone of things to come. On the field, in recruiting, even facilities-wise, this program has improved leaps and bounds from where it was only 2 years ago. Keep winning, keep improving the perception, and the recruits will come.
And that’s something to celebrate.