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Reviewing Miami’s 5-Star Signees of the Past 20 Classes: Part I

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A rank and review of the first six of Miami’s 24 5-star signees of the last 20 classes

Miami v Pittsburgh
Willis McGahee carries the ball in a 2002 victory over Pittsburgh. McGahee rushed for 1,753 yards and 28 touchdowns that season, both school records.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The University of Miami football program is no stranger to signing 5-star prospects over the past 20 years.

247Sports.com has data and rankings on the Miami Hurricanes’ last 20 recruiting classes. According to that data, Miami has signed 24 5-star prospects.

It comes as little surprise given Miami’s success in the early 2000’s that the Hurricanes recruited the most 5-stars during that time span. The Hurricanes signed six of their 24 5-star prospects in the 2000-2002 recruiting classes alone.

This is Part I of a review and ranking of those 5-star prospects based on their impact at Miami and their impact in the NFL.

2000 Recruiting Class

DJ Williams, LB, Concord (Ca.)-De La Salle

As a Prep: Williams played both ways for De La Salle his senior year, rushing for 1,974 yards on offense and recording 130 tackles, six sacks and five forced fumbles on defense. He also broke the De La Salle record for touchdowns in a season with 42 (33 rushing, five receiving, three punt return, one kick return). He was named a SuperPrep All-American.

With the Hurricanes: Williams played fullback his first season at Miami in 2000 and caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in Miami’s 37-20 win over Florida in the Nokia Sugar Bowl. He moved to linebacker for his sophomore season and finished seventh on the team in tackles with 43. As a junior, he was one of 11 semi-finalists for the Butkus Award and registered 108 tackles and four sacks. He was again a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award his senior year and finished the season with 82 tackles and a team-high six sacks.

In the Pros: Williams was drafted with the 17th overall pick of the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He played for the Broncos and the Chicago Bears in his 11-year NFL career and finished with 897 tackles, including four seasons with over 100 tackles. He was on four Bronco playoff teams and the team recently named Williams the No.4 inside linebacker in franchise history. Before he was released by the Broncos in 2013, Williams was one of just five players in the NFL to have tabulated at least 800 tackles and 20 sacks over the previous nine seasons.

Ranking: 3 of 24. Williams’ lengthy NFL career and accolades with the Broncos on top of his contributions at Miami puts him in the top three here. Making the switch to linebacker after the 2000 season at Miami proved to be an outstanding decision for Williams.

Willis McGahee, RB, Miami-Central

As a Prep: McGahee played just five games during his senior year at Central but still managed to rush for 677 yards and 11 touchdowns. He averaged more than eight yards per carry as a junior as well. He was named a SuperPrep All-American his senior year.

With the Hurricanes: McGahee redshirted during the 2000 season at Miami and overcame a mid-season knee injury during 2001 to average 4.7 yards per carry in backing up Clinton Portis. The Miami native’s sophomore campaign in 2002 still remains the most impressive single season in school history by a running back as he rushed for 1,753 yards and 28 touchdowns before blowing out his knee in the National Championship game loss to Ohio State. He rushed for 205 yards and six touchdowns in a 56-45 win over Virginia Tech that propelled the Hurricanes into the Tositos Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State that season. McGahee finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2002, many suspecting that his teammate Ken Dorsey finishing fifth cost him a legitimate chance at winning the Heisman.

In the Pros: McGahee was drafted with the 23rd overall pick of the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He played for four different teams over his 10-year career and made two Pro Bowls. In total, he rushed for 8,474 yards and 65 touchdowns, including rushing for 13 touchdowns as a rookie with the Bills in 2004. He sat out the 2003 NFL season to rehab his knee injury suffered against Ohio State and was awarded the 2004 Pro Football Weekly Comeback Player of the Year for his efforts his rookie year. In total, McGahee had four 1,000-yard or more seasons as a pro.

Ranking: 2 of 24. McGahee’s 2002 season for Miami will never be forgotten. Had Ken Dorsey not had the season he did, McGahee could have beaten out Carson Palmer for the Heisman Trophy. His lengthy NFL career after totally reconstructing his knee speaks to his work ethic and dedication. McGahee was inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

Willie Dixon, WR, Stockton (Ca.)-Brookside Christian

As a Prep: During his senior season in 1999, Dixon caught 56 passes for 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a junior in 1998, he had 1,422 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns. He was clocked at 4.3 in the 40-yard dash at a Nike Camp prior to entering Miami in the summer of 1999 and was named a SuperPrep All-American the same year.

With the Hurricanes: Lindy’s preseason college football magazine selected Dixon as one of the top 100 freshmen to watch in the nation for the 2000 season but never recorded a statistic for the Hurricanes. He redshirted in 2000 and transferred to City College of San Francisco, where he won a junior college national championship in 2001. His college career eventually concluded at San Diego State.

In the Pros: Dixon never recorded an NFL statistic.

Ranking: 23 of 24. A 5-star who never records a statistic at Miami and he isn’t last on this list? Dixon being from California helped keep expectations low despite his high school achievements. That can’t be said for the 24th ranked player on this list.

2001 Recruiting Class

Leon Williams, LB, Brooklyn (N.Y.)-Canarsie

As a Prep: Williams was said to be the best college football prospect in the New York City area in 25 years when he came out of high school. As a senior in 2000, he had 98 tackles, 12 sacks, four fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He was a USA Today All-American and the Gatorade Player of the Year in New York.

With the Hurricanes: Williams never quite got the opportunity to shine that many thought he would get at Miami. He redshirted during 2001 and played sparingly during the 2002 and 2003 seasons before registering 56 tackles in an injury-marred season in 2004. Williams recorded 54 tackles in 2005 in 11 games. He sat behind Jonathan Vilma during the 2002 and 2003 seasons and then fell victim to Randy Shannon’s defensive style of heavily rotating players while an upperclassmen.

In the Pros: Williams was drafted with the 110th overall pick of the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He played three seasons with the Browns before spending brief stints with the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs. Williams’ best pro season was in 2007 when he recorded 85 tackles and four sacks.

Ranking: 8 of 24. Williams certainly didn’t have bad Miami or professional careers. But when the pundits say you are the best college prospect to come out of New York City in 25 years, expectations run a little higher. Williams just sort of got lost in the shuffle on some talented teams at Miami.

2002 Recruiting Class

Ryan Moore, WR, Orlando-Dr. Phillips

As a Prep: Moore caught 25 passes for 557 yards and six touchdowns as a senior in 2001 for Dr. Phillips and also returned two kicks for touchdowns. This was despite serving a six-week suspension for being ejected from two games during the regular season. He also rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns. He had 954 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns as a junior in 2000. Moore was named First Team All-American by USA Today in 2001.

With the Hurricanes: Moore redshirted in 2002 but had a huge year as a redshirt freshman in 2003. He caught 44 passes for 637 yards and three touchdowns during Miami’s last season in the Big East. That is where things fell apart for Moore as he nearly did not equal those freshman year statistics in his final three years combined. He was expected to be the team’s top wide receiver in 2004 but suffered a foot injury and only made nine catches all season. He bounced back his junior year but was suspended for the Peach Bowl loss to LSU for a violation of team rules. He then had legal issues the following season when Larry Coker suspended him indefinitely for grabbing a woman and pushing her to the ground, according to the Associated Press. Moore played in only five games in 2006 and made 12 catches during his senior year.

In the Pros: Moore never recorded an NFL statistic. He did spend time with the Allen Wrangler and Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League and also played in the Canadian Football League.

Ranking: 20 of 24. Moore’s disciplinary troubles and injuries derailed what could have been a promising career after an encouraging redshirt freshman season at Miami. Perhaps Moore’s biggest impact on the Hurricane program is his claim that he was the first football player to flash “The U” with his hands in celebration during a game. In an article with 247Sports, he claims he did this during the 2004 Peach Bowl against Florida and it caught on with teammates and fans from there.

Devin Hester, ATH, West Palm Beach-Suncoast

As a Prep: Hester played at almost all times for Suncoast as a running back, wide receiver, defensive back, punt returner and kick returner during the 2000 and 2001 seasons. In 2001, Hester rushed for 1,014 yards and 12 touchdowns, had 1,028 yards receiving and nine more touchdowns and also passed for 225 yards and five touchdowns. On defense, he made 156 tackles, had three sacks and three forced fumbles. He was named First Team All-American by USA Today his senior year before signing with Miami.

With the Hurricanes: Hester did a little bit of everything in his three years with the Hurricanes. Known mostly for his electrifying kick returns on special teams, he brought back six kicks (four punts, two kickoffs) for touchdowns in three seasons and averaged over 15 yards per punt return in two seasons returning punts for Miami. He was also used out of the backfield and two scored two more touchdowns on offense (one rushing, one receiving) and had five interceptions and a sack while playing defense.

In the Pros: Hester was drafted with the 57th overall pick of the second round in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He played for four teams during his 11-year NFL career and brought 20 kicks (14 punts and five kickoffs, one missed field goal) back for touchdowns in his tenure, an NFL record. None were more famous than his 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open Super Bowl XLI in Chicago’s 29-17 loss to Indianapolis. In addition to the kick returns, Hester recorded 3,311 receiving yards and 17 offensive touchdowns in his career and was selected to four pro bowls. Hester holds 10 NFL records related to special teams touchdowns.

Ranking: 1 of 24. As if the high school and UM stats weren’t enough, the South Florida legend has 10(!) NFL records to his name. That should be enough to get him in the NFL Hall of Fame one day and is enough to get him on top of this list. Hester was a human highlight reel dating all the way back to his days at Suncoast up until his NFL retirement. Miami has not seen a player as uniquely talented as Hester since he left and may never again. The energy that Hester brought to the teams he played on was unmatched.

Check back soon for Parts II, III and IV of this list and the overall final ranking of all 24 5-stars.