From shoveling snow, skiing, and seasons and onto sunshine, surfing, and sand. OT Samson Okunlola sent another shockwave through the college football world as Miami landed another five-star - their third in this class.
HC Mario Cristobal and company are storming through the recruiting path like a category five Hurricane as their 2023 class is now ranked fourth in the nation, only trailing SEC powerhouses, Georgia and Alabama, as well as Texas after the latter picked up a commitment from Anthony Hill. And while many rival programs figured the storm surge had died down after Miami’s mediocre 5-7 2022 season, other teams are still left picking up the scraps remaining after Miami meets - and mostly procures - future U players. And now, the storm could be making its move up the coast.
In this instance with Okunlola, Miami went out of state in an area that has been unheralded for its football talent at the high school and prep level - New England, and more specifically, Massachusetts. To date, 16 of Miami’s 24 recruits are from Florida. Out of their top eight recruits, Okunlola is the only commit not from the Sunshine State.
New England Talent Surge...
And while you may be thinking the talent out of New England is ‘meh’ at best, there is a clear changing of the tide as New England-born players are making their mark at the national level. At the NFL level, the Patriots dominated the scene for over two decades and had already secured their third Super Bowl in four years around the time Okunlola was born. The Pats locked up three more titles led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, who have dominated the AFC throughout Pancake Honcho’s life. Similar to Brady, Okunlola chose warmer weather after nearly two decades in the greater Boston area.
To that end, New England born players have been quietly carving out promising careers at the college and even NFL level as of late. Historically, the likes of Howie Long, Matt Hasselbeck, and Mark Bavaro are some of the select few that have had successful college and NFL careers. And in recent years, Christian Wilkins and Anthony Sherman have represented the scant talent that breaks through out of the wintry northern states.
That being said, there are two players out of Massachusetts, Okunlola and St. John’s Prep safety, Joenel Aguero, who are the first two five-star recruits out of the Commonwealth ever. Miami was involved in Aguero’s recruitment until late, but he is committed to Georgia. In addition to the two five-stars out of Massachusetts this year, there have 12 more four-star recruits out of MA from 2018-2023. This is a stark contrast from 2002-2017 where there were only 13 four-stars combined, on top of zero five-stars during that timeframe.
Even more, this past NFL Draft saw two New England-born players drafted as Vikings safety Lewis Cine was selected in the first round and Ravens TE Isaiah Likely was picked in the fourth round. A slew of other players have also made their way to the NFL in recent years from New England, including Patrick Ricard, Isaac Yiadom, Chris Lindstrom, Sean McKeon, Noah Gray, Pat Freiermuth, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Maurice Hurst Jr., Stephen Hauschka, Hunter Long, Ryan Griffin, Byron Jones, Tim Boyle, and Zach Allen.
So what’s it mean for Miami...
The connection to Miami has not been pronounced: The only three other players that Miami recruited who hailed from New England all time are four-star QB, Tyler Van Dyke from Suffield Academy (CT) and three-star TE, Andrew Tallman from Boston College High (MA) in 2010. The fourth is three-star TE, Jackson Carver from Windsor (CT) who is part of this year’s class.
New England has been coined ‘Titletown over the past two decades for their success at the professional level. And specific to Samson, Okunlola’s hometown, Brockton, is nicknamed the ‘City of Champions,’ in part because of famous boxers, the undefeated Rocky Marciano, and ‘marvelous’ Marvin Hagler. Remember the GameStop craze? RoaringKitty, or Keith Gill, the man who commandeered that movement, hails from Brockton and nearly broke the 4-minute mile mark in track and field while at college locally at Stonehill College in Easton, MA. The city south of Boston clearly breeds winners - including Pancake Honcho.
Prior to Okunlola’s commitment announcement on Thursday, Cristobal and OL Coach, Alex Mirabal, traveled up to cold New England for an in-home visit at Okunlola’s house. And coincidentally, on that same night, former Patriots Julian Edelman and James White spoke at a leadership event at Okunlola’s high school, Thayer Academy.
As for Thayer, the school is not known for its football program at all. The Tigers went just 2-6 this season in the Independent School League (ISL). However, they’ve had some recent talent as Okunlola’s brother is three-star that is a defensive end right in the ACC at Pitt (Okunlola’s cousin, Ademola Faleye, also transferred to Michigan State this past week but played high school football at Brockton High).
Successful football players out of Thayer are few and far between, but includes former UNH LB, Matt Evans, who earned the Buck Buchanan award for most outstanding defensive player in Division I FCS, which has been awarded to Jared Allen, Rashean Mathis, among others. Evans currently serves as a national scout for the Patriots.
For what it’s worth, Thayer plays in the ISL, which does not compete against the bulk of the Massachusetts schools, which are separately a part of the MIAA. In fact, Thayer, as with many northeast and ISL schools, is more traditionally renowned for its hockey programs and prep school talent. Nonetheless, Okunlola was selected to play in the 2023 All-American Bowl and has impressed in many national showcases.
Okunlola plans to enroll at the U this January and immediately improves a weak spot for the Canes on the offensive line along with top ten 2023 recruit, Francis Mauigoa. The Pancake Honcho has incredible athleticism and IQ as he continues to build out his frame. Okunlola, as a five-star recruit, has early projections to be a first round pick when he’s eligible and could very well continue the surge and recruiting phenomenon out of the oft-overlooked New England/Massachusetts area.
Samson Okunlola, the first 5-star recruit in Massachusetts history, committed to the University of Miami on Thursday.— Trevor Hass (@TrevorHass) December 16, 2022
He did so with pizzazz, panache, and, yes, pancakes. It was quite a spectacle.
"No matter where I’m going, I’m going to be a 508 baby." https://t.co/gTyA02rvkq
When the smoke settles, and if Okunlola’s career at Miami goes according to plan, the Pancake Honcho could serve as a recruiting prong for the Canes in an unsung - but fiercely trending region, in New England.
Over the years, Miami has focused on getting solid talent out of Florida and other popular high school football regions such as Texas, Georgia, and California. With the addition of the Pancake Honcho, Cristobal and the Canes could have their eyes open to attract talent and unlock an entire region, which has historically been disregarded.
Miami... Welcome to recruiting in New England.