“The girls at the party were much better than the farmer girls we’d see all day around campus. I was kind of worried all Auburn had to offer was those farmer girls that talked funny. But the girls at the party weren’t farmer girls at all. I thought they must have bused them in from Miami”
~ Willie Williams, former five star recruit, University of Miami player, and America’s first “celebrity” recruit, on his recruiting visit at Auburn.
With the advent of social media and the launch of sanctioned name, image, and likeness (NIL) endorsements, more and more of college football’s elite prospects in 2023 are celebrity recruits.
Pictures surfaced this weekend of University of Miami top celebrity “commit” Cormani McClain visiting Coach Prime in Colorado, arguably the nation’s top celebrity coach.
To recap, McClain is a consensus five star recruit who would be the highest rated DB ever recruited to the University of Miami. He’s a generational talent. The Lakeland star surprisingly committed to Miami over UF and Alabama last November. But, early national signing day came and went, and McClain was the only Hurricanes pledge who declined to fax in his Letter of Intent. The non-decision decision was a shock to all (Lakeland’s staff even had a congratulatory, Miami themed cake ready for him at the school’s signing ceremony). As it would turnout, signing day wouldn’t be the last time McClain leaves Miami hanging...
The entire Miami coaching staff was at Lakeland HS today... but Cormani McClain was NOT @CaneSport explains what they know heading into a weekend where McClain said he was going to 'sign' with someone.— Josh Newberg (@josh_newberg) January 13, 2023
More: https://t.co/736skgHaDQ pic.twitter.com/lxDAszCGeX
Now that McClain has ghosted Miami a SECOND time, is the egg on Cristobal’s face a reflection of Miami’s coaching staff or is this a primadonna teenager milking his celebrity recruitment for every last drop of attention? Does it matter?
We’ll come back to McClain in a moment, but let’s turn our attention to Gainesville. Miami isn’t the only program in the state on the verge of losing its top-rated recruit. Jaden Rashada, a borderline five star QB prospect who is the headliner of the Gators’ 2023 recruiting class, just requested a release from his LOI. Canes fans may recall that Rashada committed to Miami last summer before flipping to UF.
The Rashada situation appears to be purely about NIL money. Under NCAA regulations, schools are forbidden from sourcing, negotiating, or facilitating NIL deals. But under the guise of educating student athletes, institutions can offer some services such as tax and branding advice, so long that those services are also available to the general student population. It’s a murky area that’s further complicated by a wide variation in state law on the subject.
What has arisen under this complicated and ever changing NIL rubric is a vast array of NIL programs, centers, or groups affiliated with certain schools. At UF that would be the Gator Collective, a self-described “proud sponsor of the Florida Gators” whose mission is to provide UF athletes NIL compensation. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Rashada signed an NIL contract with the Gator Collective valued at a whopping $13 million, but the Sentinel also reported that contract turned out to be a bad check that Rashada couldn’t cash. Rashada gave UF every opportunity to fulfill its end of the bargain, and backed out once it was clear the Gator Collective couldn’t cough up the dough.
To its credit, Miami has been competing strongly on the NIL front. Leading the way has been mega-booster John Ruiz who reportedly has signed over 100 UM athletes to $7 million in NIL endorsement contracts. When Rashada committed to Miami, it was alleged that Ruiz signed Rashada to a $9.5 million NIL deal, while at that time the Florida Collective was offering $11 million. So it would seem that Florida upping the offer to $13 million persuaded Rashada to flip to UF, but then Rashada wanted out when they couldn’t follow through on the payment.
By the way, just to put these amounts into sobering context, Brock Purdy who is undefeated as the starting QB for the San Francisco 49ers is on a rookie contract valued at $3.7 million over four years. Let that marinate.
So while Miami’s 2023 recruiting class is an objective success, even without McClain and Rashada, their respective sagas illustrate the unique challenges of recruiting elite athletes this day and age. This isn’t a reference to the three and four star players that make up a roughly 15-20 player backbone for any given recruiting class. This is about the elite players that can launch a recruiting class into a top 5 ranking. These are the players that make up roughly half the starters for perennial playoff participants Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State.
More and more of these elite players like McClain and Rashada are going to treat their college years as a celebrity business, and that’s just the reality. Rashada got more money. McClain, whose nickname is literally “Money,” is evidently attracted to the shine of Coach Prime - even though Colorado may not be able to pay his salary yet alone exorbitant NIL money for its players. No matter. McClain seems to already be taking a page out of Deion’s playbook. Deion had a camera crew following him at Jackson State that lead to a Coach Prime documentary series on Amazon Prime. There are now reports of a film crew following McClain around Boulder. Perhaps its Amazon for Season 2 of Coach Prime, or perhaps this adds credence to a signing day theory that McClain didn’t sign because a video wasn’t ready since the video is apparently still being filmed.
I can see some Hurricanes fans saying good riddance to the seventeen year-old celebrities. “Mario needs to focus on the right guys with the right culture fit.” “We only want Miami guys, not necessarily the best guys.”
You know who has that attitude? Coaches and fans of programs that cannot get the best guys. Sonny Dykes gets the right guys while Nick Saban and Kirby Smart get the best guys. Once they’re in the program, you mold them into your guys or show them the door. Stack recruiting classes and fill gaps with the transfer portal. If a highly recruited junior isn’t holding up his end of the bargain on the field, show him the transfer portal because there will be multiple highly rated underclassman behind him eager to step up.
This is Cristobal’s strength - get the players in the door and then hand them over to a well-paid coaching staff stocked with future and former head coaches. On that note, it would seem Miami is clearing house a bit at least on the offense side of the coaching staff. QBs coach Frank Ponce returned to Appalachian State, and rumors are rampant that he’s not the only one leaving.
As disappointing as last season was, the offseason did demonstrate that this coaching staff is capable of attracting elite talent. The last Miami coach to attract multiple, elite athletes was Randy Shannon, but he just got lucky that a historically talented Miami Northwestern team was in his backyard. He couldn’t stack classes. The last coach to truly recruit as well as Cristobal was Butch Davis. That turned out pretty well.
Miami has the support of boosters with sufficient NIL money to shoot for the elite players. Cristobal also has the added benefit that Miami is in, well, Miami, a market which athletes can use as a platform to turbo charge their brand exposure. Take Hanna & Haley Cavinder, UM’s twin basketball sensations. They chose to transfer to Miami from Fresno State, no doubt to amplify their social media platform which features a staggering 4.1 million Tik Tok followers and have earned nearly $2 million in NIL payments.
Haley and Hanna Cavinder have 4.1 million TikTok followers and $1.7 million in NIL earnings. But the twins, Miami seniors who have "haters" who don't think they take basketball seriously, just want to cap their careers with a trip to the NCAA tournament.https://t.co/U6Mx1gXuK3— ESPN Women's Hoops (@ESPN_WomenHoop) November 2, 2022
Don’t hate the celebrity players, hate the celebrity game. If LeBron James can leave his hometown to play in Los Angeles while he shoots Space Jam 2, high profile college athletes can play where they want and bargain with whom they want for endorsements. The stark reality is that celebrity college athletes are proliferating. Fortunately, Miami is a celebrity destination with resources to compensate the star student athletes.
“Dinner was followed by a trip back to Rolle’s apartment for a few hours of video games. Then it was off for a night on South Beach. They took us to this place called ‘The Bed.’ Warren Sapp, Clinton Portis, Jevon Kearse and a whole bunch of really hot girls were all there. We didn’t stick around long. After that, we just went back to the hotel to sleep.”
~ Willie Williams, on his recruiting visit at Miami.