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Part one: Does The U have a South Florida problem? Talent Acquisition

Part one of a series on South Florida talent. The talent in South Florida has dipped since the mid-2010’s. An area formerly known as “The State of Miami” is now lagging behind Central Florida in terms of talent.

NCAA Football: Miami at South Florida Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, the South Florida area had nine players in the Rivals top-100 rankings including future NFL players in Dalvin Cook, Sony Michel, and Chad Thomas. Multiple five-stars, not guys sneaking onto the list at numbers 95-100.

Flash forward only a handful of years and South Florida is averaging five players in the top-100 by 2022 and 2023 per the 247 composite rankings. The 2024 class looks like more of the same: five players in the top-100.

Graphic is from my class on “Talent Acquisition”

ESPN’s Bill Connelly has broken college football programs down into three very neat departments: Acquisition (recruiting), Development (strength and conditioning and position skill coaching) and Deployment (Scheme, depth charts, practice plans).

Part one of this series will cover Acquisition via a series of questions I asked myself and decided to research in order to get a better idea of the “South Florida Problem,” and whether or not that “problem” is even real, or just imaginary.

“State of Miami” vs. National Recruiting

Mario Cristobal has spoken about a shift in focus from being a “State of Miami” type of recruiting model to a more national focus. Nebraska did this in the 90’s, Oregon in the 2000’s, and Notre Dame has had to do it since inception. But Coral Gables, FL isn’t located in Lincoln, Eugene or South Bend. It’s in a talent hotbed in South Florida.

Cristobal built a 7th ranked (247 composite) recruiting class in 2023 based on eight players from South Florida, but only one in the top-100. Mario’s focus was on national players, and especially players from the IMG Academy. The four IMG players aren’t from South Florida, they’re from places like Washington, American Samoa, and Oregon.

NOTE: None of my information will count IMG players as being from anywhere in Florida, unless they’re actually from a Florida high school originally.

Why look to IMG? It’s more than just having great players, which they often do. But IMG only has six of the top-100 in 2024 per 247. Chaminade-Madonna Prep in Hollywood, FL has three of the top-100 on their own.

A head coach wants players from IMG because they aren’t only talented, they’re great young men (there’s a high discipline standard to attend IMG) and they’ve been through legit coaching, strength and conditioning, mental coaching, and nutrition programs. Much of this would be defined as Development and we’ll cover that factor in Part 2.

Q1: Have the talented players have moved out of the area?

The cost of living in Miami and the surrounding areas has gotten out of control. While pay in Florida for jobs like education hasn’t seen an increase do catch up to the hikes in rent. I personally felt priced out of both South and Central Florida based on Florida teacher and coach pay. Moving away paid more, and it allowed that increased pay to go further.

Because of the cost of living down in the big three counties, families have also started to migrate their way to the Orlando-area which has seen a huge boost in talent. Osceola and Apopka are typically loaded, but now Edgewater, Jones, Bishop Moore, and Winter Park are, too.

The Tampa-area has always had a strong base of talent (Jesuit, Tampa Catholic, Armwood, Plant), but they’re starting to shine even more now in the face of this migration out of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and up to Orange, Polk Pinellas, and Hillsborough.

The same plight that’s facing Southern California is starting to face Miami. Football participation is starting to dwindle, and it’s not CTE related “scared parents,” it’s that school enrollment is taking a hit, too.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

To reference our earlier data: while South Florida had nine players in the top-100 in 2014, Central Florida had three, and North Florida had only one.

Over the past three years (2022-2024), South Florida has averaged five top-100 players per recruiting year. In 2023, Central Florida had nine top-100 players, including number two in the top-15. In 2022, Central Florida only had four top-100’s. North Florida has remained constant having two in ‘23, and one in ‘22.

In 2024, North Florida will stay consistent and have only one top-100 player, while Central Florida is projected to have seven top players, compared to South Florida’s five.

Migration patterns, a common theme on the podcast Split Zone Duo, might be having an impact on South Florida much the same as it has on Southern Cal and parts of Texas.

Q2: Have the recruiting services changed their mind on South Florida?

The next question that has to be asked is whether or not the recruiting websites like 247 and On3 adjusted their rankings based on the lack of production from So. Florida’s Blue Chip players at the collegiate level?

It’s possible the recruiting services have slid Miami prep players out of top-100 because of the disappointing results of some of the Blue Chip players that flashed at 7-on-7 tournaments once they were in full pads at the college level.

Those 3-4 players that might’ve been included at the bottom of the top-100 in 2014, are outside of the top-100 in the 2020’s, and more South Florida natives are ranked closer to no. 100 than no.1.

Two of the state of Florida’s five NFL Draft 1st round picks are Miami-area natives, but both were only three-star prospects. Pitt defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (Miami-Northwestern High School) and Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers (University School) could’ve been ‘Canes and became 1st rounders at other ACC schools. PS. If Pitt wants a defensive lineman, Miami should probably do everything in their power to sign them, develop them in Charlie Partridge’s methods, and send them off to play in the NFL like the Panthers do.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Texas Christian at Georgia Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The other three Floridians were four-star Anthony Richardson (Gainesville), JUCO to Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon (Pensacola), and five-star defensive tackle Jalen Carter (Apopka).

The state tied with Florida for the most draft picks in the first round of the ‘23 NFL Draft is Georgia. Per the on3 article linked above- ‘23 was the second draft of the last three where Georgia is the top dog in terms of 1st round picks.

Georgia’s top picks were the top rated recruit in his class and five-star Nolan Smith, a five-star in no.2 overall selection Will Anderson, a five-star in Myles Murphy, a five-star in Broderick Jones, and a four-star and top-80 player in Jahmyr Gibbs.

Maybe other states have better production from their Blue Chip prospects and thus, the Floridians have been pushed out of the top-100 for states that produce more college ready talent.

The Wrap

South Florida has local talent. The issue isn’t the raw ability, even if some of the young families are moving to more affordable areas in Central Florida. While South Florida is no longer putting out nine top-100 players, they still put out five or six per class, which is more than most STATES could dream of.

The issue is whether or not the athletes are ready to make an immediate impact as college freshmen for the Miami Hurricanes. That leads us to part two of the series, the part that will discuss Development and part three will discuss Deployment, or the lack there of in South Florida high school football programs.