Hurricanes lock in star-studded, ‘drama-free’ early signing class

David Furones, South Florida Sun Sentinel

The groundwork for the Miami Hurricanes’ 2021 recruiting class was laid all the way back in the fall of 2017.

“Video is starting to surface around Dade County of a very special freshman football player,” UM coach Manny Diaz explained on Wednesday afternoon after locking in the signatures of 20 prospects on the first day of college football’s Early Signing Period.

“I remember driving over and sitting in the coach’s office at Monsignor Pace High School. And in walks a ninth grader and, instantly, after watching the film and watching this young man walk in in person, you realize, at that moment, that this is the exact player the University of Miami has got to sign to accomplish the goals that we want to accomplish.”

That young man was James Williams, who eventually turned into the 6-foot-5, 227-pound five-star recruit and nation’s top-ranked safety in the 2021 class out of American Heritage. On Wednesday, he and defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, a fellow five-star prospect out of Miami Palmetto that’s No. 1 nationally at his position, headlined a class that hovers around the top 10 in team recruiting rankings by Rivals and 247 Sports.

“Four years, the duration of the recruitment of a player like James,” said Diaz, also recalling how Taylor impressed him back when he was still an underclassman at Miami Southridge. “Ultimately, what did this class come down to? It came down to relationships — some relationships, like James, that have been four years in the making.”

The Early Signing Period runs through Friday with the Hurricanes able to sign four more players, according to Diaz, the next of which they hope comes in four-star quarterback Jake Garcia in his Wednesday night announcement.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic where recruits couldn’t have in-person communication with college coaches or take official visits to schools since mid-March, Miami locked in 20 signings, most of which were set since before the season began.

“Since the summertime, it’s been as drama-free of a class as I can remember in my time at UM,” said Diaz, who acknowledged it’s nerve-racking until those signed letters of intent come through to make it official for those recruits.

That’s not to say it was always drama-free. Some players, like four-star receivers Romello Brinson and Jacolby George, backed off of original commitments after watching the debacle of a 6-7 season in 2019 before hopping back on board in the summer. UM was believed to be an afterthought for Taylor when the Hurricanes were losing to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech to finish out that season, but they found a way to claw back into his recruitment before improving their trajectory with an 8-2 regular season this year.

“The only way you do it is you have to be relentless — relentlessness and relationships,” Diaz said. “LT’s a guy that, I think, we were his first [scholarship] offer. And you just stay after [him]. Trust is consistency over time, being the same person over time, and I think that’s ultimately what started to turn.”

Along with Brinson and George, Miami’s class has playmakers like electric slot receiver Brashard Smith, Taylor’s teammate at Palmetto, Chaminade-Madonna running back Thaddius Franklin and tight ends like Texas-based Elijah Arroyo and Northwestern’s Kahlil Brantley.

Three South Florida offensive linemen in Miami Central guard Laurence Seymore, Stoneman Douglas tackle Michael McLaughlin and Miami Columbus center Ryan Rodriguez are locked in.

The defense has the freak athlete in Williams on the back end and the swift-for-his-size Taylor (6-4, 285) up front, but Northwestern ball-hawking four-star safety Kamren Kinchens is not to be discounted. The Hurricanes also bring in a pair of defensive ends in Georgia-based Thomas Davis and Columbus’ Jabari Ishmael, Chaminade-Madonna defensive tackle Allan Haye, linebackers in Miami Killian’s Tyler Johnson, the younger brother of former UM safety JaQuan Johnson, and Orlando’s Deshawn Troutman, striker Chase Smith and cornerback Malik Curtis, from Melbourne and Fort Myers respectively.

All that plus Hialeah Champagnat kicker Andres Borregales, the younger brother of current Hurricanes kicker Jose Borregales, to boot.

Fifteen signees come from a Miami-Dade or Broward County high school. Two others, Arroyo and Troutman, are transplanted South Floridians, and two more, Smith and Curtis, are from elsewhere within the state.

“We always want to win Dade and Broward and Palm Beach County first,” Diaz said. “We have just not always done that. … We’ll always begin here. We’ll always push out to I-4 from there, and then we’ll always push up through the rest of the state and nationally for guys that are the right fit.”

The remaining scholarships?

Garcia as the lone quarterback in the class would be nice. With the traditional National Signing Day on Feb. 3 to complete the recruiting class, Diaz said on Wednesday he wants to add two more cornerbacks before the end of the cycle with numbers low there. Tar’Varish Dawson, an Auburn commit from Lehigh Acres in Southwest Florida is an intriguing prospect as he delayed his college decision in the wake of Auburn firing coach Gus Malzahn.

Miami could also be in play for a fourth offensive lineman, possibly Jacksonville Trinity Christian offensive tackle Austin Barber.