Miami still holds national allure for recruits
FEB 04, 2014 2:27p ET
"Being a California kid you definitely grow up watching USC and UCLA go at it," said Kaaya, a four-star quarterback recruit from Los Angeles. "(Miami) was awesome that year. All the fans in town that year, seeing all the orange and green."
That moment stuck with Kaaya, who plans to make Coral Gables his home when he signs his Letter of Intent early Wednesday morning.
Kaaya is one of 10 out-of-state commits for Miami, which currently has 26 players in its 2014 class. Four-star safety Kiy Hester and three-star defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins of DePaul Catholic High School make up two-thirds of a contingency from New Jersey.
Leading up to National Signing Day, each recruit weighs certain factors more than others when deciding on what school to attend.
Both Hester and Jenkins liked that head coach Al Golden and defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio grew up in the Garden State.
Current players from Jersey include redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Olsen, senior defensive lineman Olsen Pierre and sophomore defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad.
"It's kind of special," Jenkins said. "You just feel like they have a plan for us down there and they have spots. Coaches from Jersey, some of the players are from Jersey. We just want to show what Jersey football (can do) down in South Florida. Just go out there and play ball."
Another reason guys may favor UM is the unmistakable NFL presence.
Three former Hurricanes made the 2014 Pro Bowl. The program ranks near the top of the league each season in representation. Miami had at least one first-round selection for 14 straight years, setting an NFL record.
"It's such a legacy for everyone else coming in," said Kaaya, who went to Chaminade-Madonna Prep with junior kicker Matt Goudis. "Everyone's seen those documentaries, everyone watches Monday Night Football and sees all those guys throwing up the U. It sets the standard for everyone coming in. These are the guys that came before us, and it really challenges us coming in to be great."
Before their first practice, the freshmen must settle into their new surroundings, complete with a lake and palm trees.
Despite its difference in style and personality, the Coral Gables campus is still within driving distance of infamous South Beach.
"There's a lot going down there and there can be distractions, but to me I'm going to go down there and be focused," said Hester, who remembers watching Sean Taylor and Devin Hester play for UM. "I know what I have to do. I won't get caught up in the distractions."
That's because once they arrive, they expect to compete for playing time. A chance to make an immediate impact is something Hester and Jenkins hope to take advantage of on the defensive side of the ball.
Though the unit improved in many categories last season -- from points allowed (26.8) to takeaways (27) -- late-season struggles didn't go unnoticed.
"The coaches basically told us to come in with the mindset of playing right away and make a big impact," Hester said. "They struggled on defense a little bit, that's why they committed guys. We hope to help the defense and be competitive. We come in with the mindset of playing right away, working out every day just getting ready and start looking at plays."
By the end of the recruiting process, the program's family atmosphere resonated most.
Kaaya, who will miss In-N-Out Burger and Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, knew he had to feel strongly about the school if he was going to move cross country.
Two of the best quarterbacks in program history also traveled more than 3,000 miles for college: Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta and national champion Ken Dorsey.
Miami offered Kaaya first, before UCLA or USC decided to take a shot on him. The coaches believed in him, which in turn helped gain his trust.
"I can even feel it now with the recruiting class," Kaaya said. "All the guys I'm committing with -- we've become a pretty tight-knit group."
KEY ANNOUNCEMENT TIMES
-- DE Chad Thomas: 9 a.m. Booker T. Washington (Miami, Alabama, FSU)
-- CB Treon Harris: 9 a.m. Booker T. Washington (FSU, Auburn, Florida, Miami)
-- WR Ermon Lane: 10 a.m. Homestead (FSU, Alabama, Florida, Miami)
-- DT Travonte Valentine: 10:30 a.m. Champagnat Catholic (LSU, Miami, Alabama)