CORAL GABLES, Fla. — With the NCAA saga behind him, University of Miami head coach Al Golden put together his best recruiting class.
The Hurricanes, which entered National Signing Day ranked eighth nationally by Scout.com, dropped three spots to 11th. They remained second in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind BCS champion Florida State.
More importantly, they did not lose any of their 26 commits. Four were listed in Scout.com’s top 100 and three earned five stars.
Golden, who took over the program December 2010, acquired 13 players from both sides of the football with an emphasis on the defensive front seven. There are two junior college transfers.
"That’s the thing that’s probably most exciting to us as a staff is the guys who said were coming came," Golden said. "We took a run at a couple of other guys just like every team does down the stretch. Unlike last year — I had a ceiling — we had to hold some of those spots for local kids and some of those kids didn’t come and that created a deficit."
St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Nick Linder was the first to send his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday.
"Coach (Art Kehoe) told me they wanted me to be the first guy in," said Linder, whose older brother Brandon just graduated from UM. "Over the years he gave me a lot of advice but mostly to stay humble and keep working."
Miami Booker T. Washington, this year’s national champion, will keep two of its guys local: five-star defensive end Chad Thomas and three-star defensive end Demetrius Jackson. Nick Saban and Alabama wooed Thomas this past weekend, but couldn’t get him to switch from Miami.
"I stuck with UM and found out that was the best fit for me throughout the whole process," Thomas said. "I’ve been in Miami my whole life, but Coral Gables is a different place. Even if football fails, I still have my academics and I can pursue my music career at a great school. Success isn’t promised to everybody so I thought about that a lot."
Meanwhile, four-star cornerback Treon Harris, who the Hurricanes hoped to flip, signed with Florida. Harris had made Miami his final visit before signing day.
Golden also couldn’t sway Immokalee cornerback J.C. Jackson, who took an unofficial visit to Miami last week. Jackson stuck with his commitment to the Gators.
A big loss for the Hurricanes came mid-morning when Hialeah Champagnat Catholic defensive tackle Travonte Valentine signed with LSU. Amidst last month’s Golden-to-Penn State rumors, he switched from Miami to the Tigers. He is rated second best at his position.
Yet with the addition of Thomas, Jackson and Miami Northwestern’s Michael Smith, the Hurricanes have improved their defensive depth, particularly in the trenches.
"Try to change the defense of Miami because they had a not really good defense giving up a lot of points," said Smith, a four-star recruit who was all-county first team. "Me and Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson — we’re really going to try and bring the pass rush and change the face of Miami."
Four-star quarterback Brad Kaaya of Los Angeles woke up early Wednesday to fax in his signing. Kaaya was eager to move forward after a long recruiting process.
"I’m definitely glad for it to be over," Kaaya had said on Saturday. "No matter what happens there’s a new rumor out each week. I’m just ready to go out there and sign and get all that unnecessary stuff over with it and get the work in and study film and get ready to play at the next level. That’s what I’m here for. I’m not a big fan of the recruiting romance. I’m just ready to play some football."
Nine players have already enrolled at Miami: offensive linemen Kc McDermott and Trevor Darling, running back Joseph Yearby, wide receiver Braxton Berrios, defensive end Trent Harris, defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou, cornerback Ryan Mayes and linebackers Darrion Owens and Juwon Young.
Sixteen of the 26 players are from Florida, three from New Jersey, two from California, two from Georgia as well as one from Alabama, Arizona and North Carolina.
Most significant signing: Thomas sticking with Miami rather than bolting for Alabama gives the Hurricanes a five-star player who should immediately make an impact on defense.
Biggest surprise: None. This recruiting class went as expected.
The one that got away: Valentine, who dropped his commitment in early January, would’ve been a bonus with Thomas’ signing.