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November 8, 2012

Miami not locking down Florida any more

MORE MIAMI COVERAGE: CaneSport.com

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

The de-commitment of Rivals250 prospect Alex Collins from Miami on Wednesday was a significant blow to the Hurricanes' recruiting class.

The four-star running back from Plantation (Fla.) South Plantation was the highest-rated player in an already thin 11-man class. He was also the only member of the Miami class ranked in the top 25 players in Florida.

What the loss of Collins underscores is Miami's slide in the race for the best players in one of the nation's most talent-rich states.

Since the class of 2008, when Miami signed 13 of the top 29 players in the state, the program has landed 10 or more players ranked in the top 100 in Florida just once -- the class of 2010.

Rivals.com Southeast analyst Kynon Codrington said that the program should not be struggling to land top-flight talent.

"It is still Miami," he said. "The school should never need a Plan B player. It should be Plan A, Plan A, and then Plan A.

"You turn on games on Sunday and there are still a lot of players from The U. The school has the best academics in the state. The program has the best graduation rates in the state. These are selling points to players and parents, but the message just is not getting delivered."

Miami head coach Al Golden did not deny the facts.

"Our perception is that we want young men to join our program to put Miami back on the national scene," he said. "We have to address the facts that we aren't where we want to be. We are not going to gloss over anything."

Entering play this Saturday, Miami is in control of its destiny and could win the Atlantic Division of the ACC for the first time in its eight years of membership.

The team is accomplishing it largely because of the play of two young South Florida players: Duke Johnson and Deon Bush.

Johnson is a true freshman running back from Miami (Fla.) Norland and is leading the team with 555 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Johnson is also the primary kick returner with 565 yards and another score. His total all-purpose yards rank him second to only Stefon Diggs of Maryland for most by a true freshman.

Bush is also a true freshman, playing safety from Miami (Fla.) Columbus. He has played in all nine games this season and has 27 solo tackles and three forced fumbles.

The pair, along with fellow true freshmen Ereck Flowers, also from Norland, and Tracy Howard from nearby Miramar (Fla.) High, are players to whom Golden points.

"All of those guys playing significantly impacts our recruiting," Golden said.

Ty Conyers coached Howard at Miramar and on the summer 7-on-7 circuit. Howard was the No. 1 player in the state and highest-ranked Florida player to go to Miami in nearly five years. Conyers said that even with the built-in advantages Miami has, some kids are just not going to stay close to home.

"When Miami was dominant, all of the kids wanted to stay home and play there," he said. "It is a little different now because Miami has slipped up a little. Kids from this area can pick where they want to play."

The problem is that the kids from South Florida are not picking Miami.

The class of 2008 marked the last significant class of South Florida players staying home.

Miami signed eight players from the Miami (Fla.) Northwestern program that had just won a RivalsHigh 100 National Championship. It also signed three players from Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington, as well as multiple players from a 30-mile radius of campus.

Since that class the program has signed just one player from those two talent-producing schools combined (Eduardo Clements from Booker T. Washington in 2010).

It has only signed two players from Miami (Fla.) Norland since 2008 and just one player each from Miami (Fla.) Columbus, Miami (Fla.) Central, Miami (Fla.) Killian, Miami (Fla.) American, Miami (Fla.) Coral Reef, and Miami (Fla.) American.

Expanding the cumulative raw numbers from just South Florida to the entire state is just as damning.

Following the Class of 2008 the bottom had all but dropped out of the program's in-state recruiting.

In 2009, Miami signed just nine of the top 100 players from the state in a 19-member class.

In 2010, 30 players signed, but just 11 from the top 100 in state and none in the top 25.

In 2011, only one of the top 49 players in the state chose Miami and just eight of the top 100.

In 2012, eight of 44 four-star ranked players in Florida chose Miami. It was a 33-man class.

Codrington believes that the approach being taken by the current coaching staff is not effective or conducive to its talent bed.

"It just appears that they are trying to build the program like it was still Temple," he said. "Offering kids late -- or only if they go to their camps -- isn't the right way.

"They are looking for good, clean, coachable kids that are more 'yes, coach' kids than playmakers and freelancers. It is almost the exact opposite of what you typically find in this area. You can eliminate the big plays against you with that type of recruiting but you also can eliminate the spectacular plays that go your way."

Golden said that he is not turning his back on recruiting an area that can produce championships at a regular rate.

"There are few programs in America that within a 3-5 hour drive from home can put together championship-type teams," he said. "Not a lot of teams can get the depth we can."

Gary Ferman covers Miami for CaneSport.com and said that while the recruiting efforts may not look good from afar, in actuality things are better.

"I don't know of anyone that will say the transition out of the Randy Shannon era was anything but a disaster," Ferman said. "The level of recruiting and talent evaluation fell apart. Collectively, as a staff, the handling of recruiting was a disaster.

"It was a perfect storm with all of that happening here, plus Florida State getting it together under Jimbo Fisher and Florida being Florida. It hurt, but digging deeper it isn't that bad.

"I think if you go case-by-case and look at specifics, it tells a different story, and just because kids are from Miami does not mean they are Miami-level kids. The staff shouldn't and doesn't feel obligated to take them."

Ferman cited Teddy Bridgewater from Miami (Fla.) Northwestern who went to Louisville after Shannon was fired and Charlie Strong hired top South Florida recruiter Clint Hurtt; Gio Bernard from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, who has starred at North Carolina; and Jacoby Brissett of West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer, a backup for Florida, as ones who got away.

He added that just because a kid is from Dade or Broward County doesn't mean they're inclined to attend Miami.

"Not every kid from this area wants to go to Miami, so saying the school isn't landing them is misleading," he said. "A lot of people will say Amari Cooper got away last year, but he didn't. He committed to Miami and his mom wanted him to get out of this area, so he went to Alabama. Miami went and got five other guys at receiver and they may not have been from Northwestern, but they were just as good."

Conyers sided with Ferman, saying that parents and players often want a change of scenery.

"Street life can be hard down here," Conyers said. "A college decision isn't just about being a better athlete; it should be about being a better person and the atmosphere and the lifestyle down here just isn't for everyone. Getting out can be a motivating factor."

Miramar has been famously linked with a pipeline to West Virginia -- very different from South Beach.

Conyers said that neither he nor Miramar head coach Damon Cogdell try to influence kids, but understands why some players elect to leave.

"Everyone is doing what is best for them," he said. "That is the bottom line. None of those kids are thinking about what is best for Miami. They have to worry about themselves, their education, and their career."

Codrington said that until the current version of Miami returns to being the Miami of old, the status quo may become the new reality.

"There are kids that want to go to Miami for sure," he said. "Duke and Tracy were not going to go far from home, but there are others that want to get away. Until Miami can prove it is the place it was, it is going to be battling for players and recently it has been losing those battles."



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