Miami Football Recruiting: Why 5-Star DE Chad Thomas Is the Key to 2014 Class

Chris Bello@christianrbelloContributor IJanuary 14, 2014

While there's been tremendous focus on the Miami Hurricanes losing a few verbal commits from a highly ranked 2014 recruiting class, the ultimate cornerstone remains in place—for now.

All signs point to Chad Thomas staying true to "The U"—which should be job No. 1 for Al Golden and staff as "signing day" approaches. The Hurricanes must keep the uber-talented 5-star defensive end on board so Miami can continue laying a proper foundation for the future.

Whatever was or wasn't said between Golden and Penn State—it was enough for defensive tackle Travonte Valentine to re-open his recruiting, while defensive end Demetrius Jackson is also keeping his options open. Valentine is looking at LSU while Jackson has set up a visit to Texas Tech—where current high school teammate and recent Miami decommit Nigel Bethel II appears to be headed.

Defensive line has been an issue at Miami for upwards of a decade. Year after year, it seems the Hurricanes miss out on top prospects—for countless reasons—leaving the position void of necessary depth and talent.

This offseason marks the second time in three years that Miami's defensive line will be picked apart, one way or another. The Hurricanes are losing seniors Curtis Porter, Luther Robinson and Shayon Green, as well as one-year transfer options David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow.

In 2011, it was a mass exodus caused by graduation and early departures when Marcus Robinson, Micanor Regis, Adewale Ojomo, Olivier Vernon and Marcus Forston all moved on. A year later, the lack of line depth was a big reason Miami finished 116th of 120 Division-I teams in total defense.

While other current commits and potential future-greats waver, Thomas' pledge appears solid.

Weeks back, the coveted end made headlines when "photobombing" recruits Ermon Lane, Dalvin Cook and Quincy Wilson doing the "Gator Chomp" at the Under Armour All-America Bowl practices—proudly displaying that "swag" the Miami program has lacked and sorely needs.

Despite any setbacks, "The U" still has some quality defensive line talent headed to Coral Gables in the coming months. Trent Harris is one of a handful of early enrollees already on campus—a 3-star defensive end out of Winter Park, Fla.—and more are soon expected.

The Hurricanes are set to bring in junior college transfers Michael Wyche and Calvin Heurtelou, as well as Anthony Moten out of St. Thomas Aquinas—three defensive tackles who should have an immediate impact on a depth-challenged line.

Mike Smith—a 3-star defensive end out of Northwestern—also appears to be on board, telling on Monday (subscription required) that he's a "hard commit," despite planning some January visits.

While the aforementioned five are necessary components of the 2014 class, The Thomas Effect has a deep-rooted intangible harkening back to the Hurricanes' "Decade of Dominance" era.

Having claimed back-to-back Class 4A state titles and the 2013 national championship with hometown power Booker T. Washington, Thomas' success helps the argument that winning breeds swagger, not the other way around—a winning player from a winning program.

Miami lost out on a few local players-with-attitude the past few years and the Hurricanes paid a steep price.

NFL-bound quarterback Teddy Bridgewater chose Louisville over sitting behind Jacory Harris in Coral Gables—having played next-in-line at Miami Northwestern, while Devonta Freeman ran for Miami Central, but chose garnet and gold over orange and green.

Two solid South Florida prospects who found ultimate success elsewhere, while tossing up a dual-hand "305" hand gestures after touchdowns for the Cardinals and Seminoles, year after year.

For Miami, the key moving forward is making sure the next generation of Bridgewaters and Freemans don't go elsewhere—and it starts this February with keeping Thomas home.

Two years back it was Duke Johnson, Deon Bush and Tracy Howard putting a precedence on hometown over all else, signing up for "The U" when not the popular choice.

This time around it's all about Thomas as the Hurricanes' rebuild starts and ends with keeping this Miami product in its own backyard.

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