Miami Hurricanes' coaches continue pounding the recruiting trail with the dead period over and national signing day just over two weeks out. A quality class has been in the works—once reaching 30 verbal commitments but having since backslid to 26 as intentions and circumstances have changed for some.
Four-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine committed to the Hurricanes last July and remained solid until early January when Miami's Al Golden was mentioned for the Penn State head coaching vacancy.
Valentine had LSU on his short list as early as October, and the 6'5", 322-pounder made a decision in December to visit Baton Rouge late January—causing even more panic in Coral Gables after Valentine decommitted from Miami after "Goldengate."
A silver lining for "The U" came soon thereafter in the form of Valentine's high school coach Mike Tunsil, who spoke candidly with Manny Navarro at the Miami Herald regarding his player's heart for the hometown program.
"Travonte just wants security," said Tunsil, a few days into the new year. "He's been saying UM for a long time. He loves UM. But for Coach Golden to go interview for another job was unsettling."
Tunsil went on to explain that Valentine requested a sit-down with Golden in order to "make sure everyone is on the same page." The Hialeah Champagnat head coach also explained that his talented tackle still envisions playing for the University of Miami, welcomes smaller-sized classes and likes the idea of remaining close to local family.
With coaches finally able to go full-bore again on the recruiting front, Miami has understandably been all over Valentine, proving he's a top priority.
Mark D'Onofrio (defensive coordinator), Jethro Franklin (defensive line) and Hurlie Brown (running backs) visited the tackle late last week, which Valentine said helped the overall process, according to the Miami Herald's Safid Deen.
[Texas] and LSU looking good, but Miami—after they talked to me Thursday—it went well. The coaching staff, everybody they came over and talked to me. It was a good talk, and I was satisfied with what they were telling me, and they did a good job.
While Golden and staff work tirelessly to reel in a top-flight class, Valentine is most certainly one of three must-have players for the Hurricanes this February.
Five-star defensive end Chad Thomas is a foundation-laying prospect, while 4-star quarterback Brad Kaaya can bring stability to a position that's been a question mark for over a decade. Both appear solidly committed to Miami and are guaranteed difference-makers, but Valentine represents an even greater need simply based on where he'll line up the next few years.
"The U" has always been know for speedy running backs, flashy receivers, aggressive linebackers and hard-hitting safeties—but mammoth defensive tackles are as important to the Canes as a heady quarterback under center.
The "Decade of Dominance" era produced greats like Jerome Brown, Russell Maryland and Cortez Kennedy, while the next generation had guys like Warren Sapp wreaking havoc. Most recently, Damione Lewis and Vince Wilfork played that necessary role for the Hurricanes.
Since then, though, almost a 10-year void for Miami regarding a next-level lineman ready to rise up.
"The U" took a big depth-related hit two years back, losing defensive tackles Marcus Forston, Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis and Olivier Vernon after Golden's first season. This past year Miami parted ways with Curtis Porter, Luther Robinson and one-year transfer Justin Renfrow, leaving another huge defensive void for the Hurricanes to fill.
Miami is bringing in junior college tackles Michael Wyche and Calvin Huertelou—both of whom should see immediate playing time—but neither will be showing up as decorated as Valentine, who finished his senior season with 85 tackles (31.5 for loss) and 16 sacks and is nationally ranked third-best at his position.
While Valentine is a crown-jewel-type recruit for the Hurricanes, the defensive tackle has a handful of can't-miss options regarding his playing future. Outside of Miami and LSU both recruiting him aggressively, Valentine has over two dozen big-time offers and has shown interest in Texas, listing the Longhorns, Tigers and Hurricanes as his top three.
Still, James Smith of the New Orleans-based Times-Picayune downplayed Valentine's unofficial visit to Miami this past weekend, going as far as stating the South Florida product is now LSU's to lose.
The 6-3, 338-pound behemoth is set to visit the Tigers on January 24 in what could be the end of his recruitment. He took an unofficial to Miami this past weekend, but as they pressured him for a commitment, he made it known that he wasn't in a position to give them one at that time. In fact, we have learned that Miami trails LSU significantly at this stage of the process with those close to him calling it a done deal for the Tigers. As we have all learned this recruiting cycle, there is no such thing. However, LSU appears to be in great shape at this time.
While the Tigers have reason to feel confident, the Hurricanes truly remain Valentine's first love. Miami is the hometown team and earned the local star's pledge early in the process for a reason—where it remained unwavering for half-a-year.
Things got mildly rocky in the wake of Golden's back-and-forth with his alma mater, but fences are being mended—plus, the Hurricanes do get Valentine's ear after the Tigers.
The defensive tackle will visit Baton Rouge next weekend but is spending his final recruiting experience in Coral Gables on January 31—affording Golden and staff one last opportunity to close strong, keeping the big man home and scoring the biggest win this program has seen since upsetting Florida last fall.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.com.
**All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.