Miami Football: Al Golden's Biggest National Signing Day Battles

Chris Bello@christianrbelloContributor IJanuary 28, 2014

Miami Football: Al Golden's Biggest National Signing Day Battles

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    National Signing Day is just over a week out and the Miami Hurricanes are looking to close strong after a fast start and solid latter half to their 2013 recruiting process.

    Head coach Al Golden and his assistants were on a roll months back, building Miami's class up to 30 verbal commitments, though a handful of prospects decommitted over the past few weeks.

    Still, the Hurricanes have a very solid group on board and have the chance to reel a few big names back in. And perhaps they can still land a few last-minute surprises.

    Read on to see how Miami could fare with seven top prospects between now and next Wednesday.

    **All recruiting rankings courtesy of

Chad Thomas, 5-Star Defensive End

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    The Player: Chad Thomas is a 5-star defensive end out of nearby Booker T. Washington—a local powerhouse that won the national championship and has sent a lot of talent Miami's way over the years.

    Level of Commitment: Thomas committed to "The U" last July and has been solid, though a few January visits to other major programs have "The U" family on pins and needles down the stretch.

    Other Suitors: Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida State Seminoles.

    Current Situation and Overall Prediction: Thomas is the cornerstone to Miami's 2014 class. A hometown kid with tremendous talent and some old-school swagger, the highly touted defensive end has been open about his affinity for the Miami program.

    That being the case, Thomas is making sure to soak up the recruiting process, spending this past weekend in Tallahassee and heading to Tuscaloosa in the coming days.

    Does Miami have anything to worry about? Yes and no. Anytime a big-time player is recruited by the defending national champions, as well as a squad that took three of the past five national titles, an in-repair Hurricanes program is understandably on edge.

    Still, Thomas hasn't given any reason to indicate that he'll be anywhere other than Coral Gables this fall—especially as an aspiring musician slated to study at Miami's world-renowned Frost School of Music.

    Florida State and Alabama can boast monster football programs, but neither has a music department that can touch Miami's—which could prove to be the ultimate deal-sealer.


Brad Kaaya, 4-Star Quarterback

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    The Player: Brad Kaaya is a 4-star pro-style quarterback out of Southern California who has been sold on Miami as the Hurricanes offered him well before any in-state powers looked his way. Kaaya played for Chaminade in West Hills, Calif. where he threw for 3,853 yards and had a 27-to-6 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio as a senior. 

    Level of Commitment: Kaaya committed to "The U" last May and has been solid, though UCLA and USC both started coming on strong last fall. Boise State has also gotten in the game.

    Kaaya remains loyal to Miami, but continues taking visits. He spent this past weekend in Boise and those out west have long since felt he'll stay out that way when signing day comes around. 

    The 6'4", 215-pound prospect gave the Hurricanes some extra reason to believe when paying his own way to the Russell Athletic Bowl in December, where Miami fell to Louisville. Kaaya spent time with fellow commits Braxton Berrios, Chad Thomas, Kc McDermott and Trevor Darling

    Days before playing in the U.S Marine Corps-sponsored Semper Fi All-American Bowl in Carson, Calif., Kaaya may have dropped a Freudian slip when talking to Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel

    "It's awesome to be playing in my home state one last time...and I'm looking forward to it," Kaaya said. Bruins fans certainly couldn't like the sound of that.  

    Other Suitors: UCLA Bruins and Boise State Broncos.

    Current Situation and Overall Prediction: The fact that Kaaya was willing to trek to Boise this past weekend had Broncos fans optimistic, but the visit appears to have been a courtesy pop-in by a commit who simply wants to soak up the process. 

    Earlier today Kaaya took to Twitter and congratulated 2015 verbal commit Emonee Spence to Miami with a simple, "Welcome to the fam" one-liner—another sign that he'll remain with the Hurricanes. 

    With Stephen Morris moving on, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, recently suspended for the bowl game, and senior transfer Ryan Williams yet to prove himself, Kaaya will absolutely be in the thick of Miami's quarterback race.

    It would be a absolute shock if the quarterback wound up anywhere other than Coral Gables this fall. 


Travonte Valentine, 4-Star Defensive Tackle

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    The Player: Travonte Valentine is a 4-star defensive tackle out of Champagnat Catholic in nearby Hialeah, Florida, who originally committed to Florida State last April, flipped to Miami in July and remained on board until early January, when he reopened his recruitment. 

    Level of Commitment: No longer committed. Valentine was true to "The U" for six months before deciding he wanted to keep his options open. Some blamed Al Golden's flirtation with Penn State as the reason Valentine got cold feet, but truth is he set his January visit to LSU up over a week before Golden was even tied to the Nittany Lions opening. 

    Valentine requested a sit-down with Golden soon after the head coach reaffirmed his commitment to Miami and Hurricanes' assistants Mark D'Onofrio, Micheal Barrow and Hurlie Brown have been all over the talented defensive tackle since the "dead period" ended mid-January. 

    Other Suitors: LSU Tigers. 

    Current Situation and Overall Prediction: Valentine spent the past weekend in Baton Rouge—his first visit to LSU—and according to James Smith at The Times-Picayune, things went well. The weekend's visitors had a jam-packed three days, and Valentine's host was former Champagnat teammate Rashard Robinson, a defensive back for the Tigers. 

    Smith is stating that Valentine could shut down his recruitment, having taken an unofficial visit to Miami on Jan. 17, negating the need for a final sit-down with Hurricanes coaches this coming weekend. 

    Miami certainly has reason to worry about Valentine. Flip-flopping has been the name of the game for Valentine since decommitting from Florida State, and LSU has made a strong push to woo the coveted tackle. 

    While Hurricanes coaches can't be blamed for losing a kid enamored with the possibility of leaving the state for an SEC powerhouse, Miami must do all it can to keep Valentine home. Defensive tackles are a must for the 2014 class and Valentine is an immediate impact player. 

    Getting Valentine to Miami for the final weekend of recruiting season and making a full-court press sales pitch are a must, as LSU is fresh on the brain. The Tigers appear to be the team to beat, but the Hurricanes should remain confident getting the last at-bat for the hometown superstar—barring he remains on track to visit Coral Gables this weekend. 

Demetrius Jackson, 4-Star Defensive End

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    The Player: Demetrius Jackson is a 4-star defensive end out of nearby Booker T. Washington—a teammate of Chad Thomas and an interesting prospect with little overall football experience but tremendous athleticism. Thomas is a longtime basketball player who didn't take up football until last spring and immediately made a splash.

    He is also a life-long Hurricanes fan, which helps Miami's cause. 

    Level of Commitment: Thomas committed to Miami last June, soon after committing and decommitting from Arkansas. Rumors of a decommitment leaked in early December, but Jackson quickly cleared up and reaffirmed his pledge to the Hurricanes. There was also talk of a mid-January visit to Texas Tech, where high school teammate Nigel Bethel II had recently verbally committed, but Jackson never made it to Lubbock. 

    Other Suitors: N/A.

    Current Situation and Overall Prediction: Jackson looks solid to Miami, and there doesn't appear to be a second choice. Still, having originally been an Arkansas commit, the December miscommunication as well as the recent flirtation with Texas Tech—some uneasiness is understandable. 

    Miami cannot afford to lose any defensive linemen. Thomas is spending late January visiting some powerhouse programs, while Travonte Valentine is taking a hard look at LSU. Due to a lack of experience, Jackson isn't as "coveted" as either—but based on Miami's defensive struggles, landing him becomes an absolute necessity.

    A long-time fan who jumped at the Miami offer when it came in, coupled with the shutting down of the recruiting process in January—the Hurricanes appear to be in solid shape with Jackson. 

Kameron McKnight, 3-Star Running Back

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    The Player: Kameron McKnight is a 3-star running back out of Jackson, La. who is certainly a Plan B-type player for Miami after 5-star Dalvin Cook chose Florida State and 4-star Brandon Powell flipped to Florida at the last minute. McKnight is a 6'2", 220-pound back with the size the Hurricanes need, but he's certainly an under-the-radar player.

    Level of Commitment: Thomas remains uncommitted late in the recruiting process.

    Other Suitors: Louisiana Tech Bullldogs, Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks and Southern Miss Eagles.

    Current Situation and Overall Prediction: Based on competition alone, logic would dictate that McKnight is Miami's for the taking if the Hurricanes pursue him down the stretch. The Louisiana product will visit Coral Gables this weekend, and Miami certainly needs another running back after losing out on Cook and Powell late in the game. 

    The only question for Miami is numbers. The Hurricanes are at 26 commits and are going after a handful of on-the-fence kids. (subscription required) reported on Sunday that 5-star Alabama commit Bo Scarbrough was on Miami's campus Saturday and may return for an official visit this weekend with quarterback Malik Rosier, an Alabama native and Hurricanes commit.

    If the Hurricanes can't pull a Scarbrough-type miracle down the stretch, McKnight seems like a solid option and should be Coral Gables-bound if Miami wants him. The running back is also listed as a linebacker—another position where UM needs both depth and talent. 


J.C. Jackson, 4-Star Cornerback

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    The Player: J.C. Jackson is a 4-star cornerback out of Immokalee, Fla. who has been on Miami's radar for a good while.

    Level of Commitment: Jackson is a Florida commit, though is said to be a soft verbal. The combination of a four-win season in Gainesville and some recent decommits could have an impact on the talented cornerback. 

    Other Suitors: Florida State Seminoles.

    Current Situation and Overall Prediction: Jackson's recruiting process had been quiet since his appearance in the Under Armour All-America Bowl in early January, but the silence was broken on Sunday. Chris Jackson, the 4-star's father, spoke to (subscription required) and let it be known that Miami is still in the picture.

    The elder Jackson is also a longtime Hurricanes fan. He stated that Miami is "in the picture" and that it's down to the Canes and Gators.

    Team Jackson was on UM's campus over the weekend, taking in the Miami vs. Syracuse basketball game and speaking with coaches. Jackson had a official visit at Miami last December and has since cancelled this weekend's planned trek to Florida State.

    There has long since been talk that Jackson and cousin Ermon Lane—a 5-star wide receiver out of Homestead, Florida—would play their college football together. Both one-time Florida commits, Lane has since decommitted and is thought to be Florida State-bound.

    With the Seminoles out of the running, Florida or Miami are the only places where both could wind up as teammates, and Lane appears done with the Gators.

    Jackson sticking with Florida would hardly be a shock, but it appears the Hurricanes are coming on strong. Dad is on board with "The U" and an unofficial family visit, coupled with Florida State being out of the bodes well for Miami.

    After losing a few verbal commitments over the past month, the Hurricanes are due to have a big name swing their way, and it's hard not to believe Miami will land Jackson when all is said and done.


Treon Harris, 4-Star Quarterback

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    The Player: Treon Harris is a 4-star dual-threat quarterback from powerhouse Booker T. Washington, who passed for 2,159 yards and had a 28-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ration as a senior, leading the Tornadoes to a national championship. Harris also rushed for 575 yards with nine scores.  

    Level of Commitment: Harris is currently committed to Florida State but agreed to visit the hometown Miami Hurricanes on the final weekend of recruiting season.

    Other Suitors: Florida Gators and Auburn Tigers. 

    Current Situation and Overall Prediction: Harris' situation is one that will frustrate longtime Miami fans and recruiting enthusiasts. The Hurricanes are said to have recruited Harris early in the process but not as a quarterback, wanting the 5'11", 180-pound athlete to play defense instead.

    The versatile athlete is the son of Booker T. Washington head coach, Tim "Ice" Harris, who was an assistant on Randy Shannon's staff at Miami years back, as well as the younger brother of Brandon Harris, a former Hurricanes' cornerback and current NFL starter.

    While it's understandable that Al Golden and staff might view Harris as too small to play quarterback—based on the type of athletes they're recruiting under center—it's still "bad business" for the Hurricanes not to have properly recruited Harris.

    Last year Miami coaches were in a bid with Coach Harris, as the Hurricanes were recruiting offensive lineman Denver Kirkland and linebacker Matthew Thomas. Kirkland wound up at Arkansas, while Thomas, older brother of defensive end Chad Thomas, a current Miami commit, chose Florida State on national signing day.

    Last January, "Ice" had some choice words for the Miami program, and the Hurricanes eventually lost out on two big-time players, despite fences appearing mended.

    While a college coaching staff should never be handcuffed by the leader of a local high school powerhouse, there's simply the courtesy of practicing good business with local schools. Offering the son of said coach, who also is the younger brother of a former star and a local hero who delivered back-to-back championships, seems like the smart play.

    Signs point to Harris winding up at Florida, Auburn or sticking with Florida State, and Miami appears fine at quarterback, but this was a recruiting whiff based on PR, if nothing else.