Just when the recruitment of 4-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine doesn't seem like it could get any stranger, it does precisely that—taking turn after turn, without any rhyme or reason.
Valentine—a former University of Miami verbal commit for the better part of last year—has appeared LSU-bound for weeks now. The highly coveted lineman trekked to Baton Rouge two weeks back, soaked up the experience and returned to South Florida with the Tigers firmly on the brain.
Miami coaches continued recruiting Valentine, hoping to close him on an official visit the final weekend of recruiting season. Instead, the trip was cancelled at the last minute—opting for some quiet time to ponder, opposed to hearing one last pitch.
While that might read like a setback for the Hurricanes and a slam dunk for the Tigers, in reality it's neither. Truth be told, the only thing to come out of Valentine's entire recruiting process was simply nothing means anything and everything remains wide-open, down to the final hour.
Miami understandably felt good about Valentine with his July commitment appearing iron-clad, as reported by Kynon Codrington of Rivals.com (subscription required).
I was planning on making a November decision, but things changed. I took a trip to Miami recently with my family and we loved it. I knew it was the place for me and my family supported it. It was different than any other trip because I had my family with me. Before I just committed to Louisville then UF without any help from my family. I'm done. This is my last commitment. I'm shutting recruiting down. I'm ready to be a Hurricane.
The sentiment came off humble, straightforward and unwavering—especially as 2013 came to a close and Valentine's pledge to "The U" was six months and running before recruiting opened back up.
Some are quick to blame Miami head coach Al Golden and his short-lived flirtation with Penn State as Valentine's reason for decommiting. Fact is, the defensive tackle had a trip to LSU on the books weeks before any talk of a coaching change, as reported by Rivals.com (subscription required).
Golden's intentions aside, a change of heart and consistent flip-flopping has been a big part of Valentine's overall process from the get-go.
Commitment Process Started Years Ago
Originally committed to Louisville before his junior year at Palm Bay's Bayside High, Valentine eventually decommitted and chose Florida. During that time, the tackle also transferred to Hialeah Champagnat Catholic in Miami for his senior season, adding another layer to the top prospect's already full plate.
The Gators eventually got the boot last February, and Valentine was courted by the likes of Miami, Tennessee, Florida State and Mississippi State—an official "final four" as of last April, months before the Hurricanes appeared to have won the sweepstakes.
Now, less than 48 hours before national signing day, it's down to LSU, Miami and...Texas, with the Tigers thought to be the team to beat.
While Valentine's approach to the recruiting process might rub some wrong, his on-the-field play keeps powerhouse programs in the hunt. The abundantly talented 6'3", 338-pound prospect is expected to have an immediate impact wherever he lands.
Valentine wrapped his senior season at Champagnat with 85 tackles, 31.5 for loss and racked up 16 sacks. At the U.S. Army All American Bowl in early January, Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt called Valentine a "terror" on the defensive line and penned a piece for FlaVarsity.com raving about the inability of anybody to successfully block the dominant tackle (subscription required).
In a different time and place, it would be a safe bet that Miami would've cooled on Valentine after all the flip-flopping, but the fact remains that the Hurricanes are in desperate need of a dominant defensive tackle.
Defense: The Ultimate Key to Championships at "The U"
When all is said and done on Wednesday, Miami will haul in upward of 30 quality players and will most likely land a Top 10 class. The Hurricanes look to have a quarterback of the future in 4-star prospect Brad Kaaya, while 5-star defensive end Chad Thomas is Miami-bred, "305" through and through and represents the ideal hometown kid UM needs to forever keep home.
All of that being said, based on team needs, there is no bigger pickup for Miami than Valentine. Golden and UM staff are fully aware of this, which is why the pursuit has remained hot and heavy, despite any unwarranted pushback.
When Valentine requested a sit-down with Golden, in order to feel more comfortable after the Penn State chatter, an army of Hurricanes coaches—Mark D'Onofrio, Jethro Franklin and Hurlie Brown—scheduled an in-home one day after the "dead period" ended, which appeared to sit well with Valentine.
"[Texas] and LSU looking good, but Miami—after they talked to me Thursday—it went well," Valentine told Safid Deen at The Miami Herald. "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."
Since then, Miami has worked to sell Valentine on the defensive scheme—a concern of the tackle's since returning from the U.S. Army game, where a 4-3 was employed, opposed to the Hurricanes' current 3-4/4-3 hybrid.
LSU sold the more popular scheme while promising to keep Valentine lean, mean, smaller and quicker, which prompted another sit-down with Franklin and a U-themed film session, where Miami's multiple sets were pointed out and a promise was delivered regarding making favorable adjustments.
When Golden and Valentine had a face-to-face days back, the Miami leader's message was succinct and to the point—"let me coach you."
While building around Valentine could sound desperate to the critics, Miami's overall success has always been rooted in both quarterback success and a monster defensive tackle—the late, great Jerome Brown and longtime NFL veteran Cortez Kennedy in the 1980s and superstars like Russell Maryland and Warren Sapp soon followed.
A decade ago it was the dominant Vince Wilfork, whom the Hurricanes rode for a three-season, 35-3 run. Since then, it's been a huge drought. Miami hasn't had a defensive tackle drafted since Kareem Brown in 2007 and hasn't seen a first-rounder since Wilfork in 2004.
Without a Dominant Tackle, Defensive Struggles Will Continue
Tracy Howard, Deon Bush and Antonio Crawford help make up a solid, young secondary, while linebacker is a blend of potential and experience. Denzel Perryman returns for his senior season, while junior Raphael Kirby is primed to break out and sophomores Alex Figueroa and Jermaine Grace are expected to take a giant step forward this season.
Unfortunately, all that talent will be for naught unless the defensive line finds a way to pressure quarterbacks, plug gaps and speed things up.
A line with Valentine and Thomas, as well as JUCO transfers Michael Wyche and Calvin Heurtelou would instantly be better. The Hurricanes also return Anthony Chickillo and Tyriq McCord, while welcoming a pair of 4-stars in tackle Anthony Moten and end Demetrius Jackson. Trent Harris—an early enrollee and 3-star end—is already on campus.
Valentine would be the missing piece to the Hurricanes' 2014 recruiting puzzle, but the final destination is completely out of Miami's hands. Golden and staff have put in the work, but the ultimate decision will be made by a teenager who has been all over the map and run ragged by the recruiting process.
Within that, Hurricanes coaches earned praise from Valentine's head coach Mike Tunsil.
"I can never fault Miami for the way they've recruited Travonte," Tunsil told Manny Navarro at The Miami Herald. "They did a great job recruiting him. I could never complain about that. They’ve been on him hard. They had the defensive coordinator, the d-line coach, the head coach over here."
The work has been put in, now it's time to sit back and wait—hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst.
Crazy as it sounds, after all the committing, decommitting, pitching and reselling, Valentine's final decision could literally come down to a coin flip or a preference in color on Wednesday morning.
Welcome to the world that is college football recruiting and National Signing Day.
(Update: Valentine chose LSU over Miami just after 12:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday.)
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.com.
**All rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.