Sunday, January 12, 2003

Canes winning recruiting war

The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press

Even in its biggest loss of the season, the University of Miami won in the recruiting duel. Tight end Louis Irizarry of Youngstown, Ohio chose Miami over Ohio State, even though the Buckeyes upset the Hurricanes 31-24 in overtime on Jan. 3 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Why would a player who grew up in Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's backyard - he led Division I-AA Youngstown State to four national titles - make such a choice?

"Miami is the best place for me," Irizarry said earlier this week. "Just look at the national championship game. (Kellen) Winslow topped it off for me. He caught so many balls. I think he had 11 receptions and Ohio State threw to the tight end twice. It was something like that. That is all I needed to see."

Irizarry's expected commitment gives Miami six players ranked in the top five at their positions, according to various recruiting services. Those include quarterback Kyle Wright of Danville, Calif; tailback Tyrone Moss and offensive lineman Andrew Bain of Pompano Beach Ely; defensive tackle Nate Robinson of Irvington, N.J.; and linebacker Tavares Gooden of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.

In addition, SuperPrep rates Kevin Everett, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound tight end/defensive end from Kilgore (Texas), a 2001 re-commit, as one of the top three junior-college players in the country.

"That's the tale of the tape with Miami, they're getting the truly elite players," said Allen Wallace, publisher of SuperPrep. "And we're also thinking Bryan Pata is underrated and could be an All-American."

Estero High's Derrick Morse committed early. He, like Wright, will begin attending classes this January so they can take part in spring drills.

Currently, the Hurricanes have 14 verbal commitments. There also are cornerback Terrell Walden and receiver/kick returner Darnell Jenkins, 2002 recruits who traveled with the Hurricanes to the Fiesta Bowl, but didn't play. Walden's SAT results were questioned, and he retook the test. Jenkins' grades dropped his senior year, so he had to get a higher ACT score to compensate.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes still are hoping to have the services of all-purpose talent Devin Hester, a 2002 signee. A running back/receiver/returner/defensive back, Hester still is trying to qualify.

Even though Miami still has a handful of scholarships left, the Hurricanes have a good shot at surpassing last season's class, which was considered one of the five best in the country.

"If Miami wants a kid ... they're not going to lose him," said Jeremy Crabtree, a national recruiting analyst. "Miami is the in vogue team across the country."

Matt Shodell, assistant managing editor of CaneSport, added: "Right now, at this stage, they have more commitments. What does that tell you? They're getting who they want."

Shodell added Miami's return to the national championship combined with Florida State's off-field problems and Florida's slide under new coach Ron Zook gives the Hurricanes a huge edge in signing state players.

"At Miami, there's no controversy," he said. "Plus, it's the kind of style and system quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends want to play in."

Shodell said Irizarry is a perfect example. While he told Tressel and Miami coach Larry Coker of his decision after the Fiesta Bowl, Irizarry told Shodell he had his eye on the Hurricanes since visiting the school last July. Seeing how both teams used the tight end was the final straw.

"Ohio State told him they're changing its offense and will throw him the ball but it was too late," Shodell said. "Also helping was Kyle Wright (who committed to Miami in September). At the Texas All-Star game, Kyle worked table to table, telling players, 'Come to Miami and help me succeed. I want to throw to the best guys, I want the best guys blocking for me. One of the guys he talked to was Louis Irizarry. A couple of days later, he committed to Miami."

Earlier this season, Coker - not allowed to comment on recruits specifically - talked about how Miami almost recruits itself.

"I had a recruit who said he wanted to commit early so he could help bring other players here," Coker said. "How smart is that?"

When he looks at recruits, Coker said character and being academically eligible rate highest. As for talent, he likes to see track times and wants to see that speed show up on the field.

"On the video, I like to see people make plays," Coker said. "I don't care how fast you are, but you need to see somebody do something on film, whether they make a lot of tackles, interceptions, or returns. You'll see some of these guys and you only need to see about five plays and you'll say 'Wow, this guy's pretty special.' There are some that may have all of the credentials, but you watch 100 plays and well 'Where are they? They need to show up.' "

A few other players Miami is looking at could turn the Hurricanes from a top-five class to the best in the country.

- Running back/defensive end Joe Cohen of Palm Bay and defensive back Dee Webb of Jacksonville are wavering between Miami and Florida, as is wide receiver Andre Caldwell, the brother of former Gators' wide out Reche Caldwell. Wallace said all three are considered among the top 10 Florida prep recruits.

- Linebacker Earl Everett, who was leaning heavily to Florida, will visit Gainesville Jan. 17 but also is planning to go to Miami on Jan. 24 and Florida State on Jan. 31. Also, Willie Cooper of St. Augustine is considering Florida State as well as Miami.

- Linebacker Ali Highsmith, cousin of former Miami running back Alonzo Highsmith, will visit as will Leo Waiters and defensive lineman Clifton Dickson, both of Miami Northwestern; and Eric Moncur of Miami Carroll City. On offense, Miami Norland's Dwayne Bowe, a wide receiver, also is considering the Hurricanes.

Miami appears to be strong at just about every position but defensive end. Two players who used their eligibility, Jerome McDougle and Andrew Williams, played at junior colleges before coming to Miami. Is that a route the Hurricanes could repeat?

"There's been some talk of Kevin Everett playing on the defensive line, especially with Irizarry coming in," Shodell said. "Could they still bring in junior-college kids we haven't heard of? Absolutely."

If players on this recruiting class measure up to their projections, the Hurricanes will position themselves for more national title appearances in the future.

It appears the rich are getting richer.

"They're turning away kids," Shodell said. "Over the next two weekends, about 35 kids are coming in, top prospects from all over the country. Miami coaches are saying, 'Look, we have X number of spots, do you want to be in there?' "

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