Al Golden opened his 2013 National Signing Day news conference by saying he didn’t think anybody outside of the University of Miami’s football offices understood the type of fight the Hurricanes have been up against in recruiting.
He described it as “fighting with one arm behind our back.”
With news Wednesday that the external investigation into the NCAA’s enforcement committee is nearing completion, that means UM could receive its notice of allegations as early as the end of next week. So this probably was the last time Golden and his staff had to wage war in recruiting with a cloud of uncertainty overhead.
Wednesday’s results, though, were still mixed in the eyes of most recruiting experts. Although UM got its quarterback of the future, two four-star defensive backs from its own backyard and a top-flight receiver from Broward, the Canes still missed out on signing a defensive tackle (they had a shot at three in a 24-hour span) and ended up with only four South Florida recruits in the class, five from within the state.
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Still, the 16 players UM signed Wednesday (it signed 33 a year ago) was a labor to be proud of, Golden said.
“We started out targeting 16 guys, which is a really low number,” Golden said. “Some of that is in part because of the self-imposed penalties. So, it was a tight number to begin with.
“But as you break it down, we went out searching for a big-time, pro-style quarterback and I think we got the best, if not the best in Kevin Olsen. We started out looking for one receiver in this class — and that’s tough when you’re in South Florida and you’ve got to let some of the best ones go. But we felt we got the best one down here in [Northeast receiver] Stacey Coley.”
After going through the rest of the offensive recruits UM got Wednesday, including top-ranked junior college tight end Beau Sandland, the nation’s top fullback in Gus Edwards and three offensive linemen with three-star ratings, Golden zeroed in on the defense, which needed help in pass rushing (UM had 13 sacks in 12 games last season) and run stopping (UM was 112th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools).
“On the defensive side, we sought to get two defensive ends and I think we accomplished that with a pass rusher on the open side,” Golden said. “Al-Quadin Muhammad from Don Bosco Prep we think is one of the premier pass rushers in the country. He’s 6-3 1/2, 240 pounds, long, rangy, animated, plays with passion. The other young man I’m equally excited about — Ufomba Kamalu, 6-5,  pounds — is also a defensive end prospect. We needed some with a little more maturity so we went to Butler Community College to get Ufomba. We wanted to get three or four linebackers in this class and obviously we missed out on a highly sought after young man locally, but we did get Jermaine Grace, who was among the premier linebackers in the state.”
The Canes began Wednesday in the hunt for seven top-notch prospects and landed three: Coley, Broward County’s top recruit rated the fourth-best receiver in the country by ESPN; Miramar High All-American outside linebacker Grace, and Edwards, a 6-1, 222-pound force who pounded the ball between the tackles for 868 yards and 10 touchdowns at Staten Island (N.Y.) Tottenville High.
“It feels good,” said Coley, who cried during his announcement ceremony. “I relieved a big stress off my shoulder and I can be an average kid again. I thought it was just beneficial for me and my family. Just stay home. I just hope I have the same success in high school and just help ‘the U’ out with a national championship.”
UM beat Florida State head to head for Edwards and Coley and Louisville for Grace. But the Canes lost to the Seminoles for two other touted recruits: Five-star Miami Booker T. Washington linebacker Matthew Thomas and Delray Beach Atlantic All-American defensive tackle Keith Bryant.
UF beat UM for defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick and Arkansas pulled Booker T. All-American offensive tackle Denver Kirkland away from Miami, which put a scholarship offer back on the table after pulling it away less than a week ago. The 6-6, 333-pound senior said the Hurricanes finished in second place because “they burned” him.
“We had a hard ceiling this year because of the self imposed penalties and I was up against it,” Golden said of why Kirkland was told UM had run out of scholarships.
Golden said he couldn’t answer how many self-imposed scholarships were yanked by UM’s administration, but he did say the program limited its in-home visits to 27.
With 13 commitments coming into signing day and the NCAA cloud still hanging overhead, Golden said he went into Wednesday worried about all of his recruits.
“We’re not coming from a position of power or leverage because of the sanctions,” Golden said. “If we can get that lifted, we’ll move forward.”
With South Plantation blue-chip running back Alex Collins still unsigned — and his mother pushing for UM and not Arkansas, which he picked Monday — Golden was asked if he still has any scholarships available.
“I can’t really comment on a specific story percolating. But we may have room for one more. That’s about it.”