A year ago, University of Miami coach Al Golden sat around the fax machine on National Signing Day with the knowledge that sooner or later the NCAA was going to come around with penalties.
There were no such worries Wednesday — just happiness — as the Hurricanes reeled in their best signing class in Golden’s four years in Coral Gables.
Among the big fish UM reeled in: Miami Booker T. Washington five-star defensive end Chad Thomas and pass rushing teammate Demetrius Jackson; California All-American quarterback Brad Kaaya; three All-American offensive linemen; and a quartet of talented defensive tackles led by 6-4, 287-pound defensive tackle Anthony Moten from nearby Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
“A lot better,” Golden told ESPN Wednesday morning when asked how this year’s signing day compared with last year. “We’re excited. We had a chance to get through the NCAA investigation. We have a lot of kids that fill a lot of needs for us, particularly in the front seven, which we really think we did a great job there. Not to mention we just ended up getting Chad [Thomas] and Demetrius [Jackson] from Booker T., two really good pass rushers.”
The day could have gone even better had UM been able to add a couple of late additions.
But Booker T. Washington quarterback Treon Harris and Immokalee cornerback J.C. Jackson — who UM made strong late pushes for — both opted to sign with the University of Florida.
Hialeah Champagnat defensive tackle Travonte Valentine, a U.S. Army All-American committed to the Hurricanes until January, opted to sign with LSU over UM.
“Not a surprise in the end, but still a crushing blow for Miami,” Corey Long, editor-in-chief of FUEL Recruiting, said of the 6-3, 338-pound Valentine. “That was the prospect they needed.”
Thomas, the 6-5, 240-pound Under Armour All-American who visited Alabama and Florida State the past couple of weekends, had UM fans nervous before making his announcement in front of family, friends and teammates inside Booker T. Washington’s auditorium.
“For the next four years I plan to be at ... the University of Miami,” Thomas said as he pulled out his Hurricanes jacket and put it on.
Golden told ESPN he was “absolutely concerned” Thomas might head to Alabama “until all the faxes” were in.
“I had a chance to talk to [his mother] Steph this morning. I was excited about that,” Golden said. “Chad has been good. Obviously, he’s valuable to us because he’s a pass rusher.
“So now we not only bring in some interior guys in [Michael] Wyche, [Calvin] Heurtelou, [Cortel] Jenkins and [Anthony] Moten, but we get the pass rushers we needed to get desperately in [Trent] Harris, Demetrius Jackson, Chad Thomas, Mike Smith, guys like that.”
Jackson, a 6-4, 225-pound athletic defensive end rated a three-star recruit, got emotional talking about his commitment to the Hurricanes. A basketball standout at Booker T., he only played football his senior season at the school. But he was impressive, earned first-team All-Dade honors and interest from Arkansas and Texas late.
“It means a lot man. Growing up right there on 17th and Overtown I never thought I would be going to the University of Miami and for football,” Jackson said. “It shows you God’s work. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Kaaya, a 6-4, 215-pound four-star quarterback from West Hills, Calif., woke up early in the morning out on the West Coast to be one of the first players to fax his signed National Letter of Intent to UM. Malik Rosier, a 6-2, 205-pound three-star dual-threat quarterback from Mobile, Ala., also signed with the Canes.
“Both of those young men came to our camp,” Golden said. “We had a chance to see them live and how they operate, how they conduct the huddle and really their football intelligence. Brad, at first is a 6-5 guy. Excellent pocket passer, really can step up, did a tremendous job in the Semper Fidelis [All-American] game. Malik has a big, strong arm, another bright young man, a leader. Malik is a little more versatile, can pull the ball down and run.
“Those two young guys are really guys we think can impact at playing time for us.”
Kaaya wasn’t the first recruit to get his fax into UM. That honored belonged to St. Thomas Under Armour All-American center Nick Linder, the 6-3, 273-pound younger brother of former Hurricane Brandon Linder.
“To be the first one in and locked is exciting,” Linder said. “The coaches told me to try to be the first one in it at 7 a.m. So I was here at 6:59 to send it through.”
Being a leader like his older brother, who started more than 40 games in his career at UM, is important to the younger Linder.
“It’s definitely who I want to be,” Linder said. “I want to come in and make an impact, and that’s what I’m working for right now.”
UM’s class came into the day ranked eighth nationally by ESPN. Does Golden think UM will improve or possibly slip when the final rankings are released?
“I think we’ll stay around the same,” Golden said. “I think we signed 26 guys, maybe 27 when it is all said and done. But it’s really the quality of it. If you look at the offensive line with [early enrollees Trevor] Darling, Kc McDermott and Linder, we’re really excited about those young people.
“Joe Yearby, a great tailback from Miami Central. He fit a great need. We needed long receivers this year, and we did that. [Darrell] Langham is 6-4 1/2, Tyre Brady is taller than me at 6-3, [David] Njoku. Then we went into Georgia to get an H tight end, somebody that can move and get vertical in Chris Herndon. So, it’s a good group and a group we’re excited about.
“And we topped it off on defense with the two safeties we ended up getting in Kiy Hester and Marques Gayot. It’s a really good day for the Miami Hurricanes. We’re really excited to move forward now without anything hanging over our heads.”