College coaches swarm to the area in droves, taking advantage of being able to evaluate prospects playing football, not just running around in shorts and t-shirts, like up north.
What follows is a collage of different takes, on a variety of subjects, gathered from a week in south Florida.
Big Ten expansion was certainly a huge topic of discussion among league coaches, at every stop during the week. There were several different Big Ten coaches roaming around the area, and this was discussed at length, with the consensus being that it WILL happen. The candidates most discussed were Rutgers, Nebraska and Missouri.
I spoke to three different coaches that played Miami in 2009, and they agreed the Hurricanes would be better this year. A key point is the Miami offensive line, which everyone agreed was not very good last season. One player highly thought of is guard Joel Figueroa, #61. The comments on Figueroa were "awesome" or "monster", and he gives the Hurricanes a block to build around. All three coaches raved about Miami's team speed, and felt they would create problems for the Ohio State secondary, provided Jacory Harris had time to throw.
Stopping at St. Thomas Aquinas is always special because of how head coach George Smith conducts things in such a professional manner. This year they will feature a veteran quarterback, with D-I offers, to go along with two of the best wide receivers in the country, Phil Dorsett and Rashad Greene. Look for this predominantly running team to put the ball in the air more in 2010. And look for Dorsett, and his father, to visit Ohio State in a few weeks. Ohio State is in the Dorsett sweepstakes.
Also, stopping at St. Thomas Aquinas was even better, because former Buckeye great Cris Carter was there the same day I decided to go. CC spoke at length about the development of Terrelle Pryor, and could not have been more impressed by the junior signal-caller. CC was at Ohio State extensively for spring practice, and he spent a lot of time watching Pryor interact with quarterback coach Nick Siciliano. There is a misconception that Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel is actually the coach for Pryor, but Carter said that is not the case, and Siciliano has total control. CC expects Pryor to be a fine NFL quarterback in two years, if he continues to progress as he is currently doing. He said a position switch for Pryor at the NFL level is not going to happen. Hearing that from someone who is very critical of quarterback play, bodes well for Pryor's NFL dreams.
Which south Florida high school player drew the biggest crowd of college coaches to his practice? From what I saw last Thursday it had to be Wayne Lyons, as the Dillard practice field saw representatives from Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, Marshall, South Florida, Florida, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and several others observing Mr. Lyons. Lyons was tremendous in pads by the way, and nobody left disappointed. Until he schedules his five official visits, and includes Ohio State, there's no reason to go overboard on landing him.
Miami Pace star Jabari Gorman attracted a smaller crowd on Tuesday, but there was star power in attendance, with Florida State, South Florida, Florida and Ohio State checking out Gorman, who reminds me of a younger Malcolm Jenkins, with his ability to play cornerback or safety. I believe this is a two-team race between Ohio State and Miami right now, with Florida State lurking.
Plantation star linebacker Ryan Shazier might be the nicest player I've met since starting to check out south Florida football three years ago. Shazier had visitors from the Big Ten, the Big-12 and the ACC on the day I was there, even though his team did not have a practice scheduled. Ryan was gracious with everyone, coaches and media alike, and is set up to succeed at the college level. I see Shazier as a Gator in the end.
Plantation's other big name, Jeremy Cash, had knee surgery last Monday to repair a torn meniscus. The surgery was successful, and Cash will be 100% by early summer. There is certainly no wavering on the decision to commit to the Buckeyes by Cash, and he and fellow commit Jeff Heuerman are busy trying to recruit future teammates to Ohio State. These two are all over it, trying to help recruit future teammates.
Miami Southridge had two of the more imposing players from a physical point of view in Gerrod Holliman and Jamal Carter. Holliman will be a senior this fall and has attracted several BCS offers. In a live scrimmage, Holliman ended things on a violent note, by waxing a receiver coming across the middle, sending the football one way, and his opponent's helmet the other way. Holliman is a bad dude at safety. Carter will only be a sophomore cornerback next season, having played varsity as a freshman, and has a chance to be a super recruit in 2013.
South Florida is a program on the rise, trying to match blows with the Big Three in the sunshine state. They are selectively recruiting Ohio, and have targeted two players in the 2011 class: Nick Vannett and Cole Stoudt. While Vannett is a super-longshot for the Bulls, they are in great position to land Stoudt. Assistant coach Larry Scott is an aggressive recruiter who could have success in Ohio.
Spoke to a Marshall assistant who is cautiously excited about his team's opener in Columbus next season. The hope is to be able to stop the Ohio State running game, keep the game close, and make a few plays in the kicking game to stay in it until the end. They are hoping to catch a Buckeye team looking forward to playing Miami in Week-Two, and spring the upset. And yes, the Herd is aware that Ohio State's special team's play was anything but special in spring practice.
Ohio State will not be stopping the recruiting effort in south Florida anytime soon, and Luke Fickell and Paul Haynes are becoming highly respected in the area. Having the high school coaches in your corner is a must, and Ohio State certainly has that. Two coaches to mention would be Pat Burrows at Miami Southridge and Alvin Slaughter at Miami Pace. Burrows actually visited Ohio State for the spring game on his own dime, and came away impressed. Slaughter is planning on coming to work the Ohio State summer camp in a few weeks. Gotta have the coaches on your side in south Florida, and Ohio State has that, primarily due to Haynes and Fickell.
Two 2012 names to remember are Miramar cornerback Tracy Howard, and University School mammoth offensive lineman Abraham Garcia, and both were visited by Ohio State last week. They will have Ohio State offers in a few months, Bank That. Even in a small class for 2012, these two are too good to pass up, and Ohio State has seen both in pads.
There is a misconception that Urban Meyer and the Gators can waltz into any area of the country and recruit whoever they want, but that is far from the truth in Dade County. Ohio State does FAR better in the Miami area than the Gators, and the problems date back to the Steve Spurrier years at Florida. Florida recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton, a Cleveland product, is determined to have a foothold in Miami, and is working overtime trying to repair the damage of years gone by.
Another school needing a LOT of help in the Miami area is Alabama, and they are in for a rude awakening trying to recruit this area. The dislike of Nick Saban is at a fever pitch, stemming from his days as the head coach of the Dolphins, and I would put their chances of landing Gorman, Lyons, Shazier or any other great south Florida prospect at zero right now. Florida may have a few fences to mend in south Florida, but Alabama has a major restoration project on their hands, and I wish them luck.
In closing, I did attend the baseball game between the Marlins and the Mets on Thursday night, and was stunned to find the attendance smaller than the Massillon-McKinley football game here in Ohio. Nice team on the field, but I don't think baseball will ever take over south Florida anytime soon.