Mark Richt had a tough job in his first two months as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. Not only did he have to put together his coaching staff, but he also had to retain a lot of the Hurricane recruits that had committed to former head coach Al Golden.
Even before National Signing Day on Wednesday, Richt and the Hurricanes got off to a rocky start as four-star cornerback Tyler Byrd flipped his commitment from Miami to Tennessee, where formerHurricanes interim head coach Larry Scott is now a tight ends coach. Then on Wednesday morning receiver Latrell Williams also left Miami high and dry for Tennessee.
“Recruiting is a relationship game, so to speak, Richt said. "It’s a big part of the process — of young men making decisions. It’s just very common across the country. People use the term ‘flipped’ — guys get flipped one way or another."
Despite Byrd and Williams heading to Knoxville, Richt and the Hurricanes put together a quality recruiting class.
CBSSports.com ranked Miami’s 2016 class 20th in the nation with the Hurricanes finishing among the top 25 schools in Athlon Sports’ consensus recruiting rakings.
The class features five early enrollees in Jack Allison, Pat Bethel, Zach McCloud, Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman. Ten of the 18 players were ranked on the ESPN300 list and 16 of the players are from the state of Florida.
The 2016 class is led by two players from Fort Lauderdale powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas — wide receiver Sam Bruce and tight end Michael Irvin Jr.
While Bruce is only listed at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, he was highly recruited because of his explosive speed. His 40-yard dash time is listed in the 4.5 range by ESPN, but he plays a lot faster.
Bruce recorded 1,300 career receiving yards and 21 touchdowns in his time at St. Thomas Aquinas. The 4-star recruit also can return kickoffs. With Miami’s talent at receiver, Bruce certainly could be a factor on special teams in 2016. Bruce chose Miami over offers from Ohio State, South Carolina and Alabama.
Irvin Jr. of course will come to Miami with high expectations because of his namesake. The 6-foot-3, 220 pound 3-star prospect is the son of Michael Irvin, an NFL Hall of Famer who is one of the most famous Hurricanes in program history.
The younger Irvin will play either wide receiver or tight end at Miami. He has great size, hands and route-running to be a quality player down the line.
Richt said Irvin’s ties to the school were key to convincing the son to follow in his footsteps.
“Of course, his dad was there [during] the home visit… we did a little talking about The U in general and had some fun,” Richt said. “The big thing these guys have to understand is that we’re going to take care of them. It’s truly a ‘Cane for Life’ philosophy… that’s the philosophy I had at Georgia, and that’s same philosophy I’m going to have here. I want our guys to know — our current players and anyone we recruit — that we’re going to take care of you while you’re here, and we want your relationship with this university to bless you for the rest of your life, not just for three or four years.”
In all, the Hurricanes signed 10 4-star recruits according to CBSSports.com. Richt felt like his 15 seasons at Georgia and even his experience as an assistant coach at Florida State was beneficial to him to recruiting the South Florida area.
“But I think the fact that I had been a head coach for 15 years was helpful for me to have a vision of what I wanted everything to look like,” Richt said. “I think 16 years ago when I went to Georgia as head coach, I really only knew one way, which was quite frankly, Bobby Bowden’s way. I know that’s probably a bad name to say around here [laughter]. But I did have a chance to work for one of the finest men and one of the finest coaches in the business, and when I left there and went to Georgia, I kind of used that template.”
Miami will have a strong chance to win the ACC Coastal Division in 2016. If Richt and the Hurricanes can show signs of improvement, it will be even harder for schools like Florida State and Florida to steal talent from the South Florida area in the years to come.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)