By Susan Miller Degnan, McClatchy Newspapers –
MIAMI — Al Golden was named national recruiter of the year at Temple, a school once so hopeless it got kicked out of the Big East.
On Wednesday, the University of Miami football coach proved just how adept he is at the art of persuasion while staring down an NCAA investigation and the threat of sanctions.
Golden closed with a flourish on National Signing Day, hauling in a top-10 recruiting class that Miami fans hope will mark the beginning of the program’s resurgence — or at least help it endure the storm.
Meanwhile, as Miami landed a huge last-minute coup in wresting from Florida the nation’s No. 1 cornerback, Tracy Howard of Miramar, the Gators and Seminoles were working their own magic.
All three classes received glowing reviews, with UF and FSU ranked in the top five by most analysts, and the Canes as high as No. 6 by Tom Lemming. Alabama was ranked No. 1 by ESPN and Rivals.com.
Florida International also made a splash, basking in what is widely considered its finest class in school history.
“Every year it gets better,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “But this year, it also got bigger.”
The Golden Panthers signed their largest class ever with 29 players — 10 from South Florida and eight from out of state. Cristobal said the Panthers will graduate 25 players after next season, so the bodies are badly needed.
FIU reached its goal of getting heftier, more explosive players, including 6-3, 290-pound defensive end Darrian Dyson of New Orleans, the highest-rated Panther according to Rivals. The Panthers’ class encompassed players from nearly every position.
Locally, FIU’s biggest name is E.J. Hilliard, a 6-3, 175-pound quarterback from Miami Northwestern. He is one of four early enrollees.
Cristobal, who in the past week reportedly turned down a coaching offer from Rutgers, indicated that in the end, his spurning of the Scarlet Knights helped him gain a position of strength. It showed the power of choice.
Across town, second-year coach Golden took a weak secondary and bolstered it with stars, among them Howard, Rivals’ No. 4 safety Deon Bush of Miami Columbus and Tampa Plant cornerback Antonio Crawford.
Miami brought in 33 new recruits, nine of them early enrollees who will participate in spring practice. Twenty of those players are from Florida and 16 from South Florida.
“Miami is loaded with good players,” said CBS Sports analyst Lemming. “This class is reminiscent of the great Miami teams of the 1990s and past decade.”
The Hurricanes — ranked eighth by Scout .com, ninth by Rivals and 10th by ESPN — also got one of the best running backs in the nation in Randy “Duke” Johnson of Miami Norland. Their signing day surprises were West Boca Raton linebacker JaWand Blue (originally committed to Virginia Tech) and 300-pound Lake City Columbia defensive tackle Dequan Ivery (originally committed to Louisville), who join four-star defensive end Jelani Hamilton out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
“It was an incredible effort in light of all the things we encountered, all the obstacles in the last couple months,” Golden said. “I’m real proud of this class. â€¦ (They come from) a lot of championship programs. A lot of captains, a lot of tough guys.”
Equally enthused: FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and UF coach Will Muschamp.
The Gators were ranked third nationally by Rivals, fourth by ESPN and fifth by Scout. Muschamp’s first full class is defined by its strength on defense, hauling in 14 defenders, including five-star defensive end Jonathan Bullard of Shelby, N.C.
UF also got five-star offensive tackle D.J. Humphries of Charlotte, N.C., and the No. 1 tight end in Kent Taylor.
The Seminoles were ranked sixth by Rivals, second by ESPN and second by Scout. They took Jacksonville First Coast linebacker Reggie Northrup, a four-star athlete, from the Hurricanes.
“It seems like every time we recruit somebody (away from someone else), that just turns up the heat and everybody starts barking at us when they commit,” Fisher said. “I mean, we recruited him. We told him, ‘If you ever change your mind, we’re here.’ “
The Seminoles, as usual, should have a top defensive line in the future.
Though they lost highly touted defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. to UF, they signed ESPN No. 1 defensive end Mario Edwards, a 6-4, 297-pounder from Denton, Texas; and 6-4, 310-pound No. 1 defensive tackle Eddie Goldman from Washington, D.C.
ESPN No. 1 quarterback Jameis Winston of Hueytown, Ala., committed, but is expected to sign with FSU later this week.