Lorenzo Lingard arrived in his Miami hotel room Thursday evening to a smattering of treats. Next to a plate of small sandwiches, a bag of candy, eight bottles of water and six Gatorades was a football-shaped cake with a ‘U’ logo and his potential future jersey number — 1 — painted in frosting.
It won’t be long before coaches feed him the ball in games.
Lingard, a running back from Orange City, is considered the brightest star among a host of prep standouts on campus this weekend. Nearly all of UM’s 21 commits for 2018 plan to be in town for their official visit.
Why so many, and why now? Beginning Wednesday, Lingard and Division I football recruits across the country will be able to sign binding letters of intent with colleges, as part of a 72-hour early signing period permitted by the NCAA for the first time. In years past, national signing day brought a frenzy of activity on the first Wednesday in February. This year, Power Five programs like Miami are hoping to lock in the bulk of their classes before Christmas.
Stable programs might feel good about their chances, but with so many volatile coaching situations across the country, few analysts know what to expect.
“I think there will be considerable chaos,” SB Nation director of recruiting Bud Elliott said. “It stinks for kids [who sign early] that there is no automatic out if a head coach or coordinator leaves.” ESPN lead recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill expects “any verbal commitment that chooses not to sign to be in danger of no longer having their scholarship offer to that school.”
Elliott believed most programs will sign more than half of their recruits during the early signing period, which lasts until Friday. After that, recruits can sign beginning Feb. 7. He said coaches he speaks with believe they’ll sign closer to 80 percent early.
Mark Richt said last week he expects “nine, 10, 11” of UM’s 21 commits to sign next week and enroll in January, which allows them participate in spring drills. Lingard may be the most heralded prospect, but there is no shortage of head-turners.
Rivals ranks UM’s class second nationally behind Ohio State. Both 247Sports and ESPN have the Hurricanes third, behind OSU and Texas. That’s because of depth — 14 four-star players and two five-stars among UM’s 21 commitments, according to Rivals — and elite ability. According to 247Sports’ rankings, UM has 14 players who rank in the top 15 nationally at their positions.
In the ACC, only Clemson, which has a pair of five-star commits among its 12 pledges, can come close to matching Miami’s collection of talent. The Tigers are 14th nationally according to 247. The Hurricanes are well ahead of Coastal Division foes Virginia Tech (17th), UNC (31st), Georgia Tech (44th) and Virginia (46th), and way beyond Florida State (47th).
FSU, which has fewer commitments (nine) than any school in the ACC, is last among ACC teams in Rivals’ rankings (58th overall), though the Noles do have the seventh-highest per-commit ranking average (UM’s is fourth).
ESPN is highest on UM’s main ACC rival (Clemson, ninth), Virginia Tech (16th) and both UM’s in-state competitors on the recruiting trail (Florida 26th, Florida State 27th).
Lingard, whose University High team uses a silver version of Miami’s ‘U’ logo on its orange helmet, will fit right into an offense that loses its former No. 1 back, Mark Walton. The Florida statewide player of the year is rated as high as No. 10 among all 2018 players, by Rivals.
“He told me he runs like (former Georgia star and current Los Angeles Ram Todd) Gurley but I think stylistically he is similar to Darren McFadden,” Elliott said, comparing the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Lingard to the former Arkansas and NFL standout. “[He] could absolutely make an instant impact.”
National recruiting analysts polled say Miami is getting major weapons in Lingard, Las Vegas-based tight end Brevin Jordan and Miami Southridge High wide receiver Mark Pope. All three are visiting this weekend. Pope will enroll in January; Jordan in May.
“I think Mark Pope is a guy that can contribute right away,” said Barton Simmons, 247Sports’ director of scouting. “He’s not an overwhelming presence. May not have the freak speed but he’s got the same kind of natural ball skills, route-running ability and instincts that (Alabama stars) Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley and Jerry Jeudy had.”
Elliott said the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Pope “understands gearing up and down, how to use his space to his advantage. That’s stuff high-schoolers often have to learn at the next level.” It would help Pope fit into a talented receiving corps that includes junior-to-be Ahmmon Richards and sophomores Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley.
ESPN’s Luginbill anticipates Jordan (6-3, 230) “making [his] presence felt early.” Both Jordan and four-star Will Mallory (6-5, 210), who is also visiting this weekend, will get a chance to compete for reps with junior-to-be Michael Irvin II, UM’s only returning scholarship tight end. Both recruits have spoken highly of four-star quarterback prospect Jarren Williams, who is not visiting this weekend but will enroll in January.
“Jarren Williams in time could be really, really good,” Luginbill said of Williams, 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. “In most years in Georgia he’d likely be the top QB prospect coming out of the state.”
At the top of that list this year are Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, ranked 1-2 among all prospects nationally according to 247 and Rivals (ESPN has them in the revere, with Fields first). Lawrence is committed to Clemson; Fields is a Georgia pledge.
Simmons called Williams, who will perform spring drills in a group that includes returning starter Malik Rosier and redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry, “one of the steals of this class, a guy that resisted the Alabama’s of the world to stay committed to Kentucky back in the spring but ended up flipping late to Miami,” he said. “He’s just a really sound, consistent quarterback and he’ll be able to compete for a starting job no later than year two.”
The list of early enrollees includes four-star prospects like 6-foot-2, 180-pound safety Gilbert Frierson — whom Elliott praised for his hard-to-find “length and athleticism combo — offensive tackle John Campbell (6-5, 284), wideout Brian Hightower (6-3, 202), Palm Beach Gardens safety Gurvan Hall (5-11, 175), three-star defensive end Gregory Rousseau (6-5, 220) and wideout Daquris Wiggins (6-2, 170).
Simmons likes another three-star visitor, cornerback D.J. Ivey (6-1, 180). “Among the early enrollees there may not be anybody with a higher ceiling,” Simmons said. “[He] has some playmaking knack to his game.” He also called four-star offensive guard Delone Scaife (6-3, 320) a “multi-year starter because he’s got the right demeanor and he’s very athletic.”
Also visiting this weekend, according to Rivals, but likely not enrolling for spring drills: four-star cornerback Al Blades Jr. (the son of the late former UM safety), four-star running back Cam’Ron Davis, offensive guard Cleveland Reed, three-star fullback Realus George and linebacker Patrick Joyner, and kicker Bubba Baxa.
Luginbill was high on defensive tackle Nesta Silvera (6-2, 308), a four-star prospect rated seventh among defensive tackles by ESPN (15th by 247, 22nd by Rivals). “[He] doesn’t get talked about much but he’s at a premium position.” He won’t take his official visit until January, when he hopes to convince fellow Plantation-American Heritage teammates Tyson Campbell and Patrick Surtain Jr., two five-star cornerbacks, to sign with UM in February.
The Hurricanes would welcome that trio with cakes, candy and anything else allowed under NCAA rules. But UM, like other programs, can’t hold too many open spots. Who’s locked in? Who’s available? The college football world is waiting to see.
“Nobody really knows what’s going to happen,” Luginbill said. “Not the players, not the coaches, not anyone.”