Growing up in Boca Raton, the future Hurricanes quarterback and head coach learned a fun party trick: how to execute a single backflip off the high-dive, falling backward and hitting the water feet-first. He perfected it during his college days, hanging out at the UM pool, and used to entertain his players and staff at Georgia by doing it during training camp.
Seeing their coach go head-first from 10 meters up — nearly 33 feet — at about 7 mph always got a big cheer.
Last year, he started a new Miami tradition, flying high off that familiar platform and splashing down to set off the program’s new Paradise Camp recruiting event. Friday he did it again, in front of dozens of players and recruits at a pool party on campus:
Friday was devoted to underclassmen, but Paradise Camp continues Saturday with some of the best 11th- and 12th-grade talents in the Southeast. They will compete in drills and be coached by a host of former Hurricanes stars. Click here for a list.
Miami 2018 commits expected to attend, according to 247Sports, include:
Five-star running back Lorenzo Lingard Four-star running back Cam’Ron Davis
Four-star receivers Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins Four-star tight end Will Mallory Four-star offensive linemen Cleveland Reed, John Campbell and Delone Scaife Four-star defensive tackle Nesta Silvera and end Gregory Rousseau Four-star defensive backs Josh Jobe, Al Blades Jr., Gurvan Hall and three-star D.J. Ivey
Uncommitted recruits of note expected to attend, per 247, include wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, defensive end Kayode Oladele, cornerback Nigel Bethel and 2019 quarterback Zamar Wise. The Post reported two cornerbacks from Palm Beach County, Florida State commit Akeem Dent, a former UM pledge, and Kaiir Elam, will attend.
Mark Richt, apparently, does not plan to mess with success.
The second edition of his Paradise Camp will look a lot like the first, with former Hurricanes stars serving as guest coaches to dozens of the nation’s top high school recruits. In the week leading up to the event, Richt tweeted his roster of guest coaches.
Monday, he named four: former UM linebackers Jonathan Vilma, Jon Beason and D.J. Williams, and tight end Jeremy Shockey.
Tuesday, running backs Willis McGahee and Najeh Davenport were added, along with receivers Devin Hester and Michael Irvin.
Wednesday, he named Bryant McKinnie and Brett Romberg, who will mentor the big men up front, and defensive backs Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips.
Thursday, two more well known names: defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Calais Campbell.
On Friday, Richt dropped a fan favorite: Ed Reed, one of the greatest safeties in history.
Last year, the event debuted with Ray Lewis and Michael Irvin speaking to attendees, UM coaches and former players instructing recruits through drills and everyone — really, everyone — giving positive reviews. Even the lightning decided to stay away.
The invite-only camp, which runs Friday for ninth- and 10th-graders and Saturday for those entering grades 11 and 12, will be held on UM’s intramural fields. The program is building a $34 million indoor practice facility on its usual practice home, Greentree.
I almost forgot! #20 is coming home! We'll see Coach Ed Reed here at PARADISE tomorrow night!! U Family! pic.twitter.com/Nakys5kzzr
Fuller, listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds by 247Sports, plays at Doral Academy. According to 247Sports, he had 19 catches for 442 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He is rated by the website as a four-star prospect and the 149th-best player in the class.
Rivals rates him as a four-star prospect. ESPN has not rated him.
See his highlights here:
UM’s 2019 class also includes linebackers Jesiah Pierre and Diamante Howard.
Miami signee D.J. Johnson’s impressive sprint times – 11.22 in the 100, 23.79 in the 200 at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds – had me thinking of a feature we used to run when I covered high school sports.
Here’s the spring track honor roll, with a Miami bent.
A caveat: Not all football players compete in track, and not all fast, strong, explosive football players are great track athletes. But here’s saluting the recorded accomplishments of those who will wear the ‘U’ in the future (or already do) — such as running back commit Lorenzo Lingard, who wants to compete in the 2020 Olympics.
An early signing period, which needed the final approval of a governing body separate from the NCAA, received the go-ahead Monday and will be in play this December.
After the approval of the Collegiate Commissioners Association, recruits may now sign binding letters of intent during a 72-hour window that begins Dec. 20.
The NCAA needed the outside approval because it follows the National Letter of Intent program, which the CCA controls.
The early signing period is in addition to the traditional start of the signing period (“national signing day”), which begins the first Wednesday in February (Feb. 7 in 2018).
The early signing period coincides with the Dec. 20 start of the junior college signing period, which runs until Jan. 15, 2018.
It’s something recruits “wanted and will take advantage of,” UM Athletics Director Blake James said last month, when the NCAA’s Division 1 Council approved multiple college football changes, including the addition of a 10th assistant coach, giving permission for recruits to take official visits the spring of their junior year and the elimination of two-a-day practices. James also chairs the D1 council.
Miami’s recruiting class is rated No. 1 by a consensus of Rivals, 247Sports, ESPN and Scout. Several players, including five-star running back Lorenzo Lingard and four-star quarterback Artur Sitkowski, have stated their intention to enroll at UM in January.
Even in the hours before signing day, coaches thinking about recruits who are two, three, even four years away from college. So no, it’s not too early to look ahead to 2018, though 2017 recruits signed two weeks ago.
This weekend the Hurricanes will host their first on-campus event for the next group of recruits. Recruits in the 2018 classes and younger will unofficially (read: they, not Miami, pay their way) tour the school, meet coaches and players and are given free tickets to the UM-Clemson basketball game.
Here are the positions Miami needs to recruit in the next cycle, in order of general importance (all star rankings via 247Sports composite):
Defensive back: The main reason the Hurricanes weren’t too concerned about missing on several talented cornerback recruits in 2017: the local talent in 2018 is outstanding. Four-star commits Josh Jobe and Gilbert Frierson, who reportedly plan to attend Junior Day, may be joined by uncommitted five-star Patrick Surtain Jr. and four-star Tyson Campbell, both of Plantation-American Heritage; four-stars Al Blades Jr. and Asante Samuel Jr. (Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas) and safety Gurvan Hall (Palm Beach Lakes). All are nationally desired recruits Miami wants to keep home.
Wide receiver: UM could sign four to five wide receivers, and South Florida has plenty of options as usual. Four-star wide receiver Mark Pope (Miami Southridge), who will attend Junior Day according to 247Sports, is rated No. 23 among all prospects and No. 4 among wideouts by 247Sports. He is considering UM and Alabama. Brian Hightower (Bradenton-IMG Academy) is another four-star Miami wants to sign.
Defensive line: The Hurricanes are in need of good ones here, as previously noted. Tackle commit Nesta Silvera, who reportedly plans to attend Junior Day, is a significant addition. UM would love to add more tackles and ends to offset the graduation of seniors Chad Thomas, Anthony Moten and Trent Harris and potential losses to the NFL. Five-star tackle Taron Vincent (IMG Academy), is a major target. He is rated 10th overall in 2018 and tops at his position.
Tight end: Losing Chris Herndon to graduation means Miami could enter 2018 with three tight ends on scholarship, none of whom had caught a college pass as of this writing. Two high-caliber signees are needed. One of them could be four-star Brevin Jordan, from Las Vegas-Bishop Gorman, is a teammate of a four-star quarterback of Miami interest, Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Miami has also offered another top-10 recruit at the position, four-star Will Mallory (Jacksonville-Providence).
Running back: Landing five-star Lorenzo Lingard’s commitment recently checked a major box for Miami, which could lose Mark Walton to the NFL draft if he has a good season. Depth is an issue for UM at this position, so expect them to chase at least one (perhaps two) backs in addition to Lingard. It would be a pleasant surprise if five-star James Cook (Miami Central), the brother of former Florida State star Dalvin Cook, opted to stay local.
Linebacker: After signing three in 2017, Miami likes its depth behind rising sophomores Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud. The Hurricanes are likely to sign at least two to three linebackers to challenge for future starting roles. Also interesting: 247Sports reported five-star prospect Owen Pappoe (Loganville, Ga.) will visit. He is rated the No. 2 overall player in 2019.
Quarterback: UM will have three strong underclassmen prospects on campus this fall in true freshmen N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon and redshirt freshman Jack Allison. However, top programs try to land at least one solid prospect per cycle. That could be Thompson-Robinson, IMG Academy’s Artur Sitowski or Casey Thompson (Moore, Okla.), other four-star recruits Miami has offered.
Offensive line: After focusing heavily on its front five in 2017, UM is likely to try to add a few more this cycle. UM recently offered five-star Jackson Carman (Fairfield, Ohio), the No. 1 player at the position, and is after Florida-based four-stars Richard Gouraige (Tampa-Cambridge Christian), Nicholas Petit-Frere (Tampa-Berkeley Prep) and William Barnes (Apopka).
Thomas Brown’s first year in Miami has been a year of surprises.
“One of the biggest,” he said, “was how great our kids are.”
Brown, a Georgia native who played for coach Mark Richt at UGA, said the perception of UM — and South Florida players in general — did not match what he learned in year one on the job.
“Coming down here, so many people told me so many negative things about the players in Miami, whether from a recruiting standpoint or on the roster,” said Brown, 31. “There have been very few issues. Those guys have bought into exactly what we’ve asked them to do.”
Brown said he sees a hungry group of players that realizes it could have won more this year. He said they grew close during the four-game losing streak that dropped UM to 4-4 entering November. And with so many of those players coming back, he’s pleased with where UM is.
When he followed Richt here a year ago, he didn’t expect he would wind up feeling this way.
“I thought we’d have to come in and put the hammer down and yell and kick half the team off,” he said. “That’s the perception, of what people say about Miami or Miami kids. Some adults, when I was leaving Georgia coming down here, tried to scare me out of it, scare my wife and kids out of it.
“There are bad things about any place you go, and you can find some negativity if you want to find it. It’s been phenomenal being around our guys. They’re not perfect, but those guys are very coachable. They’re hungry and they want to be great.”
Why did Brown make that point Wednesday?
“I get tired of hearing people spread lies and say negative stuff and you have no proof behind it,” he said. “You can talk about some things that happened a lot of years ago, but let’s talk about currently what’s going on.
“I think from a media standpoint, an entertainment standpoint, people spend more time on negativity. People love to talk about bad stuff. But I think a lot of positive things about our program, and I’m excited about the direction we’re going.”
I took this to mean the image of Miami as a program with “thugs” and “gangsters,” which feels trite, played out (do people really see Miami that way in 2016? Up for discussion, I guess. Sure, Miami has dismissed a few players for rules violations, and NCAA-related issues. But most of the players on the team are pretty nice guys, generally). I asked Brown if some of that The U “bad boy” image helps in recruiting, since a lot of recruits — especially in South Florida — and fans think that the old-school Hurricanes of The U were the coolest teams ever.
“I think it depends on what you define as ‘bad boy image,'” Brown said. “When you’re talking about a team having thugs and criminals, I think that’s idiotic. … If you have the mindset of being a ‘bad boy’ on the field, playing within the rules and hitting people in the mouth, that’s what Miami’s going to be about.”