When all was said and done on National Signing Day, Miami hauled in a consensus top-15 class according to most recruiting experts. That meant plenty of smiles from Hurricanes coach Al Golden when was given the chance to speak about his newest players for the first time.
Here, in his own words, are Golden's thoughts about Miami's 2014 signing class and how he expects to use the new talent as the Hurricanes try to improve after their first nine-win season since 2009:
(Spoiler: He was plenty excited.)
On how he expects these signees to impact the defensive front:
They’ll make an impact. I’m really excited about them, from explosiveness, size and really maturity when you look at [Calvin] Heurtelou and [Michael] Wyche. If we start with the front, obviously Chad Thomas is an elite player, excellent explosiveness, pass rusher, brings speed on the edge, yet physical enough to take on the block of a tackle or tight end. So we’re excited about him. On the other side, the open side, defensive end spot, Demetrius Jackson, Trent Harris, guys like that to go along with Quad Muhammad and Tyriq McCord, I feel much better about our depth there now than I did at any point last year. Inside, that’s probably where we’ve made the most gains. [Anthony] Moten, again, a premier player in the country at defensive tackle. I saw A.J. last week and he was a shade under 300 pounds. He’ll come in ready-made. We’ve got to get him in condition, he’ll come down this summer to work with us, we’ll get him ready to go and we’ll add him to a position where Jelani [Hamilton] and Olsen Pierre play. Three nose tackles that we brought in, two are junior college players. Obviously more mature physically and mentally. Calvin Heurtelou is here now at 324 pounds. He’s going to give us the type of strength that we need and we’re excited about the impact he’ll have in the spring. Michael Wyche, obviously, a highly-coveted player and someone that we think will do an incredible job for us. Michael has a great perspective on life. He’ll give us the leadership and kind of be a guy that will make an impact both on and off the field. And Courtel Jenkins is a young man we’re excited about. Those are the guys up front.
The thing I’m most excited about is the linebacker group, the sheer size of them. Juwon Young is on campus right now at 240 pounds. Darrion Owens is 6-2, 6-3 and in that 230-pound range. We’re excited about him. Michael Smith, another young man that we obviously thought the world of. Terry McCray, a very sought-after player at Blanche Ely. A guy, again, who’s 6-2 ½, 6-3, 228-pounds. Very big, physical group of linebackers. Trent Harris and Demetrius [Jackson] are kind of swing guys. They can play sam or what we call the rush in our system. That’s pretty much the breakdown of the front seven.
On how he envisions using signees Trayone Gray and David Njoku:
Gray’s a guy who can play wide receiver for us. Gray can actually play running back to in addition to obviously what he did with the ball as a quarterback. He’s another guy that came to camp and I fell in love with him after about 10 minutes. So really excited about him. And Njoku is a big athlete. He’s an ex-wide receiver. We’ll see where he goes with his body. He’s about 218 pounds now at 6-4, but certainly has the ability to be a guy that we can move around from X to H and put him in space.
On quarterbacks Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier:
As it relates to Brad, he’s always been a winner, but now he’s a champion and he’s coming out of this year with a lot of confidence. He’s a young man that stayed with us throughout the whole process even though everybody, USC, UCLA, everybody started going in on him. We’re grateful to him and obviously to Brad Sr. and Angela for their loyalty. This is a fine young man. He’s 6-4, he’s got a big arm, and everyone that I know at the Semper Fidelis game said that he had a great week. He’s very bright. This is a young man that came and visited us 11 months ago as we were beginning spring ball. You could tell right away, just by visiting with him, just how bright he is. He came to camp, really a guy that we challenged in camp and he did a great job there, so we’re excited about Brad. He’s a winner, he’s a leader, he’s smart and he’s got the tools to go along with it.
Malik Rosier is another quarterback that we’re bringing in in this class and another kid you should get to know. He’ll be playing baseball for the ‘Canes and Jim Morris in addition to playing football. He’s a heck of an athlete and a guy that we’re excited about. Big hands, strong arm, excellent mobility and a guy that it’s easy to say because he’s athletic, that he might be a guy that can run the ball more, but the reality is, he can throw the ball in the pocket really well, but he also gives you an extra element of being able to escape and make plays with his feet. Both those kids, really good kids, winners and smart football players.
On what it meant to bring in offensive linemen Trevor Darling and Kc McDermott as early enrollees:
Huge. Huge. They are who we thought they were. That’s the biggest thing with recruiting. It doesn’t matter what anybody says, the services, the stars. Are they what you thought they were and Trevor Darling and Kc McDermott are exactly what we thought they were in the recruiting process. Those are two young men that will be able to help us right away. We’ve already seen the gains that they’ve had in the weight room the last three weeks. They’re both smart, they’re tough, they’re guys that go work every day. They get after it every day. Couldn’t have two finer families to be associated with the University of Miami than those two families.
We’re going to continue to look. We may need to get another offensive lineman in this group because I’m worried about the numbers. I’m not worried about the quality though. Nick Linder, Brandon’s brother, is going to come in and play center for us at 275, 280-pounds coming. What I say Nick I already said about Trevor and Kc. They’re all from that same cloth. They’re going to work. They’re going to scrap. They’ll be in the weight room. They’ll put in the hours. They’re smart and again, Nick is no stranger to any of that coming from St. Thomas Aquinas. We’re excited about that group. We don’t have much room, we’re basically at our max, maybe have one spot, maybe two, but offensive line is a spot that I will continue to look at just because our numbers overall are not great. Quality I like, but the numbers are not great.
Does he need expect any additions at any other positions?
I don’t know. I feel good about [the roster]. I’m excited about it. I’m excited about what we did. We needed to go out and get two safeties and we did that and we think we got two great ones. Kiy Hester had everyone out of DePaul High School and we couldn’t be more thrilled with a kid that comes in that played multiple positions in high school, that runs the alley, that can strike. He’s smart. He’s got good ball skills. He’s explosive. We’re excited about Kiy Hester. Marques Gayot is another young man…both of these kids are big, both are big safeties. Gayot is another one that’s physical. You watch his tape, and again, both play the position, they’re both comfortable in it, they’re smart kids and again, both of those families are the types of families you want with the University of Miami. Ryan Mayes is a young man that can play corner or safety, and we’re going to start him out at corner and go from there. I don’t know if we would go anywhere else.
On the emotions of the day as he watched his longtime commitments sign:
I guess, that’s the thing that’s probably the most exciting to us as a staff is that the guys who said they were coming, came. We took a run at a couple other guys, just like every team does down the stretch. But for us, unlike last year, last year I had a ceiling. I was against the cap. I didn’t have any wiggle room. We had to hold some of those spots for local kids and some of those kids didn’t come which really created a deficit. It was hard. It was hard to overcome. This was a little different because we were maybe waiting for some kids that maybe said yes today, but we really had guys at those positions. Like the defensive line, we had four defensive tackles committed already, which is what we needed. We took a run at some guys, but all the guys that said they were coming, came and that’s exciting for us. It says something about them and their families and clearly, we’re excited about the group that we have.
Does he have any thoughts of adding a bigger running back in addition to signee Joseph Yearby?
I don’t think we’re going to. Joe is not 6-foot, but Joe runs hard. Joe’s a strong runner. And even Andreu Swasey and those guys talk have been talking to me about how he works in the weight room. He’s going to be one of those guys. What you guys may not know is that Duke Johnson is 202 pounds and we’re trying to get him to 205, 206 and he’s done a good job. Joe Yearby is really following Duke’s footsteps here. He’ll get stronger and of course, we have Dallas [Crawford] and Gus [Edwards]. The depth there looks a lot better than it has for a couple of years and I’m excited for that. I don’t think we’ll go after a big back. I’d rather save that for next year and get two running backs. We really like a lot of the running backs in next year’s class so we’ll just save it and bring two in in next year’s class.
On the differences between keeping long-time commitments in the fold vs. chasing down recruits late in the process:
Even as a coach, when you’re in a game like that and you’re in the lead, you have to continue to stay aggressive. We stayed aggressive. Having nine guys in [early] helped then you’re only working off a pool of 17. That was huge, having those nine guys in at mid-year…but the reality is that we had a lot of guys that, when you look at this group, we had a lot of guys that everybody wanted. That’s the thing that we’re excited about. In years past, we haven’t been in that business to the extent that we were this year. I think that’s a reflection of moving the program forward, making the steps that we made, not having the NCAA to deal with, and as I said earlier today, we had our first junior day on Sunday and not only was that the best attended day, but it had the best quality of any junior day in the previous couple of years. I know that’s a direct reflection of the NCAA investigation being lifted.
On the relationship he and his staff with local coaches:
Everybody thinks because we lost a guy today that we don’t have a good relationship with that coach. We do have a good relationship. We don’t take everybody either, but they need to communicate and we need to communicate. I’m always on our coaches about communicating. If we’re not going to take a young man, the coach needs to know. The student-athlete needs to know and sometimes, it’s just a function of numbers. If I could have taken 10 wide receivers, we’d still be waiting for faxes to come in. We couldn’t. You’ve got a certain budget that you deal with or you can’t put your team together. I think our relationship with them is growing. Think about being the high school coach or one of the guys on the staff. You care about this player. You spent the last three or four years with this student-athlete and the last couple of years, think about the questions they had, let alone the parents and student-athletes. If I send this young man to Miami, what’s going to happen? Am I going to be responsible for saying ‘Yeah, it’s okay to go to Miami,’ but there might be sanctions? Or you might have additional bowl games? Or you might be playing with 30 less scholarships? Those are all the things that our adversaries were saying over the last two and a half years. So it was difficult. It was a difficult for those high school coaches. I’m just grateful about how receptive they’ve been to us, how appreciative they’ve been to our efforts. We have a staff that’s dug in and fought through it and now we’re excited to move forward.
Now that the NCAA investigation is over, is there more pressure to get more players from South Florida and develop that talent?
For me, you look at it as pressure, for me, it’s part of our process. It’s part of our job. I want to develop every kid that we get, make him the best student-athlete and again, build the type of program that competes for championships every year. That’s what we’re trying to do. So to me, it’s not any more pressure. Chad Thomas should be a guy that we can develop into a guy that’s going to help us. A.J. Moten. Mike Wyche. Demetrius Jackson. T.J. McCray. T.J. McCray was LSU and Alabama. These are guys that everybody wanted and they wanted to come to the University of Miami. We’re grateful to them and their families, but now, it’s not pressure to develop them. We can’t wait to develop them. There’s a difference. There is, no matter what you say, there’s a difference. We cannot wait to get T.J. McCray down here and say, ‘Okay, you’re our mike linebacker and we’re going to teach mike and will, and get you in the weight room.’ I feel like that about so many guys. There’s a guy from South Dade, that man, this guy has had our eye for a year and a half now. He was kind of under the radar and they ended up winning a championship. He was one of the reasons why. Tyre Brady, I know maybe some other guys were ranked higher in these types of deals, but we were like ‘Man, 6-3, can run like that, athletic.’ We went after him from the get-go and we got him back. I don’t think there’s any more pressure. But we are excited and we’re excited that although we can’t reverse the fact that when the juniors were freshmen and sophomores, all they knew about the University of Miami was turmoil and uncertainty. We can’t reverse that, but at least now with this group, we have this spring and their whole senior year to really show them what we’re all about and stop defending ourselves from something that was really indefensible.
On Chad Thomas:
At such a young age, he’s very mature. He knows what he wants. Every day, he’s very disciplined. He goes to school, he works out, he does his music, if he has homework, he does his homework, and that’s pretty much what he does. He’s not a guy that you have to worry about. He’s very structured already. He comes from a championship program, a disciplined program, but this guy is inquisitive, he wants to learn about music, he’s trying to get better with music. He shares an equal passion for athletics and for football. He’s a young man that had everybody in the country offer him, but he decided to come down here to our camp to get better. You don’t always see that. He came down to our camp and whatever we thought of him before camp. He walked out of there and we were like, “Whoa…whoa.” Then he went up to Oregon for The Opening, and he dominated up there then obviously had a great year and did the same thing at the Under Armour game. He’s a young man that’s getting better. We’re going to add some strength, add some weight. But explosive and a thinker. If you walked up to Chad right now and said, “Chad, give me your best three pass rushes,” he would tell you and he would demonstrate them for you. That’s a process-oriented kid. That’s the thing. When they can develop that process, they absorb things. That’s what Chad Thomas is. I had a chance to spend a whole day with his family and it was just an awesome day last Thursday with his family.
On how he envisions using tight end signees Chris Herndon and David Njoku:
Herndon is an H, Njoku is an X right now that can give us some of the plays at H, he wouldn’t be a tight end per se, but he can do those things. But Herndon is definitely an H. He played X receiver at Norcross, did a great job catching the routes. Very similar to Clive [Walford], except he’s going to come in a little bit bigger than Clive. We’re excited about him, but in terms of the numbers, we were really close to taking to another tight end because we didn’t know what Clive was going to do and Clive kind of bailed us out. And next year, we need to get a tight end, a Y and an H. That’s going to be important in next year’s class.
Can these new offensive players help Miami do more on offense?
We have a lot of playmakers back. We lost Allen [Hurns], but when you look at Duke [Johnson], Dallas [Crawford], Gus [Edwards] and we’re adding Joe in the backfield; you have Clive [Walford] and Beau [Sandland] and Stan [Dobard] at tight end, Stacy [Coley], Herb [Waters] and Phillip [Dorsett], and Rashawn Scott, everybody is said is having as good an off-season as anybody, that’s what we need to hear. We need more of that. I’m excited that our skill set, our skill level and production is coming back. And I feel the same about the defensive side. Look at the guys who had sacks, sacks-caused-fumbles, interceptions, and recovered fumbles, that’s a lot of production coming back in addition to what we’re bringing in to help bolster the spots that we need to bolster.
On moving forward and recruiting for 2015 without the NCAA investigation over the program:
My coaches will tell you, there are some homes that I left in December and I felt like I left something. You know, you feel like you leave your cell phone or you left something. I kept saying, ‘I feel like I left something,’ and then I realized I didn’t spend three quarters of the time there explaining the NCAA thing. It just felt good, for the first time since I’ve been here, it felt really good to just go in and say, ‘Okay, let me tell you about the University of Miami. Here we are. We’re a small, private institution. We’re No. 1 in the state, top 45 in the country. Man, that felt good. It felt good to talk about our classroom size, the types of curriculum we have, the campus itself, the community surrounding the campus, our football program, our tradition, all the things we want to talk about that really have been eclipsed because whatever coach just left or whatever coach came after, all they were talking about is ‘Miami, the NCAA, they’re dead.’ The majority of your time was spent on that. It feels good. It feels good. Was it a little bit too little too late for this group? Pretty much. 85-90 percent of this class was done by the middle of October when this came out. We didn’t even have a chance to address it personally until December, until after our season was over. It was tough. There were a few guys that we were trying to add, but for the most part, our class was done. We’ll reap the benefits of that moving forward, but there’s no question that felt good. Along with our facilities, the student center and the things we’re doing with our program, I’m excited about that.
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