Football officially joined its fellow NCAA sports on Wednesday.
Like early Christmas presents, coaches around the country unveiled their 2018 recruiting classes during football’s inaugural early signing period.
Miami’s Chuck Martin announced the signings of 12 high school seniors and a junior college transfer to national letters of intent.
“So many kids are making verbal commitments after their junior year or in the summer before their senior year, it made sense to move up the signing date,” Martin said in Miami’s plush locker room in the still-new Athletic Performance Center. “We had 12 of the 13 verbal commitments last summer. It feels weird. It doesn’t feel like signing day. There’s still another signing date on February 7.
“I like the early signing date. I wish it was earlier. Why not sign before the season? That’s my opinion. Everybody has their own opinion. (Alabama) Nick Saban has been saying it’s stupid.”
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Martin’s fifth Miami recruiting class is heavy on defensive backs with four, including Belmont’s 6-foot-2, 180-pound Ja’don Rucker-Furlow. They are followed by two each of defensive linemen, offensive linemen and linebackers. It includes one wide receiver, quarterback and running back.
“Crazy, crazy ceiling here,” Martin said of Rucker-Furlow, who didn’t play football until his junior season. “He’s a kid who’s played so little football, but it’s hard to find 6-2 corners. They’re hard to find in the NFL. He knows he’s got a lot to learn. He’s showed some ability to strike and some physicality. If he had played football his whole life, he probably wouldn’t be playing in the (Mid-American Conference).”
Zedrick Raymond, a 6-foot, 180-pound defensive back who played the previous two seasons who played the previous two seasons at Independence Community College, will enroll in time to participate in spring practice, and Martin agreed that a couple of the freshmen could immediately move into starting roles.
“It’s getting harder and harder,” he cautioned. “You’ve got to be darn good to play as freshmen We’ve got some holes to fill. We lose three starters on both sides of the ball. It seems like every class gets better. The kids who come in don’t look like freshmen.”
Eleven of the players served as their teams’ captains and five are three-star (out of a possible five) recruits, according to 247sports.com rankings. Among them are 6-6, 280-pound defensive lineman Kameron Butler and his Covington (Ky.) Catholic teammate, 6-3, 205-pound quarterback A.J. Mayer. They led the Colonels to the 2017 5A state championship, and Mayer was named the championship game Most Valuable Player.
“It’s very difficult for MAC teams to get state’s players of the year,” Martin pointed out, referring to Mayer.
Butler was the Colonels’ team MVP as a junior and played linebacker as a senior. He finished his career with 10 sacks and eight interceptions.
“Kam is a run-and-hit physical guy,” Martin said. “He had a great junior year as a defensive end. He’s already 240 pounds and he can run like the wind and can strike. He thinks he can play linebacker, but I told him, ‘I need you to sack the quarterback.’”
Another player with state championships on his resume is 6-5, 200-pound wide receiver Cam Blakely, who helped Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic to the 2015 and 2017 titles.
“We like ‘em big,” Martin said. “He’ll probably carry 225 or 230 (pounds). It’s hard to find 6-5 wideouts, but that’s what we look for at Miami. He can be a crazy downfield blocker.’
Three-star offensive lineman Andrew Todd, a 6-4, 275-pound product of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was ranked as a junior the state’s fourth-best player by Iowa Preps and the No. 1 offensive lineman by Scout.com.
“He’s borderline abusive,” Martin said. “He’s tough and mean and has great feet. He has an incredible passion for the game.”
Zionsville (Ind.) Community’s 6-6, 280-pound Bennett Clark is another three-star offensive lineman who signed with Miami.
Princeton High School’s Cecil Singleton is the only three-star recruit among the defensive backs.
“He’s very long, very athletic and very raw,” Martin said of the 6-2, 190-pound Singleton. “He has tremendous upside. We’re going to put a lot of size on this kid to be a run-and-hit safety.”
The class was ranked ninth in the Mid-American Conference, primarily because of its small size, but the RedHawks could move up by signing additional players. Miami is still “managing the roster,” Martin said.
“There’s an opportunity to add a piece or two to this class,” Martin said.