The national champion Florida State Seminoles cruised to another football title Wednesday: kings of recruiting in the talent-rich state of Florida.
Their two in-state rivals – the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes – were close behind. National Signing Day yielded strong classes for all three programs, which ended the day rated among the top-10 classes according to most recruiting analysts.
“Outstanding classes that bode well for the future,” said recruiting guru Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. “FSU has a great year every year, Florida has done just about as well as any other team when you talk about impact players and Miami got themselves great offensive linemen and an outstanding quarterback who had the best year of anybody on the west coast.”
Hurricanes coach Al Golden must have exhaled in relief when defensive end Chad Thomas of consensus national champion Miami Booker T. High signed his Letter of Intent at a 9 a.m. school ceremony.
Thomas, who visited perennial power Alabama last weekend and was shown plenty of love by coach Nick Saban, reportedly had the Crimson Tide lingering in his mind. When he arrived late to his school’s signing ceremony, UM fans no doubt got nervous.
“I was up there shaking,” Thomas, a five-star signee, told The Miami Herald. “It’s a great feeling. I stuck with my word. I found out UM was the best school for me through the whole process. …I’ve been in Miami my whole life.”
Thomas will study at UM’s Frost School of Music.
“If football goes away,” Thomas said, “I know I still have my academics and music from a great school.”
Alabama’s Saban nonetheless made out quite well, signing the No. 1 class in the country for the third consecutive year.
Although the Hurricanes lost four of the state’s Top 50 recruits since their loss to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl, none of UM’s 26 commitments heading into Wednesday signed elsewhere.
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The four who decommitted: Hialeah Champagnat Travonte Valentine (LSU), St. Petersburg Catholic offensive lineman Reilly Gibbons (Stanford), Deerfield Beach running back Brandon Powell (Florida) and Booker T. Washington cornerback Nigel Bethel (Texas Tech).
UM still got three All-American offensive linemen, All-American quarterback Brad Kaaya and stocked their greatest area of need with seven defensive linemen, led by All-Americans Thomas and St. Thomas Aquinas tackle Moten. The Canes already have nine signees enrolled for the spring.
The other Miami football school, FIU, announced a signing class of 24, with 12 from Miami-Dade and Broward counties and all but one from the state. The Panthers finished 1-11 last season and are in dire need of a lift. Offensively, Dillard High star receiver Dennis Turner, previously committed to Miami, could help.
Turner, 5-11 and 170 pounds, was recruited by UM as a cornerback, and told the Miami Herald last month that he was “most comfortable” with being a receiver. “I should see some playing time right away.”
Over in Tallahassee, where FSU was rated the nation’s No. 3 class, the Seminoles did wonders for their Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston. FSU’s bounty included five-star receivers Ermon Lane (6-3, 200 pounds) of Homestead High and Travis Rudolph (6-2, 190) of West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman, plus four-star receiver Javon Harrison (6-3, 190) of Lakeland Kathleen High.
Harrison was committed to Virginia Tech before flipping to the Seminoles on Wednesday, though some expected the change of heart.
And there will be plenty of big men to ensure Winston continues his success. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said the Seminoles signed the deepest offensive line class since he has been in Tallahassee. Overall, he was thrilled with his class of 24 signees.
“This is one of the most complete classes we’ve been able to sign,’’ the coach said. “We’ve got large numbers this year and kind of hit needs across the board with great players.’’
The Seminoles also yielded 247sports.com composite 5-star Miami Central running back Dalvin Cook, Florida’s Mr. Football who will replace fellow former Miami Central great Devonta Freeman.
The Gators, who had an uncharacteristically poor 4-8 season, still finished with a flourish on signing day. They held on to four-star Immokalee cornerback J.C. Jackson and flipped former FSU commit Treon Harris, a four-star quarterback from Booker T. Washington. UF also landed three-star South Dade wide receiver C.J. Worton, whose older brother was a Gator.
The Gators closed with 24 signees, 10 of which were formerly pledged to other schools. Florida’s class includes nine early enrollees, headlined by five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor of Washington, D.C.
“We had a miserable fall,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “But to have the staff come together – three new coaches in Kurt Roper, Mike Summers and Coleman Hutzler – and adjust some things midstream and put together this class, I’m really proud.”
Miami Herald sportswriters Manny Navarro, Patrik Nohe, Jesse Simonton and Andre Fernandez contributed to this report.
This story was originally published February 5, 2014 7:15 PM.