College Sports

Early signing period live updates: UM starts day by bolstering already top-notch defense

Avery Huff not worried about Manny Diaz’s departure from Miami

Avery Huff stayed firm in his commitment to the Miami Hurricanes even after defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left to become coach of the Temple Owls. The four-star outside linebacker from the St. Thomas Aquinas High School Raiders explains why.
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Avery Huff stayed firm in his commitment to the Miami Hurricanes even after defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left to become coach of the Temple Owls. The four-star outside linebacker from the St. Thomas Aquinas High School Raiders explains why.

Good day to everyone.

The sun had just risen and those fax machines were already humming.

The University of Miami early signing class, nicknamed #Surge19, is on the board.

FIRST ONE IS ALWAYS SPECIAL: The first football signee to kick off the NCAA’s early signing period on Wednesday for the Miami Hurricanes came in just after 7 a.m., when Vero Beach defensive end Jahfari Harvey, 6-4 and 225 pounds, inked his signature to say he’d be a Hurricane in 2019.

Harvey is a consensus four-star pass rusher who is one of Miami’s biggest recruiting success stories in the Class of 2019. He was a virtual unknown when the Hurricanes offered him in January and was still only a three-star prospect when Miami landed his commitment in June.

As a senior, Harvey blew up, finishing the season with 85 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. He’s an early enrollee, which could make him a frontrunner to join the Hurricanes’ defensive end rotation if Joe Jackson leaves for the 2019 NFL Draft.

Harvey’s other suitors included Syracuse, Georgia, Michigan and Central Florida. But there were many more.

UPDATE: THOUGH MIAMI HAS NOT OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCED IT, TWO ST. THOMAS AQUINAS DEFENDERS SAID THEY’VE SIGNED TO PLAY WITH THE HURRICANES

HURRICANES GET ONE OF BEST LINEBACKERS IN STATE

The Hurricanes are losing at least one linebacker (Mike Smith) after this season, and if juniors Shaq Quarterman and/or Michael Pinckney opt to enter the NFL Draft, they’ll be losing a ton of talent.

Avery Huff to the rescue.

Huff, a 6-3, 200-pound consensus four-star outside linebacker out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, signed his letter of intent Wednesday to join the Hurricanes next season. He could be one of the most important defensive signees for #Surge19.

“They have the best scheme for me,’’ Huff said Wednesday of the Hurricanes’ aggressive defense. “It’s the best environment. I love that type of atmosphere – the competition. Everything the U stands for, it’s just me.”

Huff transferred to St. Thomas from Hollywood McArthur in the spring and immediately burst on to coaches’ radars across the country. Playing for a traditional national powerhouse, Huff established himself as one of the best linebackers in the state. He is a gifted edge rusher and equally adept in pass coverage. He said the Canes could use him in various ways, such as at the striker position, which is a hybrid linebacker/safety. He said he also could play as the weak-side backer.

Huff logged 42 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, a forced fumble and an interception this season.

How important was it to Huff that the Canes hired existing outside linebackers coach Jonathan Patke as the co-defensive coordinator to help replace outgoing coordinator Manny Diaz?

“It gave me a lot of confidence because I have a really close connection with Coach Diaz, but I still have a connection with Coach Patke, as well,’’ Huff said. “I’m still comfortable with my commitment all the way and that’s why I decided to sign, because of the coaches.”

RAIDERS DEFENSIVE END TO SIGN WITH HURRICANES

Jason Munoz, a St. Thomas Aquinas defensive end who told he the Herald on Wednesday that Miami envisions him as a defensive tackle, is set to sign with the Hurricanes by the end of the day.

Injuries have plagued Munoz, 6-4 and 276 pounds, throughout the past two seasons, but he blew away defensive line coach Jess Simpson at a camp in June. Simpson offered the three-star defensive end on the spot and Munoz committed later in the day. He’s been one of Miami’s firmest commitments since and gives the Hurricanes a versatile piece to develop as he adds weight.

“That’s been my dream school for a long time,’’ Munoz said, “so with early signing day it was just a no-brainer for me.

“I was born and raised in Hialeah. It’s everybody’s dream to go to that school. I love the campus and just the atmosphere. It’s the best weather here in South Florida. You can’t get any better.”

Munoz finished his senior year with 24 tackles, six tackles for a loss, three sacks and a pass defended.

UPDATE: CANES MIGHT HAVE THEIR NEW LEFT TACKLE

Looks like the Hurricanes have a new graduate transfer, and he might be the man who will replace graduating senior left offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis. Tommy Kennedy of Butler College announced on Twitter that he will be attending UM.



“Blessed to announce that I will be attending the University of Miami for my final year of eligibility #Surge19,’’ Kennedy posted at about noon Wednesday.

Kennedy, listed as 6-5 and 290 pounds, had a visit from Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, but opted for the Canes.

Kennedy is from Lake Bluff, Illinois.

“I mean, I loved everything about Miami,” Kennedy told 247 Sports.com. “Growing up you see players like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Bryant McKinnie and Greg Olsen come out of The U. There’s so much history and winning from the University of Miami.

“Plus, over these past couple weeks me and Coach (Stacy) Searels have been able to develop a great relationship. He’s a phenomenal offensive line coach that has coached everywhere. When it comes down to it, Miami had everything I was looking for. A great opportunity to go to the NFL, a phenomenal education, and being in Miami.”

UPDATE: CANES LOSE OUT ON TWO HOPEFULS WHO HAD UM IN THEIR FINAL SCHOOLS FROM WHICH TO CHOOSE

11:45 A.M. Lakeland High four-star tight end Keon Zipperer and four-star defensive end teammate Lloyd Summerall both chose the Florida Gators. Disappointment, but no huge surprise.

UPDATE: HE HELPED MIAMI NORTHWESTERN WIN A STATE TITLE. NOW HE’S COMING TO THE CANES

11:32 A.M. The Canes have added a linebacker to the incoming class, as outside backer Sam Brooks, 6-1 and 195 pounds, has signed with the Hurricanes.

Brooks is one of the most familiar names in the #Surge19 Hurricanes recruiting class. The consensus three-star linebacker out of Miami Northwestern High initially committed to the Hurricanes in February and remained firm in his pledge until this month. When former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left to become coach at Temple, Brooks decommitted only to rejoin the class Saturday.

A torn ACL Brooks’ junior year kept other schools from ever showing major interest in him. But he has been one of Miami-Dade County’s most prolific sack artists since his sophomore year at Northwestern, helping the Bulls win a second straight state title with a 56-yard fumble-return touchdown in the championship game.

“When Coach Diaz left it was actually a panic moment for me,” said Brooks Wednesday in a blunt admission as he confirmed that three schools, South Carolina, Nebraska and Oregon came after him quickly when Diaz announced his plans. “I actually didn’t believe in the rest of the coaching staff and I want to apologize to them for that. Coach Banda and Coach Patke, they reached out to me and assured me it was going to be the same defense and I trust those guys.

“I’ve waited such a long time for this moment,” an emotional Brooks said. “I’m finally going to college and it was such a long process that I went through and thank God that this day arrived. It was a great journey but a challenging one and in the end, it was about God. I feel God and my faith in him blessed me throughout this entire process.”

Brooks was also wanted by Florida, Georgia, Michigan and UCF.

UPDATE: UM SIGNS AUBURN RUNNING BACK, WHO IS TRANSFERRING TO THE CANES

11:10 A.M. The Canes have signed Auburn running back Asa Martin, a 6-0, 193-pound former four-star runner from Decatur, Alabama.

He played in five games this season for Auburn as a freshman, rushing 13 times for 57 yards. He also caught two passes for 36 yards.

Per NCAA rules, he will have to sit out in 2019 and will be eligible to play in 2020.

Martin was the third best running back as a college prospect in 2018, according to Rivals.com.

COMMERCIAL UPDATE: Love this tweet by two of the most loyal Canes who are about to play in their final game for Miami:



UPDATE: DEFENSIVE END CAMERON WILLIAMS OF HOLLYWOOD CHAMINADE-MADONNA REPORTEDLY NOT SIGNING TODAY WITH THE CANES, BUT INSTEAD WAITING UNTIL FEBRUARY TO SIGN AFTER HE TAKES OTHER VISITS.

10:30 A.M. CaneSport, a part of the Rivals.com network, reports that Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna defensive end Cameron Williams, 6-5 and 215 pounds, will wait to ink his signature Feb. 6, 2019, on National Signing Day. He was supposed to sign his letter of intent on Wednesday with the Hurricanes. He is rated a three-star player by 247 Sports and ESPN, and a four-star player by Rivals.

Williams’ coach told CaneSport that he’s still committed to Miami, but wants to take some official trips to other schools.

That’s obviously not a good sign.

Among Williams’ other suitors: Florida State, Florida, Oklahoma and Penn State.

UPDATE: HOLLYWOOD CHAMINADE-MADONNA GIVES ANOTHER GIFT TO THE U

9:55 A.M. Consensus four-star cornerback Te’Cory Couch of Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna has signed his letter of intent to play with the Hurricanes. Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph is undoubtedly happy.

Couch is small at 5-10, 148 pounds, but he is not small in talent. He was wanted by many schools, including Tennessee, Oklahoma, Michigan and UCF.

This corner makes up for his lack of size with with long arms and elite playmaking ability. In the state championship game Dec. 8, Couch hauled in two interceptions to help Chaminade-Madonna beat Kings Academy, 38-10, and win a second straight state title. He finished his senior season with 65 tackles, four tackles for a loss and seven picks. Formerly committed to both the Tennessee Volunteers and Michigan Wolverines, Couch will play in the Under Armour All-America Game next month.

Couch tied for Chaminade-Madonna’s team lead with seven interceptions, including two in the Lions’ Class 3A state championship win over West Palm Beach King’s Academy. He also recorded 65 tackles and four tackles for loss during the 2018 season.

Chaminade’s first UM signee on Wednesday was defensive back Keontra Smith.



UPDATE: CANES GET ANOTHER OFFENSIVE LINEMAN, WHO HAD FLIPPED HIS PREVIOUS COMMITMENTS

9:33 A.M. The Hurricanes just got another Georgia-based star. Jakai Clark is a 6-2, 305-pound consensus three-star offensive lineman who is from Loganville Grayson High.

Clark is one of the newest additions to Miami’s Class of 2019 and potentially the Hurricanes’ center of the future. After three-star guard Kingsley Eguakun flipped from Miami to the Florida Gators, the Hurricanes had to go out and find another interior lineman. They settled on Clark, a three-star center who was committed to the Illinois Fighting Illini. Clark may not be ranked as highly as Eguakun, but he was a leader on offense for Grayson, one of the top programs in Georgia. Clark was also committed to the Auburn Tigers before he was part of Illinois’ class.

Clark helped Grayson reach the regional finals in the Georgia Class 7A playoffs.

UPDATE: MIAMI DEFENSIVE LINE COACH JESS SIMPSON BRINGS HIS FORMER LINEMAN TO THE U

9:24 A.M. Miami defensive line coach and newly promoted University of Miami associate head coach Jess Simpson is no doubt beaming.

That’s because defensive tackle Jalar Holley, who was coached by Simpson at Buford High in Georgia, has signed with UM.

Holley is 6-2 and 280 pounds, and was also wanted by Syracuse, Florida, Kentucky and UCF. He is a consensus three-star player.

He’s a big body whose experience with high school powerhouse Buford can only help. He has the pedigree and frame to become a factor in UM’s interior, where star Gerald Willis has departed.

UPDATE: CANES GET THEIR TOP OFFENSIVE COMMITMENT, A JAX ‘URBAN LEGEND’

9:10 A.M. Welcome to the U, as they say, Jeremiah Payton.

This 6-1, 186-pound gem is a consensus four-star athlete who should help compensate for the recent departure of receiver Jeff Thomas and early-season departure (injury) of gifted receiver Ahmmon Richards.

Payton is from Neptune Beach and played at Fletcher High. Alabama wanted him. Florida wanted him. Georgia wanted him. So did UCF and a lot of other schools.

Payton was Miami’s top-ranked offensive player in the Class of 2019 entering the early signing period. Although he doesn’t necessarily boast elite size or speed, he makes up for it by being as well-rounded a receiver as there is in Florida. As a senior, Payton led Fletcher to the postseason with 52 catches for 638 yards and five touchdowns. The wideout also racked up 231 yards on 13 carries, scored two punt-return touchdowns and grabbed two interceptions as a safety.

Better yet: He’s an early enrollee whom wide receivers coach Ron Dugans expects to play as a freshman. He’s also set to play in the Under Armour All-America Game next month.

UPDATE: THE BIG APPLE COMES TO THE U (AND HE HAS WHEELS, TOO)

8:56 A.M. On Saturday, the Miami Hurricanes will leave for New York City, otherwise known as the Big Apple, to prepare to meet Wisconsin Dec. 27 in the Pinstripe Bowl.

On Wednesday morning, the Big Apple symbolically came to the U, as “a bully,’’ according to the Hurricanes’ website, “is making his way from the Big Apple to the 305.’’

That Bully? Defensive tackle Jason Blissett Jr., a 6-4, 271-pounder out of Brooklyn Poly Prep Country Day. Syracuse, Florida, Minnesota and UCF were among the schools who wanted him. He’s rated four stars by 247 Sports and Rivals and three stars by ESPN.

With UM defensive linemen Gerald Willis and Tito Odenigbo both graduating, Miami needs some immediate help at defensive tackle and Blissett proved as a senior he’ll be ready for the challenge. Blissett is the No. 2 prospect in New York and became a two-way star for Poly Prep Country Day. As a D-tackle, Blissett logged 77 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, five sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries., but his running back play turned heads. The defensive lineman ran for 447 yards and 11 touchdowns on fewer than 50 carries.

UPDATE: 8:15 A.M. A BIG MAN NAMED ZION HAS JOINED THE HURRICANES

Zion Nelson, listed as an offensive tackle and defensive tackle by various recruiting sites, is expected to play on the offensive line for the Canes. He is 6-5 and 240 pounds and hails from Sumter, South Carolina.

Nelson was rated three stars by 247 Sports and ESPN, and two stars by Rivals.

While he isn’t considered a four-star elite prospect, he is an intriguing one for Miami along the offensive line. This tackle is probably 18 months away from contributing— he needs to put on weight and obviously will get stronger — but he has all the length teams look for at tackle. The Hurricanes managed to flip him from the Appalachian State Mountaineers less than two weeks before the early signing period and he’ll enroll early, which will let him jumpstart his weight-room development.

UPDATE: CANES GET ANOTHER TIGHT END (AND THEY NEED HIM)

7:40 A.M.: Before the clock struck 8 a.m., 6-4, 234-pound tight end Larry Hodges of Tamp Jesuit had signed his letter of intent to play for the Hurricanes. He has a three-star rating by 247 Sports and Rivals, and is an ESPN four-star player. He also was wanted by LSU, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas, among others — not a bad list, right?

Miami typically goes for tight ends in one of two molds: The big, outside wide receiver type – a la Will Mallory – or the H-back style interior tight end – a la Brevin Jordan. Hodges falls firmly in the latter category as a slightly undersized prospect who can fill a variety of roles. The three-star tight end played tight end, wide receiver, running back and even quarterback for Jesuit throughout his career, and finished his senior season with 25 catches for 398 yards and five touchdowns, plus 36 carries for 193 yards and four more touchdowns.

After current tight ends Brian Polendey and Michael Irvin had surgery and were out this season; and standout freshmen Jordan and Will Mallory were injured at Virgina Tech recently, the Canes were without any scholarship tight ends. Hodges is a welcomed addition.

AND ANOTHER FOUR STAR DEFENDER BECOMES A HURRICANE

7:15 A.M.: Defensive back Keontra Smith, listed as a safety/cornerback depending on the recruiting service, is a 5-11, 205, Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna local who was also offered by Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Michigan. He is rated four stars by 247 Sports, Rivals and ESPN.

Smith had perhaps the most impressive senior season of anyone in Miami’s Class of 2019. He piled up 122 tackles, 32 tackles for a loss and nine sacks, leading Chaminade-Madonna’s defense on the way to a second straight Class 3A state championship. The defensive back was a team captain in both of those championship seasons and is a leader in this class for the Hurricanes. Safeties coach – and newly minted co-defensive coordinator – Ephraim Banda envisions Smith as defensive back Jaquan Johnson’s potential successor as the team’s rover safety, although Smith could also be a fit as a striker if he adds significant weight. Formerly committed to the Kentucky Wildcats, Smith will play in the All-American Game – formerly the U.S. Army All-American Bowl – next month.

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Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.
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