Standing inside the latest facility gem – the Athletic Performance Center -- that is accompanying a Miami football rebirth, RedHawks head coach Chuck Martin on Wednesday announced a new National Letter of Intent signing class of 20 student athletes.
If things go well, as Martin expects, some newcomers will contribute in some fashion relatively soon. Many will at least have the time to hone Division I football skills that will serve the program well before they leave.
Things were a bit . . .
“The first couple years, they had to play, and I knew they weren’t going to be ready,” Martin said. “But we didn’t have a choice. We had to try to put our best players on the field.
Those youngsters took their lumps.
“Two years ago, we played all those freshmen on offense and . . . we couldn’t get a first down. It was painful to watch … but we knew they had the ability to be good players (at some point).
According to Martin, the 2017 class is as good or better than his previous classes, but for the most part, they won’t be needed right away.
“One of the best things about this signing date is that we’ve got a great nucleus coming back,” Martin said. Any freshman “are going to have to be pretty special, I think, to beat out some of the kids that (we have returning.”
Miami had a small senior class in 2016, and past recruiting efforts have bolsters a number of areas. One place where freshmen may be a particularly welcome sight – at least for depth – is along the defensive line. Standout defensive ends J.T. Jones and Austin Gearing are both gone.
The incoming class brings in six defensive linemen. Then, took there is always the possibility that somebody else can switch positions. Gearing, for instance, started out as a quarterback and seemed to find his niche as a senior defensive end.
“Moving forward, we wanted to have a good class at that position and I think we did that,” Martin said.
Several incoming players have the potential to wind up in a number or spots. Among them is Dominique Robinson, a 6-5, 225-pound quarterback from Canton McKinley. Martin indicated Robinson would start out at QB, but has qualities that could make him successful at a number of places. “He’s going to be a gigantic human being, and he’s a great kid that loves to compete.”
Sterling Weatherford, a 6-5, 205-pound defensive back could see action at safety or somewhere else before his career is over. In both cases, the players appear to be gifted athletes and the staff believes versatility can be a good thing for program and players. “Everybody wants him,” Martin said, noting various assistants felt Weatherford could eventually help their area.
“Length makes the field smaller, and speed makes the field smaller,” Martin said. “If you get big, long guys that can run, too – which we have in this class – it’s going to make the field look a lot smaller and make the game easier.”
Of course, Martin also sees a place for some of the smaller, quicker athletes in the class. WR Jalen Weathers and RB Jaylon Bester are both 5-8 players who “can make plays with their feet.”
Overall, the class was balanced, with 10 defensive players, eight offensively players and the two athletes, who have an offensive background.
Among the offensive signees is Jackson Williamson, a 6-3, 205-pound southpaw quarterback from Anderson, South Carolina. “He can be a dual threat kind of guy,” said Martin, who noted Williamson was an impressive thrower. He completed 68 percent of passes against “quality competition – and they threw the ball down the field. It wasn’t like he was completing all bubble screens.”
“We liked everything about him on tape and then we got to meet him and we liked even more about him. … He’s a winner and he’s a competitor.”
Joining the 5-8 Walker as the other receiver in the class is Mitchell Lewis, a 6-6, 215-pound target. Mitchell Burton (6-2, 195) and Davion Johnson (6-0, 205) are the listed running backs joining Miami’s ranks.
The signee list also includes two offensive linemen, both of which are at least 290 pounds. This puts MU more at a maintenance level for the O-line after several years of dedicating extra spots to build up a particularly weak area leading up to Martin’s arrival
I’m pleased with the class. (It’s) a lot of big-bodied, athletic kids,” Martin said. “The days of us being physically overmatched should be over.”