Lorenzo Lingard, the No. 2 running back recruit in the Class of 2018, had choices with 28 reported scholarship offers. Then, he had another choice: Stay home in Miami or move away.
Lingard opted to stay home, committing to Miami in February. He was the eighth member of the Hurricanes’ class at the time and the highest-rated running back commit sine Duke Johnson in 2012. Since Lingard joined, seven more players have committed. All 15 play their high school football in Florida.
“Staying home for me was something I had to think about because of family ,friends and fans,” he said. “I thought of playing with boys from Florida, south Florida and having the ‘Sunshine Grind’ mentality and being able to be important public figures of the state. …
“There is definitely a lot of great talent heading into Miami … The way the athletic program and coaches sell the value and opportunities athletes can have at Miami after football is the key. Athletes are taking a look at Miami and I know they are very anxious to get a chance to see the program. South Florida and Miami are going to do great things really soon and guys want to be a part of it.”
While players can’t sign letters of intent in the Class of 2018 until February, Miami had three members of this class commit in the spring of 2015, even before Mark Richt was hired as coach in December 2015.
He was able to retain many of Golden’s recruits in the two months he had with the Class of 2016, and then had a class ranked in the top 15 in his first full recruiting cycle for 2017.
While still early, Miami’s current class is currently ranked No. 1 by the four major recruiting services.
“Even under Al Golden, Miami had a reputation and pretty consistently got off to fast starts and struggle down the stretch,” ESPN recruiting analyst Craig Haubert said. “What we need to monitor is if they can take this strong start and cultivate it and maintain it and finish as strongly as they started. … Offensive line, skill positions, running back, they’ve covered all their bases early on.”
The challenge, of course, is that it’s still 10 months from signing day or sooner for early enrollees.
“Nothing is done until signing day until a guy comes midyear or a guy signs, so it’s all just hopeful,” Richt told reporters. “I do think we have the right kind of people who are choosing to commit because they love the place, not because we’re trying to push them or coerce them to commit. They’re excited about what’s happening. They want to be here, at least they feel that way today. We’ll see how it goes.”
Lingard leads a group of six Miami commits ranked in the top 120 of the 247Sports Composite. Josh Jobe, from Columbus (Miami), is ranked as the No. 9 cornerback and No. 54 overall. IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) teammates Brian Hightower, ranked as the No. 10 wide receiver, and Artur Sitkowski, ranked as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback, are the lone players from outside South Florida in the class. Mark Pope, from Southridge (Miami), is the No. 19 wide receiver and Gilbert Frierson, from Coral Gables, is the No. 15 cornerback. Cleveland Reed, from Lakeland, is the No. 8 offensive guard.
“They’re doing their job recruiting, connecting with kids and selling hometown pride,” Haubert said. “Those kids are buying in and spreading out the word among themselves.”
Lingard said the theme of hometown pride connected with him, along with the qualities of the coaches.
“I want young kids who are athletes to see that boys where they are from are able to do big things and become successful,” Lingard said. “I want to give them hope to do great things too.
“The coaches and people at Miami are down to earth, well-rounded people. Having people like that around you contributes to being successful on the field and off the field.”
Lingard said he first met Richt when he was in eighth and ninth grade and went to visit Georgia when Richt was the coach there.
“Getting a chance to see how humble and rare his character was connected me with him,” Lingard said.
Miami also recently announced plans for an 81,800-foot indoor practice facility with $24 million of the projected $34 million having already been raised after a $14 million donation, the largest single donation in the history of Miami athletics. Groundbreaking will be scheduled once the remainder of the money is raised, the school said in a news release.
The first commit in the Class of 2018 for Miami was cornerback Thomas Burns, a three-star prospect from Northwestern (Miami). He pledged in February 2015.
“I wanted to stay home because this is where family is and where I best fit,” he said. “I’m seeing more and more momentum come in as more recruits commit. We want to get the most people we can.”
While Hightower and Sitkowski now play their high school football in Florida, Hightower is from California and Sitkowski is from New Jersey. Sitkowski arrived at IMG in January and is getting set for his first spring practice and season. He’s fallen in love with Florida and Miami, in particular.
“Being from Jersey — a place I love and always will call home — I had a different perspective of Miami, but once you get down here and see The U for yourself it is a place of greatness in the making,” Sitkowski said. “My pitch to other recruits is, ‘Why not Miami?’ Come play with the best and compete and live in paradise for four years. Come be a part of history.”
With a pitch like that, no wonder word is spreading among top recruits.
“We all know those kids know each other, they want to play on the same team with a lot of these guys who they know are great players and great people,” Richt told reporters. “A lot of your best commitments become your best recruiters. We have a lot more of that energy than we did a year ago.”