Taking advantage of golden opportunity

Riding the momentum from a solid finish to the Class of 2011 recruiting cycle and a strong start to 2012, it looks like Miami coach Al Golden is quickly establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with.

A successful junior day last weekend netting the Hurricanes with commits from quarterbacks Gray Crow (Clearwater, Fla./Countryside) and David Thompson (Miami, Fla./Westminster Christian). The Hurricanes also came away from the event as the clear leader for wide receiver Jaime Wilson (Belle Glade, Fla./Glades Central).

There's no doubt Golden is quickly living up to his promise to become more aggressive about recruiting in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties -- where nearly 50 percent of the state's FBS signees come from.

"There definitely seems to be a little more buzz surrounding the program from the kids down here right now," said Andre Fernandez, prep editor for the Miami Herald. "They still have a long way to go because FSU has really cleaned up in the last 12 months but this staff is starting to make an impact."

Five of the Hurricanes' six commits in the Class of 2012 are from South Florida and the one that isn't, Crow, said one of the reasons he chose Miami was to have a chance to play with the talent in that area.

"You watch some of the highlight film of these guys like Duke Johnson and it's exciting," Crow said. "Not only are these guys going to make me a better football player but they are going to win a lot of games. As a quarterback, you love playing with guys that will take a play designed to go 10 yards and they can break it for 75 yards."

Much of the credit for the Hurricanes' latest revival in recruiting has to go to Golden, whose energetic style has made players take notice.

"The players really seem to genuinely like him," said Fernandez. "And the coaches down here have also been impressed by him for the most part."

Four of Miami's six commits in the Class of 2012 came in while Randy Shannon was head coach. Only Amos Leggett (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep) backed out and flipped to Florida State when Shannon was fired, but the ESPNU 150 watch list cornerback returned due in part to Golden.

Other commits, like Keith Brown (Miami, Fla./Norland) have only strengthened their commitments after interacting with the new head coach.

"I remember I was excited when he was first hired," said Brown. "And then once I spoke with him and met him, he's just gets you excited to play for him."

Crow agreed and said that Golden and offensive coordinator Paul Fisch made his decision an easy one.

"I just bonded with Coach Golden and Coach Fisch immediately," Crow said. "I felt like I had known them for a long time. It made it easy to see myself as part of their program."

Gators eyeing Striker
With ESPNU 150 Watch List running back Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) already in the fold, don't expect Florida to stop hanging around Armwood High School.

The Gators have their eyes on several Class of 2012 prospects from the program, including linebacker/safety Eric Striker.

"Florida is definitely warming up to me and I feel like something is coming," said the 6-1, 190-pounder. "Right now I have Tennessee and USF offers. But I know the Gators are warming up. Miami is warming up. They are all warming up."

Striker joined Jones at Florida's junior day last weekend.

"I loved it man, I love hanging out with coach [Dan] Quinn and coach [Will] Muschamp," Striker said. "I loved it, I love hanging out with guys that have energy and they have got it."

For the most part, Striker is going to be recruited as a safety at the next level, he currently plays linebacker for Armwood but says that he could make the transition without a problem.

"It might take a second but I have a lot of responsibilities as an outside backer in this defensive scheme so I can make it happen," Striker said.

Despite his time at Florida, Striker wants to make it clear that he's wide open and there's one out-of-state program that he is very intrigued by.

"I really want that offer from Oklahoma," Striker exclaimed. "I love Oklahoma, I really want to take that visit because I like that type of program. They play strong defense and they like to hit."

Striker says he's going to take an unofficial visit to Miami next week and his combine schedule will include the Elite Scouting Services camp in April, but his future might not be in the Sunshine State.

"I wouldn't mind playing out of state and seeing something different," Striker said. "Florida is what I know but I really want see some other parts of this country and live somewhere else."

FSU's turn
With junior days at Florida, Miami and South Florida out of the way, the top Class of 2012 prospects in the state will be heading to Tallahassee on Saturday for FSU's junior day.

The contingent will be led by 2012 Under Armour All-American and FSU commit P.J. Williams (Ocala, Fla./Vanguard) as well as defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey (Defuniak Springs, Fla./Walton), another FSU commit.

Two players that Seminoles fans will be closely monitor are cornerback Tracy Howard (Miramar, Fla./Miramar) and wide receiver Justin Ferguson (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Flanagan). Howard is thought to be a solid lean to FSU right now as is Ferguson, a 6-2, 205-pounder who recently received an offer from the Seminoles.

Others planning to be in attendance include ESPNU 150 Watch List members Chris Black (First Coast (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast), Bennie Coney (Plant City, Fla./Plant City), Marcus Maye (Melbourne, Fla./Holy Trinity Episcopal) and LSU commit Avery Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla./Ely).

Some notable underclassmen running backs are also planning to be in attendance including Class of 2013 running back Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, Fla./Glades Day), son of NFL running back Fred Taylor, and Sony Michel (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), considered to be one of the nation's top Class of 2014 prospects.

Hitting the mat
Not all of the football players in the state will be attending junior days or working out with their respective 7-on-7 teams. Some will be in Lakeland for the FHSAA State Wrestling finals being held Friday and Saturday.

In this year's tournament there are a few prospects to keep an eye on including offensive lineman Mike Marsaille (Fort Pierce, Fla./Central), a Class of 2011 signee with Florida Atlantic. He will be joined in the heavyweight division by 2012 prospect Devante Terrell (Lakeland, Fla./Lake Gibson). One of the favorites in the 189-pound division is Christian Hill (Homestead, Fla./South Dade), who is one of Miami-Dade County's top Class of 2012 linebacker prospects.

Florida has a long history of football players that have also excelled on the mat. Future NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis won the state championship at 189 pounds while at Kathleen High School (Lakeland, Fla.).

"Actually wrestling was Ray's first love," said Larry Blustein, a writer for the Miami Herald that has covered the state wrestling tournament for over 25 years. "Obviously football has taken him more places in the long haul but there were few wrestlers better than Ray Lewis."

Former NFL and Florida Gators running back Errict Rhett was also considered one of the top wrestlers of his day and actually bumped up two weight classes to win a state championship in the heavyweight division while weighing close to 179 pounds.

Current Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Davin Joseph was a two-time state champion while he was at Hallandale High (Hallandale, Fla.) and will be in attendance for the tournament this weekend.

"Davin remains heavily involved with the tournament and he usually tries to come back each year," Blustein added.

Blustein, who covers football recruiting for the Herald, said that many football players, especially linemen, continue to use wrestling as their primary source of offseason conditioning.

"Wrestling is probably the most physically demanding activity for a high school athlete," said Blustein. "The conditioning it takes to be a good wrestler is something that stays with you. People wonder why Ray Lewis can still play at such a high level after 15 years in the NFL and I think it's in part because of the discipline and conditioning he learned while wrestling."


• St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) football coach George Smith announced his retirement after a 34-year stint that saw the coach win 361 games, six state championships and an ESPN RISE Fab 50 National title in 2010. The long list of players Smith has coached includes NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin and current NFL players Major Wright (Chicago Bears), Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals), Tavares Gooden (Baltimore Ravens) and Sam Young (Dallas Cowboys). Smith also coached 10 ESPNU 150 players since 2006.

• Teammates Sean Price and LaTroy Pittman (Citra, Fla/North Marion) were given verbal offers to Miami this week. The 6-1, 180-pound Pittman is currently a Florida commit. Both players are planning to attend FSU's junior day this weekend.

• Defensive back Chris Bivins (Gainesville, Fla./Gainesville) received a verbal offer from South Florida on Friday and will be headed to Georgia Tech for its junior day this weekend.

• Class of 2011 wide receiver Aaron Baysdon (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen) is leaning towards taking a preferred walk-on offer at UCF. He has offers from FCS schools Savannah State and Stephen F. Austin.

• Class of 2013 defensive back prospect Leon McQuay III (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) received a verbal offer to Florida during his visit to the Gators' junior day last weekend.

Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at coreyespn@gmail.com.