By Larry Blustein

 Larry Blustein SFHSSports: Twitter | Facebook

Coral Gables – For so many years, while the University of Miami had been searching for that past glory on the football field, programs across the country started to raise the recruiting bar.

From camps and on-campus events, to showcases that enhanced the program and their facilities, the Hurricanes had fallen behind.

In respect to the coaches of the past, the last thing that was on in their mind was getting kids on campus. If the Hurricanes weren’t targeting the athlete, they would never see the school.

As the powers across the country have tried what they could do to bring athletes to their schools and see what they had to offer, Miami hosted very few events and fell off the radar in the recruiting game – when the program needed it the most.

As Al Golden attempted to bring athletes to Coral Gables with his one day camps, it was actually the 7-on-7, hosted before his final year, that may have got the heart beating again.

Last weekend – for the second straight summer – head coach Mark Richt and his football program opened the doors to the Paradise Camp.

Over two days, high school football prospects – veteran and experienced – showed their skills, met other athletes and capped it off with a grand Saturday evening – where once again – the nation was watching.

“Where else are you going to see UM greats of the past coaching right there on the fields that launched their careers,” said longtime fan Christian Ramirez, who brought his nephew to the event. “Players like Jon Beason, Jeremy Shockey, Jon Vilma, D.J. Williams, Willis MacGahee, Kenny Phillips and “The Playmaker”, Michael Irvin, right there in person, was tremendous.”

As former ‘Cane stars such as Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Greg Olsen all served as a instructors, it was the program of today that benefitted. So did current Miami Central head coach Roland Smith, who is always at every UM event, helping his alma mater.

When you have Class of 2018 commitments such as Lorenzo Lingard (Orange City University), Mark Pope (Miami Southridge), Dee Wiggins (Miami Southridge), Will Mallory (Jacksonville Providence), Cleveland Reed (Fort Meade), D.J. Scaife (Miami Southridge), Nesta Silvera (Plantation American Heritage), Gregory Rousseau (Hialeah Champagnat Catholic), Al Blades Jr. (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas), Gurvan Hall (Palm Beach Gardens), D.J. Ivey (Homestead South Dade) and Josh Jobe (Miami Christopher Columbus) all take part, it signaled that this class is indeed here to stay.

“Getting so many of their commitments to this event – along with the former stars of the program – shows where this program is headed,” said Dana Wiley of Prep Films. “For only being in its second year, you can already see how people are talking about the Paradise Camp all over the internet. Most of those college events that we know today took time getting started.”

Paradise Camp 2017 was designed to raise the bar and improve on what happened when Richt and his staff arrived in 2016. Mission accomplished.

“What we did this year was to continue to make this a special event,” Richt said. “Look around you and this is indeed paradise, so who wouldn’t want to be part of this.”

“We also added great banners and logos, so those who attended will have something to remember, Richt continued.”

This year, not only were many former players and commitments on hand, but several key recruits came and did quite well.

Among the Class of 2018 prospects on hand included: Tyquan Thornton (Miami Booker T. Washington), Jordan Dillard (Miami Southridge), Kayode Oladele (Hialeah Champagnat Catholic), Donovan Georges (Hialeah Champagnat Catholic), Nigel Bethel (Northwestern), Gregory Franklin (Miami Southridge), way under-the-radar Ed Reed (Dr. Krop) and Tampa Blake linebacker Ricky Williams, Jr. to name just a few.

Williams, who has blown up at camps, combines and at 7-on-7s, was among the many who had the opportunity to learn from current players.

The future was also on display with 2019 standouts coming to Paradise Camp 2017.

The Hurricanes also have made strides with 2019 linebacker commits Jesiah Pierre (Mount Dora Christian) and Miami Southridge standout Diamante Howard.

Mater linebacker Mikel Jones and St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Anthony Solomon did very well and turned heads.

Other juniors who came to Coral Gables included Miami Northwestern running back Jaquez Stuart, St. Thomas defensive back Jordan Battle, but also featured Palm Beach County junior standouts Mark Richards (Ahmmon’s brother) from Wellington and talented Kaiir Elam out of North Palm Beach Benjamin.

Plantation American Heritage standout quarterback Edwin Rhodes and St. Thomas Aquinas athlete Derek Wingo – both big time prospects impressed – as did Miami Norland defensive end, who was offered after his performance in Friday’s camp.

Also offered after event was Champagnat Catholic quality 2020 receiver MarcBritt, who helped the Lions reach the state title game in 2016.

“To watch the UM program grow like this is something that we had all waited for,” Champagnat head coach Dennis Marroquin explained. “It was great to see out kids have so much fun and compete hard.”

Catch the South Florida High Sports Radio Show each Monday night (9-10) on WQAM (560AM). For the past 10 years, the players and coaches who are making the headlines, join the program. You will learn a lot!

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