Howard picks Miami, giving 'Canes class a boost
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By TIM REYNOLDS
MIRAMAR, Fla. (AP) Tracy Howard knows Miami's future is uncertain.
He also believes it's bright.
The nation's top-rated cornerback announced his decision to play for the Hurricanes on Wednesday, giving Miami's signing-day class a huge boost and spurning offers from Florida and Florida State in the process. Howard visited Miami's campus last weekend and made up his mind, saying he was undeterred by the ongoing NCAA inquiry into the actions of a former booster who said he provided extra benefits to athletes and recruits from 2002 through 2010.
Miami self-imposed a bowl ban this past season, and eight players were suspended for at least one game because of their interactions with the former booster, convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro.
"Nobody knows what's going to happen," Howard said. "Nobody knows what the sanctions are going to be. ... They took a bowl game away this year and players got suspended. They did their punishment. So what more can there be? There's going to be a sanction. No doubt about it. I'm taking a chance."
When he lifted a Hurricanes cap at Miramar High, surrounded by family members, Miami coaches working on campus about 25 miles away roared.
"Extremely relieved," said Howard's mother, Shaiy Howard.
Miami had a consensus top-10 recruiting class, according to most major recruiting services. Some placed the Hurricanes' group of newcomers as high as No. 6 nationally.
Howard immediately became the gem of the Miami class, one that already included other highly rated players such as Miami Columbus High defensive back Deon Bush, defensive tackle Jelani Hamilton of perennial national power St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., wide receiver Angelo Jean-Louis of Palm Beach Central High, and running back Randy "Duke" Johnson of Miami Norland High - Florida's "Mr. Football" winner this past season.
Also Miami-bound: Howard's Miramar teammate, wide receiver Malcolm Lewis, who said he left Howard alone in order to make his own decision.
"I just let everything play out," Lewis said. "And it played out well. He committed. We're going to do big things there."
Miami coach Al Golden and his staff sold Howard, Johnson and other standouts from talent-rich South Florida on the notion of playing at home and being part of the latest Hurricanes' rebuilding project. Winning the majority of recruiting battles in Miami-Dade and Broward counties was what the Hurricanes set out to do, and they appeared successful on that front.
Johnson committed to Miami more than year ago, even before Golden was hired as Randy Shannon's replacement late in 2010. Johnson never wavered, and even became a de facto recruiter for the Hurricanes in recent weeks, doing what he could to woo his close friends like Howard into teaming up at Miami.
"That's something we've been looking forward to," said Johnson, who ran for 2,087 yards - an average of 10 per carry - and 29 touchdowns this past season for Norland, which won Florida's Class 5A title and went 15-0. "Now that signing day is out of the way, we're going to start figuring out how we're going to do our next four years at Miami."
In all, Miami added 33 newcomers, 24 signing on Wednesday and another nine being early enrollees.
Howard was not the only surprise late addition to the group. Linebacker Jawand Blue decommitted from Virginia Tech - his longtime first choice - and signed with the Hurricanes on Wednesday when Miami had a scholarship become available. Defensive back Antonio Crawford was headed to Georgia Tech, then visited Miami this past weekend and changed his mind, too.
"I can't remember any time, even in what we were facing at Temple when we took over, when we worked harder than this," Golden said.
Without naming any schools in particular, Golden said Wednesday that the Hurricanes were subjected to plenty of so-called "negative recruiting" this season, with rival institutions and coaches apparently not hesitant to remind prospects and their parents that Miami is under the NCAA microscope.
The Shapiro saga exploded in mid-August, when Yahoo Sports published a story in which the former booster - now serving a 20-year prison sentence - detailed his dealings with Miami players and recruits over that 8-year span. All eight of the suspended players missed the season-opening loss at Maryland, and one wasn't eligible to return until midseason.
Miami finished 6-6, and then had a number of key underclassmen such as running back Lamar Miller, defensive lineman Marcus Forston and wide receiver Tommy Streeter leave for the NFL draft. That added to the holes created by the losses of graduating seniors such as quarterback Jacory Harris and linebacker Sean Spence.
Golden's clear hope is that Wednesday's class moved Miami in the right direction.
"We've been through a lot, with the allegations and the events of Aug. 14 and then the subsequent suspensions and distractions and kind of lack of continuity, if you will," Golden said. "And then we took the bowl game (ban) so we could move forward and put that behind us. So we've already encountered a lot. We've already endured a lot as a program. And we had to go out and compete against it."
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Updated February 1, 2012