"We have one of the best high school football states in the country," said Montgomery. "The state of Ohio will continue to be our number one recruiting area."
And why not? Montgomery and his staff pulled what many consider a recruiting coup, landing quarterback Clay Belton and wide out Chris Givens, thought to be among the best athletes the state had to offer.
Belton, who was courted by BCS schools such as Cincinnati, Duke, and Kansas St. was the only QB taken by the RedHawks this year. He was targeted specifically for proficiency in the spread offense, which he ran in high school, and which is run at Miami. His high school numbers are staggering: 44 TDs and 4400 plus yards over two seasons at the helm of Dayton’s Northmont High. Although a broken hand his senior season might have dropped his stock amongst the most elite football schools, there’s no doubt Belton possesses the talent to be a big time signal caller in college.
"We wanted a quarterback that could really throw the football," said Montgomery. "He has the ability to make all kinds of throws. He’s got a big time arm. We’ll feel that with the people we’ve surrounded him with, he’s going to have a big impact."
And while Miami returns a strong, deep receiving corps, it is Givens, from Chillicothe, OH, that figures to be a main target by the time Belton begins to see the field. Even if that time begins this fall. Givens, the reigning Southeast Ohio District Player of the Year, put up impressive numbers in 2006 catching 57 balls for 1118 yards and tallying 20 touchdowns. Givens also played as a defensive back for Chillicothe, producing 78 tackles and 4 interceptions in his senior season. Naturally, Montgomery is excited about bringing such a play maker on board to compliment his new quarterback.
"Chris was probably one of the best pure receivers in the state this year," said Montgomery. "Chris could probably could easily come in and play safety for us, but we recruited him a wide receiver, and that’s where he’ll play. He’s a young man who could play as a freshman."
The rest of Miami’s 23-player class features a mix of both in and out of state players, for which Montgomery credits both the expanded effort of his coaches to find recruits, and the exposure the RedHawks have received, playing numerous games on ESPN and its network family.
"We are very proud that we were able to go nationally," Said Montgomery. "We’re going to continue to recruit (Ohio) as best we can, but with all the recognition we’ve received over the last number of years, both by our accolades on the field and by the exposure we’ve gotten from TV, we’ve been able to get out nationally, and that’s something we’ll continue to do."
The RedHawks recruiting philosophy became apparent throughout the rest of the rest of the announcement of their class.
Offensive skill players are a nice commodity, but mean nothing without a strong offensive line, a lesson Montgomery and the RedHawks learned the hard way in 2006. Mike Kokal, the first year starter, was sacked a nation-leading 59 times (the next highest total was 42). Further, Miami was one of only six teams in the country to not have a back tally 400 yards over the course of the regular season.
To help alleviate the problem, the RedHawks signed 5 O-Linemen. Four of them are Ohio products, but the stud of this group is most certainly Wisconsin native Brandon Brooks. Brooks, who originally committed to Wisconsin, had standing offers from the Badgers, Minnesota, and Boston College, before deciding to become a RedHawk just a week before signing day. His presence in the trenches will certainly be a big lift for the thin Miami front line.
"This is the type of offensive linemen," said Montgomery "that size, and speed-wise, and athletically, we haven’t gotten ‘em quite as big as he is in the past. He’s going to be a tremendous player for us."
That isn’t to discount to instate recruiting efforts of the RedHawk staff. They also secured commitments from top Ohio prospects Mike Madsen, Kevin Koncelik, and Ken Staudinger.
Madsen, who was a 3 year starter for Cardinal Mooney, was named one of Ohio Magazine’s top 100 players in the state, and anchored the line for an offense that put up 30+ points and 300+ yards rushing a game.
Koncelik, was recently selected to represent Ohio in the Big 33 All-Star game in June. In his senior campaign, his blocking graded out at 95 percent, and he did not allow one sack all season long. He choose Miami over some of its most bitter rivals: Cincinnati, Bowling Green, and Ohio University.
Finally, there is Staudinger, who despite his size (6-5, 245), is expected to make a big contribution to the O-line in his time in Red and White. He was a first team all Ohio selection, and the son of Ken Staudinger, a former lineman for Duke.
Despite the less than impressive numbers put up by Miami’s running backs in ’06 they truly were a much maligned group by critics of the program. Starter Brandon Murphy battled injury all year, and Andre Bratton showed promise, but shared the snaps Murphy didn’t take with Jimmy Calhoun and Austin Sykes. But with Murphy and Sykes graduating after this season, and Calhoun not being able to provide consistent production, the RedHawk staff was looking for someone who could potentially make an immediate impact and certainly carry the bulk of the load in the future.
What they found was Thomas Merriweather, ranked the #1 back in the St. Louis district. Merriweather put up some of the gaudiest numbers of any back in the Midwest this past season, rushing for 1,163 and 15 touchdowns.
"We only took one running back this year," said Montgomery. "We wanted to make sure that we got the best running back we could get, and we looked hard throughout the process. We are very pleased to get Thomas Merriweather."
Miami thought they had that one running back sealed up back in the fall when Atlanta product Dexter Barnett committed to the RedHawks. However, his de-commitment in November turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Miami, eventually landing Merriweather in January over Iowa, Indiana, and Northern Illinois.
Chris Givens might be the star of this group, but conventional wisdom says it will take more than one body to replace NFL-bound Ryne Robinson. So the RedHawks put together arguably the best wide receiving class of any midmajor in Givens, Pennsylvania product Fitzgerald Bobo, and Cincinnati by way of Florida product Jamal Rogers. All three are considered big time playmakers who will make a serious impact in the years ahead.
The story on Givens has already been told, but it’s quite possible Rogers will be the most explosive freshman on campus next year. With his size (5-11, 170) and explosive speed (4.47), he would seem like a natural fit to replace Robinson on punt returns. Rogers spent his high school years in Florida where he was noticed by BCS programs such as South Florida and Florida St., but decided to stay close to his adopted home for college. In his post-graduate year at Harmony Prep in Cincinnati, Rogers made 45 catches for 2600 yards and tallied 17 touchdowns.
Said Montgomery: "He’s got tremendous moves. He’s got a chance to play next year if he comes in mentally ready."
The final wide receiver Fitzgerald Bobo might turn out to be biggest sleeper in the entire class. Bobo’s numbers at Duquesne High in Duquesne, Pennsylvania were far from staggering (22 catches, 300 yards, 4 touchdowns) but his size and rapid development are what made him so attractive to the Red Hawks coaching staff.
"He’s got one thing you can’t coach, height, and he’s going to get a lot bigger," said Montgomery. "He’s got a lot of upside."
Bobo spurned schools such as Temple, Delaware, and UConn to become a RedHawk.
If the offensive line was the unit that needed the most help in this recruiting class, the linebacker position was a close second. Miami spent all of its 2006 campaign still reeling from the losses of Terna Nande, Derrick Rehage, and John Busing from the year before. This year Miami signed 5 linebacker recruits, hoping to provide some depth at the position for years to come.
The group of five includes four out state players: Michael Baker (Missouri), David Davis (Georgia), Ryan Kennedy (Illinois), and Jerell Wedge (Mayrland). Alex Kaufman from Cincinnati is the lone in state recruit at linebacker.
Baker would certainly have been the most recruited linebacker signed by the RedHawks in this class, had he left time for himself to be recruited. Despite receiving interest from schools such as Wisconsin and Nebraska, Baker made himself the first verbal commitment of the year for Miami back in May. He is a versatile defenseman, but is expected to stick at the linebacker spot for Miami.
"Michael is a very talented football player," said Montgomery. "He’s around the ball a lot, made a number of interceptions, made a number of big hits."
Although from Georgia, David Davis was mostly recruited by schools in the Midwest. That’s because of an eye opening summer workout he had at Ohio State, which attracted the eye of coaches from several MAC schools. Over the course of his senior year Davis averaged greater than 10 tackles per game.
"He’s very aggressive and very athletic," said Montgomery. "We feel he’ll fit into our scheme very well because of how active he is."
The lone local product, Alex Kaufman, had arguably the best senior year of any of his fellow linebacker recruits. Kaufman recorded 80 tackles, 20 of them for a loss, along with 15 sacks en route to being named Butler county defensive player of the year. He was also close to committing to NC State before coach Chuck Amato was fired.
"He’s got tremendous size and speed," Montgomery said. "We’re anxious to see just how big he’ll get."
Wedge and Kennedy, while being recruited as linebackers, are the all around athletes of this group. Wedge was the starting tailback for his Upper Malboro High team this year, tallying over 1000 yards. Kennedy was the starting QB for his Libertville High squad, leading his team to a #1 ranking in their region.
Tight ends have always been a key in the spread offense run by Shane Montgomery. Last year Tom Crabtree, Jake O’Connell, and Pat Shepard combined for 22 catches. And with all three returning as juniors next year, along with top receiver Ryne Robinson leaving, one would expect that number to rise. However, Crabetree, O’Connell, and Shepard are the only three returnees at the position, so finding talent to replace them in two years was an absolute must.
The RedHawks signed two to Letters of Intent, both from the state of Ohio: Kendrick Bruton of Miamisburg, and Rob Reiland of Canton.
Bruton is the brother of David Bruton who is on scholarship at Notre Dame. Coaches call him "A versatile athlete with good receiving skills and the ability to run after the catch." This alone should make him in asset in Montgomery’s offense.
Reiland is more of a traditional blocking tight end, but also has the ability to catch the ball. He referred to by coaches as "a physical run blocker with great hands." Also touted is his ability to create yards after a catch.
With the exception of Otto Linwood, the RedHawks returns their entire D-Line unit. But it was a unit that averaged less than a sack and less than a fumble per game in 2006. Certainly the RedHawk coaching staff went out searching for players they thought could contribute immediately.
The RedHawks signed two players who could come in and make an immediate impact in Illinois’s Jordain Brown and Georgia’s Morris Council. Add to that another Illinois prospect in Matt Kajmowicz and what the RedHawks have is a very well rounded class, coming in with lots of expectations.
Brown is the most likely to make an immediate splash on the gridiron in Oxford. He comes from a Hubbard High team that signed seven players to Division 1 scholarships on signing day. In his senior year, he recorded 109 tackles, along with six sacks and recovered two fumbles. He was another in a seemingly endless list of commits to turn down bigger name schools to come to Miami. Brown had offers from Mississippi St. and New Mexico.
"He’s very agrresive, very quick," said Montgomery. "He comes from a great high school program. He’s played a lot of football over the past few years."
Council, a teammate of linebacker commit David Davis, was another player that finished his high school career in style. Morris tallied 193 tackles and 10 sacks in the ’06 season en route to being named all-county. Council was one of the last to commit to the RedHawks, as he was also considering offers from Toledo, Memphis, and Florida A&M. Right before he committed to Miami he was also scheduled to visit Ohio State.
Said Montgomery: "We feel like he can come in here and make an impact on defense."
Finally, there is Kajmowicz, who despite an imminent redshirt year, is expected to make an impact on the Miami D-Line once he bulks up. Kajmowicz had a very good year coming out of high school, posting 95 tackles and 10 sacks for his Hisdale Central team.
"We like the physicalness of his game," said Montgomery. "He got bigger this year and he will continue to get bigger."
If Miami sends anyone besides Ryne Robinson to the NFL this year, it will certainly be defensive back Joey Card, who co-captained last year’s team. The other departing back is Frank Wiwo, who racked up five interceptions over his junior and senior years in Oxford. Losing talent like Card and Wiwo means there are big shoes to fill, especially for the incoming freshman class who are expected to replace that roster spot.
In order to minimize the pressure on just one or two incoming freshman, Miami has signed four backs, in what was perhaps their most well rounded recruiting effort of this off season. Signing LOI’s with the RedHawks were St. Louis product DeAndre Gilmore, DC native Cornelius Ward, and Ohioans Anthony Kokal and Jonathan Wells.
Ward will most likely end up as this group if his high school career is an indicator. As a cornerback for Friendly High School, Ward had 85 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, and three forced fumbles in leading his team to the state championship. Ward chose Miami over BCS conference schools such as Illinois, Vanderbilt, and UConn.
"He’s a long armed corner," said Montgomery. "He’ll come in and fit our needs at corner."
Gilmore is another player who might be expected to make an immediate impact once he gets to campus. He showed proficiency as both a safety, recording 62 tackles and having an interception, as well as a wide receiver, tallying 9 catches, 3 of them for touchdowns. He was named all-conference as a safety his sophomore, junior, and senior years.
"He’s a big time hitter," said Montgomery. "We’re anxious to see just how big he gets. He played wide receiver so he’s got tremendous ball skills."
The final two, Wells and Kokal are two that are expected to make an impact down the road. Kokal should know something about waiting his turn; His brother Mike redshirted a year, and then spent two years as a backup before becoming the starting quarterback for the RedHawks last year. Wells is another athlete who is expected to contribute once he adds to his frame. Last year his best work came at running back where he had 1,111 yards and 9 touchdowns.