David Wilson/DieHards
Keontra Smith is the first defensive back to join Miami's Class of 2019.

Miami recruiting: Hurricanes land Keontra Smith, first DB in 2019

David Wilson

Miami is on its way to one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. David Wilson and the DieHards.com team are in the eye of the storm to help you track the Hurricanes. Read his daily notebooks here at 6:30 p.m. ET from Sunday through Thursday and follow us on Twitter for the latest Miami recruiting news.

Miami flips South Florida S Keontra Smith from Kentucky

Since the moment Miami offered Keontra Smith, the 4-star safety has been thinking about joining the hometown team. The 6-foot, 195-pound defensive back was committed to Kentucky when the Hurricanes offered Feb. 16, and a few days later he named Miami to an informal top 3.

“It’s a game-changer,” Smith told DieHards at The Opening Miami regional Feb. 18. “That was the dream school. I was waiting on that offer since I was a freshman.”

The strong safety has been a frequent visitor to Coral Gables, Fla., in the months since. He visited for junior day March 24, then visited Greentree Practice Fields again April 5. He remained committed to the Wildcats, but it became clear he wouldn’t stick with Kentucky. The Hurricanes emerged as an overwhelming favorite, to the point a flip was more a question of “when” than “if.”

On Sunday, Smith celebrated Mother’s Day by flipping his commitment from the Wildcats to Miami. The senior from Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory School in Hollywood, Fla., will stay near home for college.

Smith’s commitment is arguably the most important pledge so far for the Hurricanes Class of 2019. Miami may need to replace four starting defensive backs heading into the 2019 season, and Smith is the first secondary piece to join the Hurricanes 2019 class. The No. 13 safety in the 247Sports composite rankings, Smith is the fifth blue-chip prospect to join Miami and third on defense. Smith’s commitment comes less than a week after 4-star outside linebacker Avery Huff pledged to Miami and only about a month after 4-star outside linebacker Anthony Solomon committed.

Even though the Hurricanes have plenty of other options in the secondary, Smith fills a very specific role. Smith may be the nation’s best fit at Miami’s rover position, which is currently manned by defensive back Jaquan Johnson. He also could play striker, the Hurricanes’ new hybrid defensive back-linebacker position, should Miami commit to the position long-term.

“It’s the same position as Jaquan Johnson,” Smith told DieHards after his most recent visit with the Hurricanes. “There’s a lot going on in the rover. I like the rover, too. It’s nothing I don’t like about that position. I love the rover.”

Smith now gives Miami three commitments from Chaminade-Madonna College Prep across the next two cycles. The athlete, who also plays running back, joins 3-star weakside defensive end Cameron Williams from Chaminade-Madonna in the 2019 class. The Hurricanes also hold a commitment from 4-star defensive tackle Willie Moise in the Class of 2020.

These ties may help Miami land its second wide receiver in the class. The Hurricanes offered 4-star wide receiver John Dunmore on May 2 and will turn up pressure in the coming months.

Smith’s commitment vaults Miami’s class to the top spot in the ACC and No. 4 in the country. In the secondary, the Hurricanes can now focus on more traditional cornerbacks and safeties to round out a position of need.

RELATED: 2019 Miami recruiting big board

Miami is firmly in the mix for a number of elite defensive backs, including 4-star cornerbacks Chris Steele and Tyrique Stevenson. Steele recently named the Hurricanes to his top 8, and the defensive back from St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif., plans to visit this summer. Stevenson doesn’t have a formal top group, but the Hurricanes appear to be out front for the Miami Southridge High School defensive back. Miami is also among the front-runners for 4-star cornerback Jaden Davis from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and 3-star cornerback John Dixon from George D. Chamberlain High School in Tampa, Fla. Jarvis Brownlee has climbed into the mix, too, as the Hurricanes continue to evaluate the 3-star cornerback from Miami Carol City Senior High School in Miami Gardens, Fla.

From that group, Stevenson projects best as the free safety to pair with Smith. The other top options at the position are mostly athletes, including 4-star prospects Josh Sanguinetti and Mark-Antony Richards. Sanguinetti, who plays cornerback and wide receiver for NSU University School in Fort Lauderdale, projects best as a safety, while Richards, who plays running back and cornerback for Wellington (Fla.) High School, wants to play offense in college. Cornelius Nunn and Kenny Logan, a pair of 3-star athletes, are also options at safety. Nunn is a true safety prospect out of Miami Palmetto High School in Pinecrest, Fla. Logan, meanwhile, plays free safety, running back and wide receiver at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine, Fla., and could play a number of spots in college.

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Miami’s 2020 class suffers another major de-commitment

While the Hurricanes have flipped their momentum in a positive direction in the 2019 cycle, the 2020 class has tilted in the opposite direction. Miami raced out to an incredible start to the 2020 cycle, landing eight blue-chip prospects before April.

Since April, everything has changed. Leonard Manuel, a 5-star wide receiver, de-committed April 17. Avantae Williams, a 4-star athlete, followed suit Tuesday. And Sunday, 4-star wide receiver Jermaine Burton backed away from his pledge.

Burton isn’t quite as high-profile a prospect as the other two — 247Sports.com ranks him outside its top 100 — but he may be by the end of the cycle. The 6-2, 180-pound junior earned wide receiver MVP honors at The Opening regional in Buford, Ga., last month, beating out multiple 5-star prospects. Louisville, Syracuse, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Southern Cal and Oregon have all offered the Marietta (Ga.) High School receiver.

Burton’s initial commitment was a somewhat bizarre one. The wideout spent last year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and became close with Brian Hightower, who enrolled early with the Hurricanes in January. Burton is also good friends with Williams, who was at IMG at the time, and followed the safety’s lead in committing. He only visited campus for the first time March 12.

Burton and Williams both left the Ascenders at the start of the year. Burton is once again following his friend’s lead.

Like the previous two de-commitments, Burton’s comes early enough to not crush Miami, although a group of wide receivers which looked unparalleled just a few months ago will now need to be rebuilt. Only 4-star athlete Marc Britt, who also plays free safety, remains in the class, and interest continues to pick up for the prospect from Champagnat Catholic School in Hialeah, Fla. The Hurricanes also hold a commitment from 4-star Naples (Fla.) High School tight end Dominic Mammarelli, who ranks No. 1 at his position in 2020.

The hits haven’t done enough to knock Miami from its perch, either. The Hurricanes still claim the No. 1 class in the nation.

Georgia WR Zion Puckett names Miami to top 10

Miami’s search for a second wide receiver in the 2019 class has mostly centered around recruiting Georgia. The Hurricanes welcomed Jadon Haselwood, the state’s and nation’s best, to campus May 5, and now have another blue-chip target from the Peach State they’re seriously in the hunt for. Zion Puckett, a 4-star wide receiver from Spalding High School in Griffin, named Miami to his top 10 on Saturday.

The Hurricanes are in the top group along with Duke, Notre Dame, Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Ohio State and Stanford. Miami offered less than a month ago, so it’s a good sign the Hurricanes could get into the top group even without bringing Puckett to campus, especially when schools he’s already visited — such as Florida — didn’t make the cut.

The Gators weren’t alone as a high-profile program missing the cut, either. The 6-1, 190-pound prospect also left off Florida State, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Georgia and Kentucky, among others.

This cut down gives some direction as to Puckett’s thought process. His recruitment previously seemed wide open, although he did visit the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes in April, and the Gamecocks on March 3.

The Hurricanes still can afford to be picky about receivers in 2019 after bringing in a loaded Class of 2018. Until Miami gets Puckett to campus, it will be hard to consider him a top priority.

Miami offers pair of underclassman Georgia linemen

Miami has spent much of April and May handing out offers on the other side of the state line. On Friday, Miami handed out two more.

The latest two go to some of 2020’s best in the trenches. Miami offered both Tate Ratledge, a 4-star tackle from Darlington School in Rome, and Andy Boykin, a 4-star strongside defensive end from Troup County High School in LaGrange.

Boykin could be a tough prospect for the Hurricanes to land. The 6-3, 257-pound defensive end has been committed to Auburn since November.

Ratledge, on the other hand, is wide open despite checking in as the No. 67 overall prospect. The 6-6, 275-pound lineman claims offers from Virginia Tech, Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and Michigan, and he’s remaining patient. Ratledge, who also plays defensive end, recently visited the Crimson Tide, the Bulldogs and the Volunteers.

A big group of Miami commits also continue to pull in offers. If Miami winds up with a 2019 class to top even its 2018 haul, the key will have been the scouting work they did to single out under-the-radar targets before they escalated nationally.

Two such players who are steadily seeing their profiles rise are running back Marcus Crowley and outside linebacker Jesiah Pierre. Although still 3-star prospects, both Crowley and Pierre boast impressive offer lists, which got a little longer last week. Crowley added an offer from Louisville on Thursday, while Pierre picked one up from UCF on Friday.

Things have been a bit quiet for Crowley in the offers department this spring, but the 6-foot, 165-pound halfback from Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian Academy already had some major programs involved. Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers and UCF have all offered the athlete, who also plays outside linebacker.

Pierre, on the other hand, has seen a miniature explosion of interest since the start of the year. The 6-3, 215-pound athlete primarily plays middle linebacker for Mount Dora (Fla.) Christian Academy, which has made him a highly coveted prospect. Florida doesn’t boast a single blue-chip inside linebacker in the 2019 class, so Pierre is the best bet for schools searching the Sunshine State for a middle linebacker.

As such, Pierre has grabbed some high-profile attention. North Carolina, Wake Forest, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky have all offered Pierre, who also plays running back.

No Miami commit, however, has had his profile increase this spring quite like Henry Gray. The 4-star cornerback is the highest ranked defensive prospect in the Hurricanes’ 2020 class and he now claims well over 20 offers. South Carolina, Texas A&M, Cincinnati and Colorado State are the latest batch of schools to offer the 6-1, 178-pound defensive back from Miami Central High School. The Gamecocks and Aggies both offered Thursday, while the Rams hopped in Friday and the Bearcats on Sunday.

Gray, who started at free safety for Miramar (Fla.) High School in the fall, holds additional offers from Florida State, Clemson, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Syracuse, Florida, Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas, Baylor, UCF, South Florida and Florida Atlantic.

The very early centerpiece of Miami’s Class of 2021 is perpetually pulling in more interest this spring, too. It’s always tough to project talent this far out, but James Williams has the look of a potential 5-star player. The unranked safety from Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Fla., added one of his biggest offers yet Thursday when Michigan hopped into the picture.

The 6-4, 202-pound strong safety adds the Wolverines to a list, which already included Florida State, Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse, Florida, Tennessee and Florida Atlantic. Williams, who is also a receiver, pledged to the Hurricanes on March 31, the same day as Gray.

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