There are both positives and negatives for South Carolina in Thomas Finnie's decision to switch his verbal commitment from the Gamecocks to the Miami Hurricanes.
Finnie on Friday became the first Miami-area player that new Miami coach Al Golden was able to land during his time in south Florida, using a late recruiting push to steal the corner away just as he was preparing to enroll at USC.
Perhaps that’s the most significant impact of Finnie’s decision for the Gamecocks and the rest of the college football world. Miami built its legacy on the strength of players from its own backyard. Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis all had success by focusing their recruiting efforts in Miami-Dade County.
Miami began to struggle last decade when coach Larry Coker failed to sustain the program’s recruiting momentum in south Florida, widely considered the nation’s most fertile recruiting ground. Randy Shannon refocused Miami on recruiting local talent, but his inability to produce wins cost him his job.
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Golden spent the majority of his career coaching in the mid-Atlantic states and didn’t have a history coaching in the state of Florida. However, his decision to go after a recruit like Finnie shows that he and his staff are serious about recruiting metro Miami and reestablishing the fence that once kept other college programs out.
Every program in the nation wants to recruit effectively in the city of Miami. But most of the players in the area want to eventually become Hurricanes, so if Golden and Co. can win games and churn out NFL prospects, it may get more difficult for programs like USC to snatch players from the region.
USC may take a greater hit in terms of public perception in south Florida.
Thomas Finnie Sr., the player’s father, told the Miami Herald that his son was deflated when USC coach Steve Spurrier failed to show up for an in-house visit earlier this week.
“The recruiter from South Carolina did a good job,” he told the paper. “But we were suppose to meet with Steve Spurrier Wednesday and he never showed. The recruiter told us he had an emergency. But you could kind of see through that. That, he just wasn't going to come to that. That kind of took the air out of my son. When you get to meet the head coach, that means a lot to a kid, shows that you really want him. That took the air out of him. My wife wanted to meet him for him to know that ‘I’m going to put my son in your hands.’ ”
Miami may be a big city, but it’s a tight-knit football community. That’s not the impression that Spurrier and Co. – even if they had no choice – wanted to leave in south Florida.
The loss of Finnie himself isn’t as significant, though his departure only leaves one pure cornerback in USC’s Class of 2011, Ronnie Martin of Spartanburg. Brison Williams, Kadetrix Marcus and Jared Henry are all safeties, though Marcus has the build of a corner and potentially the skills to move over if needed.
Finnie is rated the nation’s 39th-best corner, five spots ahead of Martin, according to Rivals. But Finnie was a three-year starter in arguably one of the most competitive divisions in the nation, Florida’s Class 6A. He helped Miami Central win its first state championship last month.
There is a swagger that players from south Florida bring to the college game, and it may be impossible to replace that intangible trait with anybody else in this class.
USC is not heavily recruiting any more corners. Sheldon Royster and Marcquis Roberts, believed to be the two defensive backs left on the team’s board, are likely to play either safety, Spur or linebacker in college.
The subtraction of Finnie does add another opening in USC's recruiting class. The Gamecocks were quickly filling up and starting to threaten the signing limits that were going to make their math difficult over the new few weeks. While the losses of Finnie and Brandon Golson do hurt, the potential to add other players might take some of the sting away.