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Miami sets up 'Cane Talks' to build relationships with local high school coaches

The head coach at Miami needs to get one thing right straightaway: recruit the South Florida area like your job depends on it.

Because it does.

That does not necessarily mean sign just any player from Homestead up to Vero Beach (they won’t). That does not necessarily mean sign every five-star in the area, either (they can’t). What it means is walking into all the local high schools and making players from South Florida a priority again.

When Mark Richt came to town, he recognized the need to immediately build on relationships among high school coaches in his own backyard. So he came up with the idea to hold “Cane Talks” on Wednesday nights, inviting high school coaches and their staffs to come in and just talk shop.

Richt did something similar at Georgia, because he found it difficult to get to know coaches during big high school clinics. He wanted something that felt a little more hands on, and a little more tangible to the high school coaches that could one day entrust their players to go play for him.

“You just talk ball,” Richt said in a recent interview. “We break bread together and talk ball. We get to know each other. If they want to see what we’re doing, great. A lot of times, we’d watch the film of our practice together and let them hear us as a staff talk about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, corrections and all that. Then if they have questions, we’ll do that or if they want to talk about any subject they want to talk about.”

Former Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger is famous for coining the “State of Miami,” his plan to recruit and win with players from the surrounding counties. Since the early 1980s, the talented players from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach have skyrocketed, and so have the schools coming into South Florida to recruit. So there are different challenges today than there were 30 years ago, when the area was still a hidden gem.

But what has not changed is the need for Miami to fill its classes with players predominantly from the area. Former coach Al Golden struggled in this regard. In five classes he signed, South Florida players made up half the class just twice. In 2013, only four players from South Florida signed.

Richt says he wants two-thirds of his recruiting classes to come from South Florida. In Richt’s first class, 61 percent of the players signed fit that requirement. For the class of 2017, nine of the 15 verbal commitments are from the area.

“That tri-county area is huge,” said Richt, referring to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. “We strategically had a scrimmage here, we had a scrimmage in Palm Beach we had a scrimmage in Broward. We want to be visible in those areas. But you’re not going to turn down Brad Kaaya or Vinny Testaverde or Jim Kelly.

“There are still guys from Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Pensacola. So we’re going to recruit this state. I think there’s enough good will in the state of Georgia that people would have faith and confidence to have their sons come play for me here. So there will be a wider recruiting base than those three counties, but that’s a huge part of what we’re going to be going after.”

The Cane Talks have been a big hit. Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown estimates they had between four and five coaching staffs a week come to talk at the Miami football facility.

“They’ve been receptive to us opening doors to them and having dialogue. It’s all about building relationships,” Brown said.

Relationships that will only serve to help Miami down the line.