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St. Thomas Aquinas is the nation’s top NFL Draft producer, and the Miami Hurricanes need and hope to become more of a beneficiary

5 min read
St. Thomas Aquinas is the nation’s top NFL Draft producer, and the Miami Hurricanes need and hope to become more of a beneficiary

Since his arrival at the University of Miami, Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal has made it an emphasis to prioritize recruiting the top prospects across the country to Coral Gables as well as keeping the top talents from South Florida home. That has included a renewed interest in making inroads at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High, which has resulted in the commitment of WR Chance Robinson in this recruiting cycle.

The Robinson commitment is significant because St. Thomas Aquinas has been one of the top producers of NFL talent for years and Miami has benefitted very little.

Over the last decade, no other high school in the country has produced more NFL draft picks than St. Thomas. Since 2013, the four-time defending state champions have had 17 prospects selected in the NFL Draft, and it does not look like that trend is slowing down anytime soon as the 2023 NFL Draft begins tonight and runs Thursday-Saturday with former St. Thomas athletes Jordan Battle, Tyler Steen and Grant Miller all expected to hear their names called at some point throughout the weekend.

But of those 17 draftees, only two played college football at Miami — Philip Dorsett in 2015 (first round, Indianapolis Colts) and Brandon Linder in 2014 (third round, Jacksonville Jaguars). That’s a trend that Cristobal obviously must change.

“There are many factors to the success we’ve experienced in sending a number of players to the NFL over the years,” St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Roger Harriott said. “Our spirited environment, competitive talent, resources, high-quality coaches, and structured culture are a few. However, the main component to our players going to the league has been inspiring them to live up to our standard of faith, family, tradition, and excellence. As a result, they establish winning habits conducive to living their life with a champion mentality daily.” 

Harriott, the Raiders’ head coach since 2015, has had almost every Power Five program in the country visit his school and recruit his Raider athletes over the years.

“South Florida is the Mecca of high school football in my opinion,” Harriott said. “College programs across the country take notice of our talent pool and recruit many of our players from various schools. One of the reasons why college programs are drawn to STA is we have a winning tradition and culture. College programs are often looking for players who can balance their academic and athletic responsibilities, and we have a proven formula to produce well-rounded players with NFL aspirations.” 

With so much outstanding collegiate and NFL talent within 32 miles from campus, it’s difficult for fans to digest that the Hurricanes have had so little success recruiting at the local powerhouse. Over the last decade, Miami has signed just seven athletes from St. Thomas Aquinas and zero since the 2019 recruiting cycle. Robinson would break that cycle if he signs in December.

“Unfortunately, the expectation to win has compromised The U’s admirable reputation and ability to recruit the best prospects in South Florida,” Harriott said. “This gradually became a source of contention for fans and within the media over the years. Decades ago, the best high school players were raised to play for their local college and represent the area with pride and admiration.

 “Since the early 2000s, there has been a growing focus on prominent players gravitating to winning programs regardless of location. This has been a detriment to our beloved Hurricanes, but I’m hopeful and optimistic that Coach Cristobal will successfully recruit STA players to be ‘Canes again and bring them back to national champion status.”

Since his return to Coral Gables ahead of the 2022–2023 season, Cristobal has hit the South Florida recruiting trails hard, which saw his inaugural recruiting class feature eight signees from Broward and Dade County and 16 players in total from the state of Florida.

“His approach is more aggressive and intentional than the previous coaches,” Harriott said. “I believe being the head coach of his alma mater and working his dream job clearly sets him apart from the previous head coaches.”

Not only has Harriott and several other local South Florida high school coaches taken notice of Cristobal’s exceptional recruiting skills, but the athletes have too.

“Many of the players have spoken positively about Coach Cristobal’s charismatic and passionate approach to the game,” Harriott added. “They appreciate his dedication to them both on and off the field and have noted that he places a strong emphasis on discipline and toughness. He’s made a favorable impression in the recruiting landscape.

“Coach Cristobal recruits with confidence and authority. As a native, he knows the culture and uses this as an advantage to successfully navigate through today’s competitive recruiting process. He’s been widely recognized for his exceptional recruiting skills across the country and attracted some of the most talented players from east to west. His attention to detail and interpersonal relationships with high school coaches have been particularly noteworthy.”

In his second recruiting cycle with the Hurricanes, Cristobal has picked up a commitment from Robinson , a 4-star wideout and is in the mix to land several other Raider athletes, including four-star running backs Stacy Gage and Jordan Lyle, four-star defensive back Ryan Mack, and three-star linebacker Nicholas Rodriguez.

With Miami’s continuous commitment to drawing elite talent from throughout the country and South Florida, Harriott believes the Hurricanes will continue to find success on the recruiting trail and, eventually, develop a strong pipeline from STA to Miami.  

“I believe this trend can continue and ultimately establish a healthy pipeline to UM,” Harriott said. “Although the recruiting process is more convoluted and complicated with NIL money and the portal being major factors, Coach Cristobal has a substantial support base to assist with that aspect. I also believe that winning plays a major role in attracting great players. Winning has always been an integral part of the American culture, so it’s imperative for The U to win to keep our local talent home and bring some elite out-of-state players to Miami.”

The post St. Thomas Aquinas is the nation’s top NFL Draft producer, and the Miami Hurricanes need and hope to become more of a beneficiary appeared first on On3.

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