UM coaches dish on impressive Canes freshman class. And Cane to seek a ninth season

Al Diaz/

This 2023 Miami Hurricanes recruiting class is poised to be the foundation of what the Canes hope will be playoff contending teams in 2024, 2025 and 2026.

And though only one of the natural freshmen began the season as a starter (right tackle Francis Mauigoa), several others are off to a very good start.

Emory Williams has impressed everyone as UM’s apparent No. 2 quarterback and has a leg up in the competition to be Tyler Van Dyke’s successor. He’s 12 for 14 for 144 yards this season.

Freshman defensive lineman Rueben Bain, a sack machine at Miami Central, had a sack while starting in place of injured starters Akheem Mesidor and Nyjalik Kelly against Bethune Cookman.

Freshmen edge player Jayden Wayne played 33 snaps against Bethune Cookman and impressed coaches.

Freshman cornerback Damari Brown has the talent to become a multiyear starter. Freshman Samson Okonlola is poised to take over left tackle when Jalen Rivers moves to the NFL.

Freshman running back Mark Fletcher flashed his unique combination of speed and power before reportedly entering concussion protocol, and fellow freshman back Chris Johnson was lightning quick - as expected - when he made his college debut against Bethune Cookman.

And that’s just the start of a freshman class that also includes shifty receivers Robby Washington and Nathaniel Joseph, four linebackers, defensive tackle Joshua Horton, four offensive linemen, two cornerbacks and two tight ends.

One of those tight ends, Riley Williams, has beaten out second-year player Jaleel Skinner for playing time so far, in a bit of a surprise. Williams, in a blowout last week, also played more than veteran Cam McCormick (43 snaps to 25), while Skinner played 17 snaps.

Tight end Elijah Arroyo, who was expected to be UM’s starter, hasn’t played yet this season after a major knee injury last September.

“Riley’s ability to run routes and get open is as good for a tight end as I’ve seen,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said this week. “His body control and ability to get open is unique. I’m very excited to see him progress.”

All but six freshmen played against Bethune Cookman. Those six were edge player Collins Acheampong (who has dealt with an injury), safety Kaleb Spencer, cornerback Robert Stafford, tight end Jackson Carver and offensive linemen Antonio Tripp and Frankie Tinilau.

Players can redshirt if they play in four games or fewer.

Bain was already in the rotation even before injuries to Mesidor and Kelly; Cristobal has suggested both will be back soon.

“I’ve never coached a freshman like him,” defensive coordinator Lance Guidry said of Bain. “To be that powerful, that mature [is impressive]. He has a lot of elite skill sets.”

Wayne, rated by Rivals as the nation’s No. 83 prospect in the 2023 class, “did well” against Bethune Cookman, Cristobal said. “When we threw him out there, he got a lot of reps. He had a great spring and was doing really well, then got sick and dropped some weight, and he was gaining it back throughout camp, and now he’s starting to fill in and starting to look like himself.

“He played the run really well and put some pressure on the quarterback. He did a great job dropping into the flat and making that open-field tackle. That’s a big move for a guy who weighs 240 to 250 pounds. A very promising career [is ahead] for him, and just really impressed with how he handled it as a freshman. His workload will continue to increase.”

Brown, who played 33 snaps against Bethune Cookman, is “best suited at nickel” in this defense, Guidry said, adding that against Bethune Cookman, “he should have blitzed two more times and didn’t get the check. He has a really good skill set.”

Guidry said Horton, the freshman defensive tackle, is “a work in progress…. If he’d been here in the spring he’d probably be further advanced. … There’s a lot of different things he has to learn.”

As for Mauigoa, he had some difficulties against Texas A&M and Pro Football Focus ranks his 2023 performance 402nd among 550 FBS offensive tackles. But there’s no question about the talent.

Among the freshman linebackers, Malik Bryant and Raul Aguirre each played 11 snaps against Bethune Cookman, Marcellius Pulliam played eight and Bobby Washington six.

Washington’s brother Robby played seven snaps at wide receiver, while fellow freshman Joseph played 11. Washington caught two passes for 27 yards and Joseph caught three for five.


Eighth-year tight end McCormick, 25, said he has petitioned the Atlantic Coast Conference for a ninth year of eligibility that would allow him to play in 2024 if he chooses. McCormick, who previously played for Cristobal at Oregon before transferring this past offseason, said he’s not sure if he will play college football beyond this season but wants to have the option.

The Pacific-12 approved a ninth year of eligibility before his transfer, but that’s now moot.

McCormick has played in only 32 games over eight seasons (including three at Miami this season), but received several redshirts because of major injuries over the years.

He has two catches for 28 yards this season; as a run-blocker, PFF ranks him 11th among 339 FBS tight ends this season. He has 20 career receptions for 197 yards.

It was notable that junior college transfer Shemar Kirk was the only scholarship receiver who didn’t play against Bethune Cookman, per PFF. Among the backups (beyond freshmen Joseph and Washington), Tyler Harrell played 14 snaps, Isaiah Horton 12, Frank Ladson 9 and Michael Redding 2.

Quick stuff: Through three games, Tyler Van Dyke’s passer rating - using the NFL formula - would be 141. A perfect rating is 158.3… Second-year guard Anez Cooper continues to impress. PFF said he was Miami’s best pass blocker against Bethune Cookman… ESPN2 assigned Lowell Galindo and former NFL linebacker Kirk Morrison to Saturday’s 3:30 game at Temple.