When Mario Cristobal was hired as the new head football coach of the Miami Hurricanes last December, he was tasked with one main job: make his alma mater relevant again not just for winning games or conference titles, but putting the ‘Canes back in the conversation for national championships.
Step one in that pursuit was winning battles on the recruiting trail. No, the classes under former head coach Manny Diaz weren’t the worst (ranking 27th, 17th and 11th respectively in his three seasons) but Cristobal was inheriting a 2022 class that some had ranked in the lower half of all FBS teams.
For years, South Florida’s top recruits were choosing elsewhere instead of playing for the ‘Canes - schools ranging from in-state rivals Florida State to perineal national powers like Alabama and Clemson. Now, the tide appears like it has started to turn toward top local recruits bringing their talents to Coral Gables.
Since Cristobal’s arrival, Miami landed two local four-star recruits in Fort Lauderdale Dillard defensive lineman Nyjalik Kelly and Miami Central linebacker Wesley Bissainthe. At the same time, they also got former four-stars in running back Henry Parrish and receiver Frank Ladson to transfer from Ole Miss and Clemson respectively back to the hometown ‘Canes.
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
Yet, the ultimate prize is still out there and it’s one that could give the ‘Canes a big boost heading into the 2022 season.
Wednesday, the top ranked player in the state of Florida, five-star Miami Monsignor Pace defensive lineman Shemar Stewart, is expected to choose between Miami, SEC power Texas A&M and defending national champions Georgia.
Experts believe Stewart is heading to Aggies, but a last-minute change of heart to Miami would not just increase the class ranking but get the ‘Canes one step closer to officially being able to call themselves ‘The U’ again and be taken seriously as a title contender.
Cristobal knows the task ahead of him: Miami is a program that went from five national titles won in a 19-season span to winning zero championships over the last 20 seasons (well, unless you want to count the two Big East titles in 2002 and 2003).
For someone who won two national titles as a player for the ‘Canes, that stat is unacceptable.
Cristobal also knows he needs fans to be patient: a 2022 schedule that includes road games at Texas A&M, Clemson and Virginia Tech along with home games against FSU and North Carolina (teams that beat Miami last season) gives little room for hopes of double digit wins this season.
So far, Cristobal has won his first few months back home with his words, his actions and even his cheerleading in the basketball team’s loss to the Seminoles. If he can land Miami’s first five-star recruit of the 2022 class and have patience from the fan base, he could end up winning a lot more in Coral Gables.