CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — With a massive cup of iced coffee at his side, Al Golden leaned back in a leather chair early Wednesday morning and relaxed.
His first signing day at Miami brought excitement — and relief.
At precisely 7:01 a.m., the earliest allowable moment under NCAA rules, wide receiver Rashawn Scott of Melbourne (Fla.) Central Catholic High sent in his letter of intent to join the Hurricanes, making him the first formal signing-day arrival of Golden's era at Miami.
"There is a sense of accomplishment because we only had about 15 actual days on the road," Golden told The Associated Press as he waited for faxes to arrive. "This class is a testament to a lot of hard work by the coaches and a lot of kids that wanted to be Miami Hurricanes."
Golden and the Miami staff allowed an AP reporter and photographer to chronicle the early moments of signing day, which started long before sunrise in South Florida.
By 9:30 a.m., 11 letters had arrived, with few surprises. One of the earliest of the morning came from defensive end Anthony Chickillo of Tampa (Fla.) Alonso High — Miami's first three-generation Hurricane — at about 7:45 a.m. His grandfather Nick was an All-American in the early 1950s, and his father Tony played three decades ago on his way to the NFL.
"Let's not downplay this guy's talent," defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said. "First and foremost, he's a great football player."
It seemed unlikely that the signing class for 2011 would be completed Wednesday. Some players, including coveted quarterback Jacoby Brissett of Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Dwyer High, have said they will not announce their college choices until later in the week.
Still, most of the seeds of Miami's future were getting planted early Wednesday.
A car pulled into the coaches' lot at 5:27 a.m., and within a half-hour, the football offices were brimming with anticipation. Some coaches and staff chomped on bagels or doughnuts, others guzzled coffee, and just about everyone lamented their recent lack of sleep.
Miami's staff was at a distinct disadvantage this year, considering every coach except Micheal Barrow — the lone holdover from the 2010 staff — was hired very late in the recruiting process, after the Hurricanes fired Randy Shannon at the end of a 7-5 regular season.
"It may not seem that significant today, but going forward, through his era, this will always be remembered," said Brennan Carroll, the Hurricanes' tight ends coach and national recruiting coordinator. "There will always be nostalgia about this first class."
Carroll was loaded with nervous energy as the clock slowly ticked toward 7:01 a.m. He looked at his cell phone often, trying to speed up time.
"It's 6:54," he said. "Time to send a test fax."
Carroll has been offering a cryptic tweet in recent weeks when players have verbally committed to Miami, typing "Welcome to The U." NCAA rules do not allow him to say more than that, since coaches cannot comment on commitments until the signed letters actually arrive.
Minutes later, Scott's letter came in, followed quickly by wide receiver Phillip Dorsett of St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale and linebacker Gianni Paul of Lakeland. Once the letters arrived, they were checked by compliance officials to make sure everything was done properly, and then Golden and other coaches were informed of the news.
Finally, names could go with the tweets. When the letters came in, the new player's name was added to a white board in the team meeting room, listed alongside all the returning Hurricanes for the 2011 season.
"Relief," Carroll said.
Scott said he wanted his letter to be the first to reach Golden's desk.
"I'm going to be on time for everything," Scott said in a telephone interview. "It's great because I know Coach Golden is going to be a great coach, and I wanted to be part of the Miami family. I didn't want anything else."
Chickillo originally committed to Miami when Shannon's staff was in place. He wavered a bit, but ultimately was impressed with the recruiting pitch that Golden presented as well.
"They'll do whatever it takes to turn Miami's program around," Tony Chickillo said. "Al's a real bright guy. He seems to be real sharp. He's a real handsome guy, got a really beautiful wife, they make a great couple. He has a lot of the values that I played under at Miami under Howard Schnellenberger. He's a real strict disciplinarian who wants to win."
Three other players joined the team prior to signing day: Defensive lineman Olsen Pierre and cornerback Thomas Finnie enrolled last month, and tight end Blake Ayles transferred from USC.
"Our message is very clear," D'Onofrio said. "Why are you here? You're here to win a national championship."
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