Small trip could pay off big for Miami

Talawanda running back Maurice Thomas, the Associated Press Division III Southwest District Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team all-state pick who rushed for 2,780 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior, and his twin brother, defensive back McKenzie Thomas, were two of 26 high school seniors who delivered signed national letters-of-intent to Miami on Wednesday.

“The home visit was nice,” Martin said Wednesday afternoon during a press conference to discuss this year’s class. “I left my house three minutes before it was scheduled and still made it on time. Why can’t they all be like that?”

Martin’s second Miami recruiting class featured six players from Ohio, including 6-3, 231-pound Alter defensive end Dean Lemon, and 17 from some of the Midwestern states he considers the RedHawks’ backyard — Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. He also includes Kentucky, which yielded 6-5, 280-pound offensive lineman Sam Murrer, in Miami’s focus area.

One of Martin’s most prized recruits is 6-4, 214-pound quarterback Billy Bahl from Marian Central Catholic in Woodstock, Ill. Bahl threw for 2,080 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior.

“He’s going to be 235 pounds, and he can run,” the former Notre Dame offensive coordinator said of Bahl, who verbally committed to Miami on Father’s Day. “He’s known as a pocket guy and he can sling it, but he can run the zone read. I would’ve recruited him at my last job. When he committed last year, it took a long, long time to get to this day for me.”

Miami lost to Bowl Championship Subdivision programs seven recruits who had verbally committed, he said, but the RedHawks were able to grab 6-2, 225-pound linebacker Junior McMullen after he and Western Michigan “parted ways,” as Martin described it. McMullen, a Michigan first-team all-state player from Oak Park (Mich.) High School, didn’t visit Miami until this past weekend.

“We were able to pull a rabbit out of a hat,” Martin said.

Miami also was the beneficiary of Central Michigan’s coaching change, which prompted 6-5, 230-pound Brighton (Mich.) High School tight end Alexx Zielinski to change his mind.

Martin did take another step toward reaching his goal of making Miami bigger, especially on the offensive line. Besides Murrer, he also landed 6-6, 295-pound Loveland offensive lineman Ian Leever, who already is on campus after graduating from high school early.

Leever might be among the 25-30 percent of true freshmen Martin expects to play a role next season for the RedHawks, who finished 2014 2-10 overall and 2-6 in the Mid-American Conference.

“When this class is juniors, I think we’re going to be really good,” Martin said.

Scout.com ranked Miami’s class second in the MAC behind Western Michigan and just ahead of Northern Illinois. The RedHawks were fifth last season. Rivals.com had Miami at third behind WMU and NIU. Rivals ranked Miami’s class 13th in the 13-team conference last season.

Martin suspects one reason for the improvement is the new indoor practice facility, which is nearing completion at the north end of Yager Stadium.

“That’s all part of the package,” he said. “They can come look around and inspect. Does that mean you get them? No, but if you don’t have them and everything else being equal — kids look at the facilities and the uniforms. ‘Wow, they’ve got those neat helmets. They’ve got those facilities.’ ”

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