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Eligibility a focal point for Hurricanes' class

Butch Davis wants strong, fast players who can make the grade on and off the field.

Miami coach Butch Davis, focusing on several positions this recruiting season, increased the importance of one particular quality _ eligibility _ for his signees.

In a news conference to announce signees, Davis said all but "a couple" of the 19 recruits for whom he has so far received letters of intent are eligible to play. He added that he does not see any problems among those who have not yet met either the minimum SAT score or core curriculum requirements.

"I feel a thousand times better than I did a year ago, from an academic standpoint," Davis said. "I'm going to be shocked if any of them don't make it. We were a lot more critical and more selective about the one or two risks we were possibly taking and felt a lot better about that."

Davis had said he intended to sign 25 players and added Wednesday that he and his staff are still recruiting. The Hurricanes are the most likely choice for linebacker D.J. Williams, the Parade magazine defensive player of the year from California's Concord De La Salle High who has been leaning toward Miami but has not committed to a school.

Miami is waiting on a decision from the NCAA about the eligibility of junior Nate Webster, a likely candidate next season for the Butkus Award given to the nation's top linebacker. Webster filed than canceled his entry into the NFL Draft. Davis said he expects the issue to be resolved by the beginning of spring practice and said it didn't affect his recruiting strategy.

"We've pretty much had a plan as to what we were going to do recruiting as far as linebackers were concerned, and we've pretty much stayed exactly with that," Davis said.

The class has its share of speed, led by wide receiver Willie Dixon, from Brookside Christian in Stockton, Calif., who has been timed at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash and ran a sub-10.3 in the 100 meters.

Willie Roberts, at 6-7, 235, is the tallest signee. Davis will look to Roberts and 6-3, 230-pound David Williams of Miami Northwestern to help fill the void left by tight end Bubba Franks, who left UM after his junior season to enter the NFL Draft.

The Hurricanes signed two quarterbacks _ Derrick Crudup, a USA Today Honorable Mention All-American from Deerfield Beach, and T.J. Prunty, the No. 18-rated quarterback nationally by SuperPrep, from St. Paul (Minn.) Academy. Davis said the possibility of Kenny Kelly leaving early to play professional baseball full time and the fact that freshman Ken Dorsey did not redshirt last season were major factors.

Davis said the program is better able to look further down the road in terms of who it needs at what position, instead of having to fill spots of several graduating seniors with freshmen who lose the opportunity to be groomed.

With that in mind, Davis said St. Thomas Aquinas kicker Mark Gent of Fort Lauderdale, the most productive kicker in Florida, accepted a deferred scholarship. Davis said Gent might redshirt so the Hurricanes can avoid as much overlap as possible with Todd Sievers, who redshirted last season. Gent will enroll next spring.

"We wanted to not allow someone who was that talented to get away and go out of the state and go to another of school," Davis said. "The timing will be perfect."