Seantrel Henderson, a prized offensive lineman considered by most analysts to be the nation’s top high school football recruit, said Friday afternoon that he would attend the University of Miami in the fall.
“They have a good, up-and-coming football program,” Henderson said in a telephone interview. “They’ve got good coaches. I just liked the vibe down there when I visited.”
Henderson’s announcement came three days after the University of Southern California released him from his letter of intent. His decision is a recruiting coup for Miami Coach Randy Shannon.
“It’s been a big roller coaster in just having so many different thought processes,” Henderson said.
Henderson is a 6-foot-8, 340-pound left tackle from Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul. He had been recruited by nearly every major college football program in the country.
He immediately becomes the star of a Hurricanes recruiting class that had already been ranked No. 14 by Scout.com and No. 16 by Rivals.com.
“This is a one-in-a-million event in recruiting,” said Allen Wallace, Scout.com’s national recruiting editor, in a telephone interview. “We’re talking about the No. 1 prospect in the United States who’s an offensive lineman who decides to go west, runs in to a circumstance and is then let go by the school he wants to go to and gets to choose again. In effect, Seantrel played the system perfectly.”
Henderson’s decision is the culmination of an unusual recruiting process.
In February, after choosing U.S.C. over Miami, Henderson postponed signing his letter of intent until Southern California officials appeared before an N.C.A.A. infractions committee.
Henderson said he signed the letter only after Lane Kiffin, who replaced Pete Carroll as U.S.C.’s coach in the off-season, assured him and his family not to worry about possible penalties from the investigation, which centered on improper benefits given to Reggie Bush when he was the Trojans’ star tailback.
But last month, the Trojans were hit with a two-year bowl ban, four years’ probation and loss of scholarships, which led Henderson to doubt his decision.
“I wouldn’t say they weren’t honest,” Henderson said. “It just wasn’t going to be how they thought it would be.”
The day the sanctions were announced, Henderson said he asked Kiffin to release him from his letter of intent.
Trojans coaches last month made two separate trips — the first of which included Kiffin — to Minneapolis to reassure him about U.S.C.
Henderson said Kiffin was upbeat during the visit, but as much as he tried, he could not hide the program’s problems.
“They’re hurt a little bit,” Henderson said. “It seems like they’re a little wounded.”
Last week, Henderson said Kiffin agreed to release him from his letter of intent with no restrictions, a rarity in college football. Although Henderson’s departure is another significant blow to a program already short on offensive linemen, Kiffin spoke positively of his former recruit while announcing the decision on Tuesday.
“Seantrel has been great through the whole process, and we wish him the best of luck with his decision,” Kiffin said.
When Kiffin recruited Henderson, he agreed to release him from his letter of intent if the Trojans’ penalties were more severe than expected, said Sean Henderson, Seantrel’s father.
He said his son would have played for U.S.C. if not for the sanctions.
“We felt like it ended up being a little too much for us and it wasn’t the right situation for us,” Sean Henderson said in a telephone interview. “But Lane kept his word and we appreciate that.”
After the release by U.S.C., Sean Henderson said his son received calls from Alabama, Auburn, Cincinnati, Iowa, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Tennessee and U.C.L.A.
He said a report that his son took a trip to Miami last week was untrue and that as of Friday afternoon, he still had not talked to the Hurricanes coaches since being released by U.S.C.
Sean Henderson said that only he had talked to the Miami coaching staff, and that their first conversation was on Thursday.
“My dad is handling everything for me,” Seantrel Henderson said.
Wallace mentioned Henderson as having the same type of potential as Anthony Munoz, the former Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle and Hall of Famer, and Jonathan Ogden, the former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle and a likely Hall of Famer.
“He could be an incredible football player if he keeps his weight down and adjusts to the college game because he’s enormously physically talented and he’s got great feet,” Wallace said.
Henderson will arrive at Miami on Aug. 3 and is academically eligible for the coming season, his father said.
Seantrel Henderson said his latest decision was not influenced by Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James all declaring earlier in the week that they will play for the N.B.A.’s Miami Heat, but he marveled at his announcement to head to Miami in the same week.
“It’s just crazy that everything fell into place like that,” he said.