Tuesdays with Gorney: Time for Cormani McClain to live up to his talent

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is the ugly side of recruiting and the transfer portal.

Cormani McClain is one of the more talented cornerbacks in recent memory, a five-star player who has length, athleticism, playmaking ability and instincts.

He also has what seems like never-ending drama around him.

During the recruiting process, McClain committed to Miami but then no-showed at his own early signing day ceremony as a cake waited for him at Lakeland. His own coaches were caught by surprise.


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The word was that Colorado coach Deion Sanders convinced the family to hold off on signing so he could recruit McClain since Sanders had just arrived in Boulder. So instead of informing everyone that he wouldn’t be signing that day, McClain decided to just not show up.

A few weeks later, Miami’s coaching staff arrived at Lakeland to keep recruiting the five-star cornerback but McClain was not there. He had reportedly taken a secret visit to Colorado, which put in motion his eventual signing with the Buffaloes, but the five-star didn’t inform the Miami coaches.

Through his recruitment, McClain was always close with then-Miami assistant position coach DeMarcus Van Dyke and one wonders if Miami just promoted Van Dyke to cornerbacks coach whether McClain would have signed with the Hurricanes.

Prior to signing with Colorado, McClain was at the Under Armour All-America Game, walked into the media room and said he wasn’t taking questions. Then answered no questions all week. He was the only player to do that.

The five-star later signed with Colorado and that’s when Sanders got what he wished for. Be careful of that.

From Colorado’s side, the idea was five-star Travis Hunter would play one cornerback spot and McClain would have every opportunity to land the starting job on the other side. Sanders, one of the best defensive backs ever, could show McClain the ropes. Sanders’ success and history in the NFL is a big reason why many top recruits went to play for him.

It didn’t go well. McClain had a difficult time adjusting to the demands of college - and early in the season when asked why the former five-star wasn’t playing, Sanders laid it out clearly.

“Study,” Sanders said. “Prepare. Be on time for meetings. Show up to the darn meetings. Understand what we’re doing as a scheme. Want to play this game. Desire to play this game. Desire to be the best in this game, at practice, in the film room and on your own, free time. You do know that I check film time so if I don’t see that you’d be a fool to put somebody out there unprepared.”

McClain ended up playing in nine games but had only 13 tackles and two pass breakups, no interceptions. There were all kinds of stories from him hiding in the bathroom to miss practice to not going to classes to missing meetings or being late for them.

Instead of maturing and developing at Colorado, learning from his errors, McClain hit the portal. To his credit, Sanders publicly was incredibly diplomatic and wished the former five-star the best.

"I’m always in prayer for our young men, and I want the best for them," Sanders said on a podcast. "I pray to God that he goes to a program that challenges him, as well as hold him accountable and develop him as a young man.

"Unfortunately, we weren’t the program that could accomplish that, so preferably he understands that this is the second go-round and get it – go get it, man, because he has a tremendous amount of talent. But he has to want it."

McClain has seemingly chosen a different path in recent days. He released a video statement in part saying, "I feel like I just don’t want to play for clicks. I actually want to be involved with a great leading program that’s going to develop players.”

His mother on X posted on April 16:

Two days later, she posted:

During this transition, social media has exploded with McClain videos, hot takes and you can only imagine what else. McClain apparently even jumped into a Twitter Spaces about him and through the raucous – and vitriolic – discussion, said “Y’all are taking this a little too personal.”

In recent days, Colorado practice clips of McClain losing reps, not listening or getting trucked by opponents during drills, generally struggling, have emerged on social media. His old high school coach, Keith Barefield, gave a pointed and scathing review of his former star player to CBS Sports.

As for his new recruitment, the word is that McClain is leaning toward schools in sunny, warm areas. Louisville and others were mentioned early after he got in the portal, USF (where Van Dyke now coaches) and USC have been discussed and over the weekend, SMU was trying to get heavily involved. It’s unlikely the Trojans pursue him at this point.

There’s no question McClain has a lot of ability. But that’s only one part of the equation to success and being a potential first-round draft pick. The longer this goes on, the more McClain stories emerge, the tougher it will be for him to reframe the conversation.

One wonders what would have happened if McClain just stayed close to home and stuck with Miami, drama-free. On signing day, for sure, that cake would have been enjoyed and not thrown in the garbage.