As fall practice continues, the 2012 freshman class continues stealing headlines as this group appears to be mature, wise beyond their years and ready to put in the work and effort that will bring the Hurricanes back.
Anyone who’s been around this program for a long while can tell you that there’s something special about this group.
Unproven as they will be until kickoff, there seems to be that intangible. That thing that linebacker coach Micheal Barrow refers to as “Hurricanes DNA” – something he looks for in recruits and something this group possesses; kids that grew up watching Miami during that 2000-2003 era and locals who are willing to put in the work in effort to replicate that success.
A recent “Raising Canes” clip showed true freshman cornerback Tracy Howard sporting a coveted black jersey on the practice field, only to return to his dorm by 10:30pm, where he stuck his nose in the playbook and studied with a vengeance.
The level of maturity of these current freshmen is apparent to fans and media members, but no one seems more enamored than head coach Al Golden, who has consistently praised this bunch, stated that upperclassmen better watch their back and went as far as lifting a media ban on true freshman, allowing the media to get to know these newbie Canes this past Saturday.
Running back Randy ‘Duke’ Johnson was a media-pleaser this past weekend, open, honest and candid regarding expectations and what it will take for these Canes to live up to them.
“Coming in we knew the expectations,” said Johnson, a Miami Norland alum. “That’s why we all decided to come here and join the other guys, so we could reach that goal.”
Howard was candid, as well, taking about personal expectations, learning the playbook and competing to the best of his abilities – showing that on the field as well, getting into a competition-fueled scrap with freshman receiver Jontavious Carter on Saturday.
“We got a little competitive because [receivers] coach [George McDonald] tells us if the cornerbacks hold us we can hit them in the gut because they’re not going to get any better from holding us,” said Carter. “He held me on my route, so I just hit him in the gut, and we got in a little scuffle. But everything’s still love — nothing serious. We were just caught in the moment.”
Howard’s former Miramar High teammate, wideout Malcolm Lewis, talked a bit about old school Miami attitude, stating that past UM teams “had a lot of energy and swag”.
“I want to bring the program back and make a big impact, said Lewis. “It would make me real proud.”
Lewis is definitely backing up that talk as Coach Golden has said he’s likely the most impressive freshman so far and as for Howard, defensive backs coach Paul Williams has been blown away by his football intelligence.
Talent-wise, this class is loaded, which also takes a page out from the standard Hurricanes blueprint; promoting competition. Freshman receiver Herb Waters, of Homestead High, touched on that talent.
“The competition level, is tremendously off the roof,” said Waters.
That special blend of coaches fueling competition, combined with the right kind of kid – that’s always been the answer to success at UM. That combination, with a recent lack-of-success oft proves to be lethal in due time.
The past few decades have brought a handful of different personality types and players to ‘The U’ – the best getting on board when the chips were down.
Anyone could’ve signed with Miami in 2001, 2002 or 2003, getting in when the getting was good. Joining a top program, attempting to be part of the machine and taking the place of a departed great.
Nothing wrong with that when you have the type of aforementioned players who got on board in February 2012, but if you’re dealing with a player that has a sense of entitlement and fancied himself a superstar because of the “U” on his helmet and recent program success that he had nothing to do with – it spells disaster.
No reason to name names, but dig up some freshman classes from nine or ten years back and you’ll see a textbook definition for this type of player.
Conversely, the on-board-when-the-chips-were-down players are worth mentioning.
Year two of the Butch Davis era brought in Al Blades, Daniel ‘Bubba’ Franks, James Jackson, Edgerrin James, Damione Lewis and Nate Webster, many of which stayed local in effort to put UM back on the map.
Come 1997, future greats like Najeh Davenport, Dan Morgan, Ed Reed and Reggie Wayne joined the program. A year later, William Joseph, Brett Romberg and Mike Rumph were some bigger names who panned out.
In 1999, the grand slam class that put this thing back on the map – Philip Buchanon, Ken Dorsey, Vernon Carey, Jason Geathers, Andre Johnson, Bryant McKinnie, Jarrett Payton, Clinton Portis and Maurice Sikes – all big time players in that 2000 resurgence, 2001 title run and 34-game win streak.
Miami went 23-16 between 1996 and 1999, before that unprecedented run at the turn of the century and while that sounds light years better than the 35-29 run from 2006 to 2010 pre-Golden, the mid-nineties era Hurricanes were living in the shadow of three titles in five years (dating back to 1987); a world where 11-1 was a ‘down year’ and three-loss seasons were catastrophic.
Signing on to play for UM in the mid-nineties, in the midst of probation due to Pell Grant fraud, was seen as suicide to some. The program was a tough sell, outsiders were using negative recruiting tactics and pundits claimed Miami would never return to previous glory.
Still, the ‘right’ type of player didn’t let that deter him as the ‘right’ type of coach was able to properly sell his long-term vision.
Where Golden leads these Canes, time will tell. Achieving the type of success this program saw a decade ago cannot be the benchmark. Different era, different place and magical timing. Stars were aligned for UM and it provided a run that college football hasn’t seen since (though Southern Cal came ridiculously close) and will never see again.
Still, the foundation for success at Miami has been laid. It starts with Coach having the skills and vision, allowing him to reel in gritty, football-smart, hard working, team-first players.
These freshmen are yet to take a snap, but based on character and intangibles, there’s no doubt they’ll change the culture and have an official impact starting as soon as next month. – CB