For most, the phrase “just another day in paradise” is usually dripping with sarcasm—often spewed in a moment of frustration when one is bogged down or overwhelmed. For Miami head coach Mark Richt, it’s become his calling card entering year three on the job.

Where the University of Miami was often at a disadvantage due to it being a smaller private school nestled away in a suburban pocket of a large, diverse metropolitan city providing no true college town experience—Richt has chosen to focus on what makes the experience unique, opposed to what the Hurricanes might lack.

Nowhere does that become more crystal-clear that late-July when a practice field in Coral Gables transform itself into “The U” and what could be described as the ultimate college football super-fan experience.

The “paradise” in the name obviously refers to South Florida’s weather, a tropical climate, bay breeze and a laid-back state of mind that the majority of the country doesn’t get to experience. The old adage, “we live where you vacation” has become a Canes-themed saying over the years—because it’s true. Snowbirds flock south in the winter, while summertime brings those landlocked folks who are seeking beach time, toes in the sand and tropical drinks in hand.

While all that rings true, the real meaning of “paradise” lies in the University of Miami football alumni who return as living and breathing brand ambassadors, as well as success stories of what life can look like for today’s high school football player dreaming of collegiate success that will pave the way to an NFL career.

This year’s event marked Richt’s third “Paradise Camp” at Miami and just like the past two, the list of former Hurricane players was next-level: Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp, Clinton Portis, Jon Vilma, Lamar Thomas, Bryant McKinnie and Gino Torretta were all in the house—preaching that orange and green gospel to recruiting targets and current players.

Over the past years Ed Reed, Devin Hester, Calais Campbell, Jeremy Shockey, Brett Romberg, Antrel Rolle, Phillip Buchanon, Najeh Davenport, Willis McGahee, Duke Johnson, Jon Benson, DJ Williams and Bennie Blades have lent their time—as did the great Ray Lewis, who somewhat helped jumpstart the initiative when visiting Richt years back.

“Oh man, when I had Ray Lewis in here … I got a couple private moments with him here in the office and I said, ‘Dude, I hate to do this, but I have to have a selfie with you,’” Richt shared with the Sun-Sentinel days back. “It’s still on my phone.”

Richt himself is also a former football alum and might be the most-important name on the list as the shift back towards involving players took place on his watch. Same to be said for athletic director Blake James, who originally worked in ticket sales during the Butch Davis era—a time when Miami football alum was everything to the program.

Davis, having coached under Jimmy Johnson for that 1987 national title, before following JJ to Dallas as a defensive assistant—was considered “one of our own” due to his Johnson-related ties. From there, the Decade of Disaster followed—Larry Coker proving in over his head, while Randy Shannon—another former player and assistant—lacked even more head coaching poise and know-how.

Taking over a program in shambles and unable to balance the responsibilities, the shut-off and detached Shannon wasn’t able to welcome in former players the way other UM football alum might have.

Toss in hands-on Donna Shalala as president, two off-brand athletic directors in Kirby Hocutt and Shawn Eichorst, a rogue booster who ran amok and Al Golden showing up for a job that no one else in the nation wanted, Miami athletics—especially football—had lost it’s most-special ingredient.

The moment that all changed and the polished Richt showed up with his understanding of what makes this program tick—the Canes started looking like “The U” again.

Including and re-inserting those former players who were held at bay due to Rat Shapiro; it’s changed everything. Richt has organizes picnics, dinners and events where those Hurricane greats of yesteryear pass down knowledge and advice to current players—and bond and connection only they can understand.

Months back when safety Jaquan Johnson was on the fence with a jump to the NFL or a return to Coral Gables for his senior year, he went straight to the source regarding next-level safeties; Two-Zero-E-Reed.

“I asked him why he came back and he told me he loved the University of Miami, he loved what was going on and he wanted to win a national championship. If you want to be great, you have to follow in the footsteps of the greats, so I tried to emulate exactly what he did and that was my mindset,” Johnson shared with the Sun-Sentinel.

“He said, ‘You know the NFL wants you. Why even think about it? Just go out and have fun with your brothers, go out and play. You know you’re going to go, so go to work.’ That was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten so far through this process.”

Who better to hear that from than Reed, who heeded the advice of Davis after the 2000 season, retuned for one more go around—as did McKinnie—with the safety great helping lead Miami to a 2001 national title.

Months later, McKinnie went seventh to Minnesota, while Reed was the 24th player taken—Baltimore-bound for a Hall of Fame-worthy career that wrapped in 2013. Nine Pro Bowls, a First-Team All-Pro five times over, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2004). The list goes on. Next stop; Canton.

These are the kinds of relationships insiders completely understand, while outsiders sit back jealous and forever out of the know. Critics and rivals make a sport of trashing all things Miami, but in the end always wind up giving some tip of the cap. The stories of Canes players in the NFL hearing from current teammates (that played elsewhere in college) how they always envied the bond “The U” guys had; never-ending.

The respect that Miami players earn, receive and command due to their attitude and work ethic—unparalleled; and all those battles start on Greentree Practice Field.

As Richt would tell anyone within earshot, “Welcome to Paradise.”

“The one thing the former players will say to our team, they always say the toughest competition for them, throughout their whole careers was on Greentree Practice Field, competing against each other,” Richt explained.

“When you played the game, there was nothing that was going to shock your system as far as somebody that was going to be bigger, stronger, faster and more talented than what you’ve practiced against. … That’s what we’re trying to get back to. That’s what we understand is so important. We’re getting there.”

Miami also seems to be “getting there” faster than some outsiders might’ve expected. Aside from last year’s 10-win run, inaugural Coastal Division crown and Orange Bowl berth—recruiting keeps getting better and better every year.

Last season’s “Paradise Camp” played a part in landing nine future stars who will see the field this fall: Al Blades Jr., Nesta Silvera, Gurvan Hall, Lorenzo Lingard, Mark Pope, Dee Wiggins, DJ Scaife, Greg Rousseau and Will Mallory. Last weekend’s event had a similar impact.

After the third installment of Richt’s event, Miami picked up six commitments: Jalar Holley (DT), Bryan Robinson (WR), Jonathan Denis (OL), Jaiden Francois (OL), Keyshawn Washington (LB/S) and Donnell Harris (DE).

The next step for Miami; take care of business on the field this fall—to keep current recruits locked down, while reeling in more. Success breeds success. Getting to a position where you’re winning those annual rivalry games, winning the division, reaching the conference title game, taking the crown and winding up as one of the final four in The Playoffs—no better path to depth and talent.

The rich get richer in this sport; which is why Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State all have Top 10 recruiting classes going into 2019.

Miami proved it was good last season and keeps inching towards great—thanks to on-the-field success, as well as outside-the-box events like “Paradise Camp”, which accentuate the uniqueness of this storied private university and family bond this Canes football fraternity boasts.

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