How you doing these days Eye on The U crew? Just wanted to check in during my three-week break -- Is it really vacation if I'm still working? -- to give you a place to pour your thoughts in regarding your beloved Canes. Among the topics of this entry: My visit to Frank Gore's mother's house, Denis Clemente's transfer to Kansas State, a Devin Ebanks update and a quick football recruiting update.
First, Gore. After signing his big contract extention in March, I spent months trying to hunt him down for an interview and finally did at the end of last week (a feature on him should be running in the paper soon). Anyway, he invited me to his mother's brand new four bedroom home in West Kendall to shoot a photo of him and his mother together. Frank never showed up (he was doing an autograph session with kids), but I got a chance to speak with him later on. I spent nearly an hour with his mother, who you all remember has to take weekly dialysis treatments for her diabetes and struggles simply to get out of bed.
Although as a journalist I'm not supposed to get emotionally attached to the people I write about -- it is unprofessional. But I couldn't help but feel genuine happiness for Gore and his family. The house Frank bought his 46-year old mother, 22-year old brother Travis and 21-year old sister Shemika, was four times the size of the tiny, two-bedroom place he once shared with eight people growing up in Coconut Grove. I was there the day before Frank got drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round two years ago. Gore was so happy that day because he knew he was finally going to be able to get his family out of the hood, off of welfare and live a dream. But he was also disappointed. He knew he was better than the five running backs -- Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, J.J. Arrington, and Eric Shelton -- taken ahead of him in the same draft. And he knew his potential was never reached at UM because of the two major knee injuries he suffered.
Gore finally reached it last season in San Francisco. All the open field running, the big moves, the shake and bake, was back in his step. He looked like the guy who tore up the Miami-Dade County rushing record book with more than 2,900 yards in 11 games his senior season at Coral Gables High. In all, Gore ran for 1,695 yards to not only set a single-season 49ers record, but lead the NFC and finish 3rd in the NFL overall. All that by the way after having two shoulder surgeries as a rookie. The 49ers could have chosen to pay him the $450,000 he was due in his third season under his third round rookie contract. They upped the ante and rewarded him with a $28 million extention, a $6.5 million signing bonus and $14 in guarantees. They wanted Gore not just because he ran the ball well, but because he began changing the losing attitudes in the lockerroom. Frank reportedly got in the face of teammates last season who were still smiling after losses. The Niners went 7-9, but could be a playoff team next season with Gore the frontman.
I couldn't be happier for him. The truth is, aside from football, Gore has never really had much going for him. At Gables, he was classified with a learning disorder. With his mother sick and the rest of his family dirt poor, he was basically their only hope of having a better life. When he went down with those two major knee injuries, I thought he was headed toward a sad story. I didn't think he'd be the same running back he was once appeared he was headed toward becoming at Gables. But now, he is the Frank of old again. And not only is his mother benefitting so are his two children.
Frank Jr., 5, is just like his daddy. He's playing football at Suniland Park, wears No. 3 just like his dad did at Gables, and is tearing up the league with his running and hitting skills according to the family. Demeterius, 1, already lines up opposite Dad with his hand on the floor and runs forward toward him looking for a collision.
"They love to play just like me," Gore told me. "If they keep watching me they'll be alright."
Truth is, we should all be watching Gore and admiring his story. He could have folded plenty of times -- with his academic issues, the rough neighborhood he grew up in and the knee injuries. He never gave up. His run to third place in the rushing standings last season (Ronnie Brown by the way was the only other rookie '05 to eclipse 1,000 yards last season) continued a tradition for the Canes most of you probably are not aware of. Since Edgerrin James left UM and became the NFL rushing leader his rookie season in 1999, the Hurricanes have had a top five rusher in the NFL every season except once (2001 when James suffered his major knee injury).
With Gore, UM now has four legitimate star running backs in the league between him, James (Arizona Cardinals), Clinton Portis (Washington Redskins) and Willis McGahee (Baltimore Ravens). That's absolutely amazing and I'm sure somewhere Don Soldinger is patting himself on the back. While Tyrone Moss (cut by the Browns) and the next senior to leave Charlie Jones will likely not continue that running tradition, Gore told me he expects Baby James, Javarris James, to be the next great one to make something of themselves in the league.
"He's real good. Strong, makes people miss. He's got that special quality," Gore said of James. "Just like Edge."
I hope you guys enjoy the Gore story when it runs in the paper. But for now, here's a good a poll question for you.
Now to Clemente, the Canes former point guard, who found a school willing to give him a chance in Kansas State last week. Can't say I'm surprised he found a place to go. Clemente, when he wasn't playing out of control, was as fast a guard as there was in the country. He will sit out next season at Kansas State per NCAA transfer rules. But when he returns in 2008-09, he could be playing for one of the best teams in the country.
Former Miami High coach Frank Martin (whom I wrote about getting the Kansas State job last month) is close friends with Clemente's AAU coach Art Alvarez (check out his website here www.miamitropicslive.com). Martin loves Miami area guys and has recruited plenty local players during his stints at Northeastern and Cincinnati. If Clemente, who was averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 assists, can keep himself out of trouble (he was suspended for violating team rules and ultimately kicked off the team for the same reason), he could be a star for the Wildcats and one of those guys Canes fans shake their heads at come tourney time.
As for the Canes, they chose Edwin Rios as their point guard of the future long ago. But they could have also decided to get him some competition. This past season, N.C. State came in and swooped up the Player of the Year in Miami-Dade County in Krop High's Javi Gonzalez, who also played AAU ball on Alvarez's team. I know while Haith and company liked Gonzalez, they felt they were going to be just fine with Rios and Clemente. Obviously, UM didn't figure Clemente wouldn't be on the team anymore.
As for the Canes' current hoops recruiting efforts, I spoke with highly-touted small forward Devin Ebanks again just minutes ago. He told me nothing has changed between UM and Indiana and both are still his leaders. The biggest news, though, appears that he likely won't be making a trip to Texas. He told me he'll still likely visit UM again on an official trip before he makes his college choice at the end of this summer. He told me he last spoke to Frank Haith about two weeks ago and said the conversation went well. "He's real cool and down to earth," Ebanks said of Haith. "We talk about everything. The coaching staff, the whole program is what I really like about Miami."
Ebanks said he also spoke to Indiana coach Kalvin Sampson last about two weeks ago and reaffirmed that while although his mother may like Indiana more, "The decision is going to be mine." This weekend Ebanks will be playing at the Rumble in the Bronx at Fordham University. He told me he is averaging well over 30 points a game for his AAU team.
QUICK FOOTBALL RECRUITING UPDATE: It appears the Canes are loading up in South Florida some more. After having the UM Summer Camp this past weekend, former Auburn commitment Thearon Collier has changed his mind and chosen his hometown Canes instead. Collier, a 5-9, 165-pound receiver at Booker T. Washington, was one of a handful of Tornadoes to star at the camp. Teammate Brandon Harris, a 5-10, 185-pound cornerback, was named overall MVP according to Matt Shodell from Canesport. Collier was the offensive MVP. Davon Johnson, also of Booker T., was the outstanding receiver and Rennie Carty was the outstanding DB.
Not that this should be a surpise, but don't be surprised if all four end up Hurricanes. Miami by the way now has eight commitments for the Class of 2008. None is better than Ely's Patrick Johnson, the No. 3 player in the state accoridng to Rivals.com.