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The other guy at safety

Covering Miami-Dade high school football for the past decade has allowed me to develop some special relationships with guys who have ended up at The U. One of those is safety Lovon Ponder, who is without question one of the greatest two-sport athletes to come out of Dade in the last decade. Ponder, in fact, is one of the rare Dade athletes to win a state football and basketball title in the same season. He did that in 2003 at Monsignor Pace.

Lovon_ponderWhile most of the attention in Miami's secondary will go to former Carol City star Kenny Phillips (a guy I've always believed would end up being a first round pick since I first saw him as a sophomore in high school) Ponder could be the guy who shines brightest this season. With Anthony Reddick out for the season and Brandon Meriweather off to the NFL, Ponder's role and responsibility in Miami's secondary has been elevated. While freshmen Jojo Nicholas (Homestead High) and Doug Wiggins (North Miami Beach) are likely to own Miami's safety future, Miami's last line of defense the next two seasons will likely be Ponder's responsibility.

I caught up with him at media day and had a long one-on-one conversation. Here it is:

Q: First of all, how are you and how do you feel about the opportunity now of really being counted on to be the man with Kenny Phillips at safety? 
A: "It's a great opportunity for me and Kenny to lead this secondary group that I believe is one of the best in the country. It'll be a fun ride if this group right here can stay together and stick with each other."

Q: What's it like to play with Kenny back there? You guys obviously grew up just a few miles away from each other in Opa Locka? When did you first meet and how well do you guys know each other, to the point you don't even need to communicate on the field?
A: "Actually, through a marriage, my wife and Kenny are cousins. We're related. I met him when he was in the 10th grade at Carol City and I was in the 11th grade at Pace. We kind of connected then. And when he came here we kind of connected even more. My wife Lakanya and him went to Carol City together. It's a small world. They treated each other like sister and brother out there."

Randy_phillipsQ: Talk to me about the rest of those guys in the secondary, start with Randy Phillips first. I know recently he lost his brother. What's it been like talking to him and have you guys been trying to lift his spirits?
A: "It's devastating to lose a brother, especially one your close to. When I found out it happened, I called him and asked him how he was doing and just let him know I'm there for him. He's going to be stepping up big time as a starter and he started last year and played pretty good last year. I believe he's going to play good this year. He was kind of down, but I believe when he went home and saw his son that uplifted him. I have a son and anytime I do something bad or something bad happens, I just look at him and know life goes on."

Q: Talk about Glenn Sharpe. What have his spirits been like? I know he's had a rough career here with injuries and what happened in that 2002 national title game.
A: "Glenn is probably the most high-spirited guys on the team. I always look at him as motivation because he could have quit anytime he wanted to because he could have said 'This is over, I tore both knees, I don't need to play.' But he's stuck through it and through the grace of God he's still here."

Q: There are a lot of other young guys from Dade who are going to be a part of the future of this secondary, Chavez Grant (Booker T. Washington), DeMarcus Van Dyke (Pace), Jojo Nicholas and Doug Wiggins. How are they doing? And are of them ahead of the game, more mature then expected?
A: "It's equal opportunity really. They're going to get a chance to show what they can do in two-a-days to have a chance to play against Marshall. Jojo Nicholas is really going to come along as the third or fourth safety behind me Kenny and [Wille] Cooper. Tervaris [Johnson] and Chavez have been playing real good. Then, you got DeMarcus who has been doing really well covering guys. Bascially, all of those new guys who came in have gotten interceptions on 7-on-7s and really done things."

Q: Anybody in those 7-on-7s really show you something or standout?
A: "I'll say two guys, probably DeMarcus and Jojo. They played pretty good on 7-on-7s, picking up plays and just learning the system."

Q: What it's like with coach Walton being the coordinator and not having coach Shannon out there, calling the plays?
A: "It's no different. It's the same defense. They basically run the same philosophy. It's just a different coaching style."

Q: Last year, you threw that touchdown pass in the win against North Carolina. People say that might have been one of the top moments of all of last season. Any chance we get to see your arm again this year?
A: "Hopefully, he'll do it again. And if he don't, maybe I can be a decoy, run the fake and they go deep to Lance, Sam or Nuke."

Q: Talk a little about the receivers and what you saw out of them this summer, and the quarterbacks too, are they really better than last year?
A: "Oh, they're 100 percent better. I guess their chemistry. They have been in the film room together, outside, running routes and doing different things that has really made them a unit."

Q: Do you think coach has really made a huge impact with the offense by having the offense sort of work the same way the defense has for years?
A: "It's a credit to Coach Shannon and to Coach Nix. Coach Nix is basically Coach Shannon on the offensive side. He's fiery, gets hoarse a lot in practice. I know he pumps the offense up."

Q: The receivers, I know Darnell missed the spring and is coming off that injury. He cut his dreads Is there a different attitude with him and Leggett?
A: "Different attitude. Both of them. They have workman's mentality. They're much better. Nuke is doing real good and Lance is doing real good. They're different people."

Q: You mentioned Jojo and DVD on defense, which freshman have shown you the most on offense in the receiving game?
A: "Well, Jermaine was doing real well in the springtime before he hurt himself. Richard Gordon looked pretty good at tight end because he's quick and fast. Leonard can really catch the ball. He's got that knack for the ball. He goes and gets it. There were several times in 7-on-7s he went and got the ball over a couple of people."

Comments

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Great post!!

Thanks again Manny. Hope all this apparent upgrade in coaching, talent and personnel translates into winning games.

Manny,

Nice info. It's always good to hear what's going on from the players mouths rather than from people observing on the sideline. It's just a different perspective...

Good eats, Navarro -- glad to see Ponder sayin all the right things...and that's some funny sheet about Phillips and his wife --

but if we have to rely on another one of his passes to beat NC THIS year, I might just shoot myself...

CANES

Great post Manny, keep it up...Any word on practices today?

Great interview Manny. Each one i read comvinces me more and more that, despite the holes and thin spots on O, this team will play like a team and will be dangerous because of that. I don't think we'll run the table, but any team that wants to get past Miami is going to have the fight of their lives on their hands.

Great Q&A on a kid that often times gets overshadowed and under appreciated. Thanks for giving us a chance to get to know him a little.

I wonder if his teammates rag on him about Utteria (Louisville receiver) dragging him into the endzone? He should use that play as motivation..just like B-Ware did after getting trucked by that WVU RB.

I wasn't at practice today. But basically the biggest news was that Shannon quelled those Powe rumors.

The team will have its first scrimmage of the fall tomorrow. Althought I won't be able to watch it, I'll be going to find out what happened tomorrow.

Manny...what's up with Tevaris Johnson? When he signed with the Canes he was supposed to be the next "great one" at CB or Safety, but you hardly hear about him?

Manny...Why did Shannon turn down Powe? Just being consistent in his policy not to accept transfers or rejects from other schools something else?

Manny...why did Shannon turn down Powe? Is he just being consistent with his no tranfer/no reject policy or something else?

Good questions 86. Tevaris I guess has been plagued a bit by shoulder injuries. He's big and physical. Might not just be ready yet to do contribute on a regular basis. He's working some at corner.

As far as Powe, we'll never really know because Shannon isn't allowed to comment on guys not on his team. Which is why I believed he responded the way he did. Powe who? Powe is still technically a recruit. Shannon isn't allowed to talk about anybody until they sign. But as my source told me before, Shannon isn't high on accepting transfers. This with Tatum might be yet another sign that's true.

Thanks for the great info, Manny.

Listen, I've got other things I've got to get to. But if you guys leave me some questions today, I'm liable to come back and answer a few in the coming days.

It never hurts for you guys to feed me questions. I'll try to remember them and find answers when I'm out there.

Good read Manny,

I hope that Walton opens up the playbook a little, dials up more blitzes. Our +/- turnover ratio has been lacking the last couple of seasons...

So if shannon cant talk about recruits, then saying he doesnt know who powe is does not necessarilly mean powe isnt coming to the u?

http://www.miamitodaynews.com/news/070809/story1.shtml Miami city manager Pete Hernandez says renovating the OB by 2009 has become an "impossibility"

and so has the hurricanes playing there in the future.

Manny,once again thanks for the updated info. As stated, it will take a team effort to get back to the winning ways.

peace

FANTASY FOOTBALL DRAFT TONIGHT!!!! 10PM

I WANT AS MANY CANES FANS AS POSSIBLE....
ALL YOU NEED IS A YAHOO ACCOUNT....

Heres the link -

http://football.fantasysports.yahoo.com/f1/register/joinprivateleague_league_select?league_id=379375&jsubmit=1

Thanks for the info Manny. It is always best to hear directly from the players. It gives real info and not interpretations and opinions.

Sad to hear about the OB. Oh well.

For those who care (I doubt there are many) I want to explain what happened with 86 last night and led to him "banning" me.

I wrote during Rudy's chat that his sunglasses were pimping.

A joke, nothing more. Im Cuban like Rudy. I probably grew up in the same neighborhood as he did. I have friends who look and probably act just like him.

He gave me a comment on what I wrote and that was that.

Not much later I noticed 86 deleted my post.

I called him out on it and got a rant back from him about being no one to question him and I have no credibility compared to him.

I wrote this back:

86, my name is irrelevant to this and you know it.

Im not a gangsta wannabe, it was only a joke and anyone with half a brain could see that.

The point is YOU are running this site, not me. YOU are choosing to delete posts YOU find to be redundant, offensive or just plain dont like.

This is a unilateral relationship where all the responsibility of ensuring the integrity of this blog falls on YOU, not me or anyone else.

Being big brother only hurts your credibility, your site and your future.

So stop acting like the nerd who doesnt want anyone to offend his new cool friends and let this site flow freely as it must to be successful long term.

Maybe, just maybe, I know what Im talking about.

After that I was banned.

Solar, Este and Miami Mike, you need to pull the reins in on your budding Big Brother.

Start controlling content and deciding which opinions or thoughts are valid and youre doomed.

As Solar so elequently states...

Peace.

pb...first the reason I banned you was because I felt you uneccessarily insulted one of our special guests for no reason last night. Second, it is unfair to Manny and all of those on this blog (or any other blog) to waste their time with this issue.

Email me at [email protected] and we can make this go away. I'm willing to work this out but not on the blog where we waste everyone's time. Simply email me and we will resolve this in a quick, easy and mature manner and have you reinstated in no time flat!

Manny...apologies for posting off topic,but I had to respond to end this thing. Now back to Miami Hurricanes football!

Special teams is 1/3 of the game. If we can improve our return game (and our punt blocking unit) and get several quick easy scores this will build confidence and momentum and make the difference in at least a few games this year. So who will the KO and Punt return stars be in 2007?

86, I have no desire to email or make nice with you. Take me as I am or don't, I could care less.

Regardless of what you do with me, you're f-ing up your blog attempting to make it all shiny and pretty for whatever reason.

Canes fans can be rude, obnoxious, repetitive a little crazy and pretty damn funny.

Trying to stop or control that is a big mistake.

You decide what you want to do.

86
ill tell u whats wastes peoples time on ur blog: constant posts the blogs stats.

wow ok back to canes. anyone have the Tv schedule for this fall I wanna know what channels i need to get up here in Ohio. How fast did van dyke test in the spring?

Last I will say about this. 86, you are hopeless.

My comment:

Rudy, on a personal note, those are some cool shades you wear on your site.

Thank you.

Posted by: pb | August 07, 2007 at 10:02 PM

His response:

thanks for the comment on the shades...i am the site's bouncer...lol

Posted by: RudyatInsideTheU.Com | August 07, 2007 at 10:19 PM

Who the hell was offended other than you?

pb...I will not use Manny's blog to continue this discussion. That would be disrespectful to him. This is a Miami Herald blog about Hurricane sports, not your personal soapbox, can't you get that?

No, you will only use it for self promotion.

You certainly wont use it in a situation where you have come off looking like an oversensitive, censoring, control freak.

Dont believe me? Ask your boys...

PB, I see your position and I see 86's somewhat sensitive stance.

Either way though, it's like a disagreement at a bar among friends. U argue about it then order another round and it's all forgotten and joked about an hour later.

Back to football...

Manny, why doesn't Shannon like transfers?

Is this common among other elite schools??

I feel like I'm reading a soap. Can you guys just kiss and make up?

Manny, I think I read that Ponder was walking on crutches. Can you elavorated on his injury? Who is going to step up for him while he is injure?

Thanks Cav. I really enjoy the interaction with you guys, and believe it or not even 86. From day one, no one has given him more props than me.

But this is bigger than an email and he knows it. He wants to prove to everyone he can and will control content to his site.

You guys give him the ok on that and you could be the next to offend, and be banned.

Im more than willing to let bygones be bygones, but man to man he knows Im right and should just let me back on, no strings attached.

Its been talked about by most long time Legion members so what is gained by an email, other than proving control?

See you all on Canespace tonight.

Or not.

http://www.miamiherald.com/606/story/197287.html herald's barry jackson: "UM officials have been negotiating exclusively with Dolphin Stadium since early June and have resolved nearly all of their differences. An unsigned version of the final contract with Dolphin Stadium will be studied by the UM administration and discussed at the Aug. 21 (BOT) meeting." august 21, 2007 OB d-day?

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/stewart_mandel/08/08/cfb.bag/index.html stewart mandel's college football hierarchy. U = KING

So that means when OU comes here to play the Canes in 2009 that they will be playing on the baseball diamond in Dolphin Stadium? Wow, thats....really not cool, almost embarrassing, IMO.

infield dirt = temporary inconvenience. the marlins lease expires after 2010.

http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=2967043 ESPN.com stumbles upon the OB/ds debate begging the question: what took you MFers so long?

bakas scoop: commitment looming : )

Great Q&A Manny. I'm expecting big things this year from our secondary, and I'd love to see Ponder on offense again for a couple plays... haha, he was our best QB last year, which is sad.

Best coverage I have seen in a long time on Hurricane Football, great job Manny! Lot of folks have your back 86!

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