The usual Tuesday routine of football practice and weekly media day got a shakeup this morning when The Rock, former Hurricane defensive lineman Dwayne Johnson donated $1 million to UM's athletic program.
The Canes locker room will now be known as the Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson Locker Room. The money will be used to enhance and update the technology around UM's athletic facilities and renovate a wide range of football practice facilities at the discretion of coach Randy Shannon. President Donna Shalala called it the largest sum of money donated to the athletic department by a former Hurricane (Alex Rodriguez of course donated over $3 million to help the baseball program a few years back, but he's not a Cane). Last year, Johnson and Dany Garcia Johnson, who was on the rowing team at Miami and is a member of the UM Board of Trustees, donated $2 million to UM's alumni association. Both said more donations could be on the way in the future. Shannon told us he was going to use some of this money for the training room and had already ordered a collection Cybex weight machines.
Johnson spoke to the team in a surprise meeting right before practice at 2 p.m. A surprised Derrick Morse told me he had no idea The Rock was at UM and said he was a big fan of his. I'm interested to see what the players say he told them after today's workouts.
As for news, Shannon didn't have a ton of new stuff to tell us, but did address several issues including receiver Sam Shields, Jermaine McKenzie and the team's two biggest unsung heroes -- defensive lineman Vegas Franklin and center John Rochford. Read Barry Jackson's column tomorrow for what he said on Franklin and Rochford. As for Shields, he basically reiterated that Shields was not suspended last week and that he was benched for not practicing hard enough.
- As for McKenzie, Shannon told reporters Tuesday not to pay attention to that "blob stuff, that internet stuff you're reading." What he meant of course was what people read on blogs or hear from parents regarding his players (somebody else apparently reported McKenzie would be back this week on another blog). As he said last week, Shannon reiterated Tuesday that McKenzie, who injured his neck in a car accident this summer, cannot participate in contact drills and that he will not put him into contact drills until he has been cleared. "He can go out there and run around, but he cannot do practice," Shannon said. "He will not get touched. I cannot afford to as person... not as... as a person to put somebody's son who does not have the muscle strength [in his neck] to go out and play football."
- Shannon said he doesn't pay attention to statistics -- especially the fact the Hurricanes pass defense has already given up 10 passing touchdowns this year compared to the nine UM gave up all of last season combined. The most important stat to Randy -- aside from wins and losses -- third down conversions. The Canes are not doing so hot there. Last week, Duke was 8 of 15 on third down and UM was 3 of 9. This season, UM's third conversion percentage is 30 percent. Opponents are doing better, converting 38 percent. In '06, the Canes converted 35 percent of their third downs and opponents were at 32 percent.
- As for the players, I spoke with linemen Jason Fox, Derrick Morse, Rochford, running back Graig Cooper, safety Randy Phillips and receiver Kayne Farquharson -- who was this week's media star after his big game. I'll have audio from all those interviews as well Shannon's press conference and the Rock announcement up later tonight on Herald.com.
** Aside from everything happening on the football team, I took a walk over to the baseball field where coach Jim Morris and his team are preparing for the start of fall ball on Thursday. This year, the Canes will have 37 days of fall practice, up from the usual 14. It's all part of the NCAA's recent move to help create more of a competitive balance for teams in the northern part of the country during the winter months. In turn, the real season will now begin three weeks later on February 22nd. Morris said the extra practices in the fall will help him determine all of his starting spots, including the ones he considers up for grabs in left field, third base and designated hitter.
I also spoke with Cape Cod baseball league MVP Dennis Raben. You can tune into all of it later tonight... which reminds me. Please leave your questions below for tonight's live Q&A from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. I'll be back later with updates after practice.
*TV: The Canes and North Carolina game at noon Saturday will be televised on ESPN2. The next home game against Georgia Tech, also scheduled for a noon start, will be on ESPN.