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45 posts from July 2009

July 31, 2009

Top 60 Countdown: No. 15, WR Thearon Collier

Time to get the Top 60 Countdown cranked up again. No. 15 on our list is another talented Canes receiver: Sophomore Thearon Collier, who was one of the team's leading pass catchers a year ago. Collier separated himself from the competition as a slot receiver last year. Will he be able to do it again this year?

Thearon Collier > What we heard about him on Signing Day '08: "Pimp" as he's known to his friends and teammates, was one of three-top notch recruits from Miami Booker T. Washington to pick the Canes. As a senior, he hauled in 33 passes for 711 yards and seven touchdowns and was selected to the All-State team as a return man after returning six punts for scores. He chose UM over Auburn, Florida and South Florida and was tabbed the 92nd best receiver in the country by Rivals, 110th by Scout and 26th by ESPN.

> What he's done as a Cane: He may not have been the most hyped receiver in UM's recruiting class, but statistically, he turned out to be the second best receiver on the team last year. He finished with 26 catches for 324 yards and two touchdowns -- including a 43-yarder against Virginia. As UM's top slot receiver, he became a go-to target on third downs over the middle of the field. He also returned eight punts for 35 yards.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: At 5-8, 185 pounds, Collier proved his first season to be not only fast and talented, but dependable. There are reports he's bulked up this offseason and "lost a step." But I'm not buying it until I see it when practice opens Aug. 8. This spring, he tested and ran a 4.58 -- a bit slower than his biggest competition Kendall Thompkins (4.43). But Collier makes up for it by being the best route runner on the team according to receivers coach Aubrey Hill. With the amount of attention Aldarius Johnson and LaRon Byrd figure to get, Collier, Thompkins and whoever UM's slot receivers end up being figure to get a lot of one-on-one opportunities. I'm expecting a big season from whoever gets the majority of those snaps.

Penn State corner could transfer to UM

Darrell Givens, one the nation's top high school cornerbacks last year, is looking for a new school. And the University of Miami is one of his finalists.

Darrell Givens Givens, rated the fourth best corner in the nation last year by ESPN, was denied admission into Penn State this week. Blue and White Illustrated, the Rivals website for Penn State, reported Thursday Givens had been attending summer school at home in order to qualify at University Park but after receiving his grades for the course learned that he did not meet the university's qualification requirements.

He was asked to attend prep school this fall, but has decided against it. In an email, his high school coach Doug Lamb confirmed UM is among the many schools being considered, but declined further comment until the 6-0, 180-pound Under Armour All-American decides on a school. Givens is expected to choose between UM, Florida, Rutgers, North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Nebraska and South Carolina on Saturday.

Givens, however, still needs to be formally released from his scholarship from Penn State.

The Hurricanes have at least two open scholarships they could use -- one that was going to go to defensive back Prince Kent (who did not qualify academically and could end up at Marshall) and one that was going to go to offensive lineman Malcolm Bunche, who is headed to prep school.

UM opens camp Saturday, Aug. 8. The Gators open on Thursday, Aug. 6.

Givens told Rivals he wants to find a school in time to start camp. A UM staffer said Givens has plenty of time to get into Miami. His transcripts, however, have yet to arrive.

Last season, Givens made 57 tackles and two interceptions and was an integral part in leading Indian Head Lackey High, Maryland to an 8-4 record. He also caught 18 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown.

FISHBEIN: MORRIS CAN BE A STARTER I caught up with Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services about an hour ago to get his take on Canes quarterback recruit Stephen Morris, who committed to UM earlier this morning. Even though Morris isn't highly rated at the moment by Rivals or Scout, Fishbein said Morris is a good pickup for Miami and believes offensive coordinator Mark Whipple can help him improve his mechanics and flourish.

"He's really improved since last year and if you watched the spring game he had against Booker T. Washington, he made all the throws he needed to make," Fishbein said. "He's a kid that can sit behind Jacory Harris and learn because there is no rush. Miami just needed a quarterback to come in and compete and be a backup and worst case scenario take some snaps. If they weren't going to take [Jeffrey] Godfrey, this is a good kid to get. He's a kid that in two years, with some good coaching, could start. He's not going to be a superstar. But you don't need that with the type of receivers they have there. He can get the ball and put it where it needs to be."

Canes land QB recruit Stephen Morris

Stephen Morris was going to visit UCF this weekend and had plans to check out Purdue. But his visit to the University of Miami Wednesday with his parents and high school coach convinced him he didn't need to be recruited anymore.

Stephen Morris Friday morning, the Miami Monsignor Pace quarterback called Hurricanes coaches and told them he wanted to be a part of their 2010 class.

"The more I kept thinking about it, the more I felt like I had found a home," Morris said. "It's just the perfect place for me athletically and academically. I don't need to go anywhere else to figure that out."

Morris (6-3, 186) said he's "good" and will likely not visit any other schools. If he sticks and signs with the Canes, he'll likely be the only quarterback UM signs in its 2010 class.

Recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt said in February UM was targeting just one in a class that would end up with between 22-23 players. Morris is the 14th commitment in the Canes 2010 class.

Morris finished his junior year completing 64 percent of his passes with 2,005 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But he didn't receive a UM offer until earlier this month. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple first checked him out in the spring, when his only offers were from FIU, Purdue and Virginia. He is rated the 27th best dual threat quarterback by Rivals.com. He is not rated by Scout.com.

But Morris feels like he'll fit perfectly into UM's new offensive system.

"The first time coach Whipple saw me he came to one of the spring scrimmages and it turned out to be one of my worst practices," Morris said. "We were out for prom the night before and we all looked like we didn't want to be there. But he said I had a lot of composure when things weren't going well. He said he was looking at all my intangibles and that's what impressed him."

Morris said when he visited UM he got a chance to take a look at the Canes playbook and broke down film with Whipple.

"This was my second time opening up their playbook, but we went a little more in depth into what they do," Morris said.

"The type of offense they run is almost the same as Pace. The combinations is similar to what we do. I talked to Jacory [Harris] a little bit about it. He's going to be a great quarterback with coach Whipple. He was saying how much he loves it. His playbook is just like the NFL. All he did was lessen it down so it's at a college level. We watched how Donovan [McNabb] and Ben [Roethlisberger] ran it and the things they did well and what they did wrong and how it relates to Miami. All I can say is I'm excited. You definitely feel like this offense will get you ready for the NFL."

July 29, 2009

Has UM found its next QB recruit?

If there is one position that usually ends up being resolved early in the world of recruiting, it's quarterback. For the past few years, every top school in the country has usually settled on who its future QB is going to be long before they've even thrown a pass as a high school senior. 

Stephen Morris The Hurricanes appear close to pulling that off again this year with Monsignor Pace quarterback Stephen Morris. The 6-3, 184-pounder drove down to UM Wednesday with his parents and was genuinely surprised by what he encountered. He said he had a 40-minute meeting with coach Randy Shannon and checked out the Canes playbook with new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who finally mailed him his scholarship offer this week. 

"They are in the lead right now," said Morris, who completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,005 yards and 19 touchdowns and led Pace to the state semifinals last year as a junior.

"It's a great school. I didn't think it was like that. Everyone is so family oriented. Coach Shannon was talking to my mom about how he went to Norland and she went to [Hialeah-Miami Lakes] and how their schools were rivals. I talked to Jacory [Harris] for awhile and Demarcus Van Dyke -- who is a real funny dude. It's such a small school. I thought it would be a bigger school. I didn't think it would be like that. There's such great academic support too. It opened my eyes."

Morris would like to choose a school before high school football practice opens Monday, Aug. 10 and plans on deciding in "a week or two." He said he will visit UCF this Friday and still has plans to visit Purdue during the season even after he commits. He started the spring with three offers (FIU, Purdue and Central Michigan) and now has 11 total. Virginia is his other finalist.

Originally, Michigan was Morris' dream school. His father, a high school wrestler and football player, grew up in Ann Arbor. But the Wolverines, who had been courting him since he was a junior, spurned their relationship with Morris.

Now, it could be just the Gators who stand in UM's way. This past weekend, Morris participated in the Friday Night Lights camps in Gainesville and impressed Gators coaches. He said quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler told him there's a chance UF could send him an offer come Sept. 1.

"I like the Gators," Morris said. "I know coach [Loeffler] from his days up at Michigan when I went up there in my eighth grade year."

When asked if the Gators would trump Miami if they offered, Morris said: "I don't know. The way Miami welcomed me today, it was a good feeling. Florida is a great school too. But I'd have to take a visit and feel the same way I felt about Miami."

WHO EARNS ALL-ACC HONORS AT THE END OF THE YEAR? The Miami Hurricanes accomplished something Wednesday they weren't able to do last year. They put somebody on the All-ACC First Team. Two players, actually. Kicker Matt Bosher and left tackle Jason Fox earned the honors.

But my question is this: Which Canes will be representing The U when the season is over? Last year, nobody did. Bosher, who earned second team honors, was the only Hurricane to find his name among the season-ending honors.

Of course, being worthy and being selected are two totally different concepts. Just a little history for you -- making all-ACC isn't easy, at least for the Canes. Only eight players have ever earned first team honors: safety Kenny Phillips (2007), tight end Greg Olsen ('06), defensive end Calais Campbell ('06), cornerback Kelly Jennings ('05), running back Tyrone Moss ('05), offensive tackle Eric Winston ('05), defensive back Antrel Rolle ('04) and Devin Hester ('05, '04).

I think the Canes end up with four this year: Bosher, Fox, receiver LaRon Byrd and linebacker Sean Spence.

UF CAMP BOOT HELPED CANES Unless you've been hiding under a rock since Saturday, you know all about what happened to 2010 Hurricanes recruit Tavadis Glenn at the aforementioned Friday Night Lights Camp this past weekend. 

The 6-6, 280-pound future Canes offensive lineman got booted for flashing The []_[] during the camp. I caught up with his high school coach, Jacksonville Raines' Deran Wiley tonight and he told me Glenn is ready to move on. 

"What really happened was one of the kids he was going up against that was a UF recruit started talking a little trash. Tavadis just fired back like any other kid having fun and competing would," Wiley said. "If anything, I think it cleared up however he felt about Florida. Louis [Nix] too."

Wiley said Florida coaches called an apologized about the incident earlier this week. 

July 28, 2009

Top 60 Countdown: No. 16, DE Eric Moncur

As we move inside the Sweet 16 of our Top 60 countdown of the best players at the University of Miami, we take a look at the Canes' senior citizen -- defensive end Eric Moncur. Few players have had to endure as much as Moncur has in the past 12 months. But if he can bounce back, he should be a great veteran influence on a UM defense that sorely needs one.

Eric Moncur > What we heard about him on Signing Day '03: Crazy as it is to hear, Moncur was actually part of the Canes 2003 Signing Class. That group included Jon Beason, Devin Hester, Kyle Wright, Greg Olsen, Darnell Jenkins, Tavares Gooden and the late Bryan Pata. What's even crazier is there's only one guy still at UM who came in from the class after him -- defensive tackle Joe Joseph. Back in '03 when Moncur was a senior at Carol City, most believed he was the best defensive end in the state. He made 90 tackles and 14 sacks his final season. That followed up a junior year that featured 92 tackles and 20 sacks. He picked UM over Florida, Ohio State, Florida State and Georgia.

> What he's done as a Cane: Grandpa -- as his teammates now refer to him -- has played in 36 games in his career and has 10 sacks to go with 105 career tackles. But when you look at Moncur's career, it has been full of either highs or lows. It took him an extra semester to get into UM in 2003, and a after redshirt year in 2004, he was named to the Freshman All-ACC team in 2005. In 2006, he made three starts before a knee injury sidelined him for two games. When he came back, he was a backup to Baraka Atkins the rest of the year. In 2007, he started eight games and tied for second on the team with six sacks including a big play on Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis in the win over the Blue Devils. Last year, he never recovered from an early season injury and endured the death of his mother, playing in just four games. Now, he's coming back for what is really his seventh year (6th in terms of eligibility) at Miami, hoping to contribute any way he can.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: The 6-2, 250-pound senior talked at CanesFest about how blessed he feels to be given another chance. In a lot of ways, the Hurricanes are blessed to have Moncur back. With so many young talented players on the defensive line, is a better teacher and teammate for guys like Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, Olivier Vernon, Andrew Smith, Allen Bailey and Marcus Forston. Moncur said this might be the most scary defensive line he has ever played on. If he can stay healthy and be one of the many weapons who creates pressure on opposing quarterbacks, he'll make it even scarier.

As we move inside the Top 15, I figured it would be good to remind you who has already made an appearance and where.

No. 16: DE Eric Moncur
No. 17: WR Travis Benjamin
No. 18: RB Javarris James
No. 19: TE Dedrick Epps
No. 20: CB Brandon Harris
No. 21: C A.J. Trump
No. 22: DE Adewale Ojomo
No. 23: DT Joe Joseph
No. 24: LB Darryl Sharpton
No. 25: RB Mike James
No. 26: CB Demarcus Van Dyke
No. 27: DB Ryan Hill
No. 28: CB Brandon McGee
No. 29: LB Ramon Buchanon
No. 30: CB Sam Shields
No. 31: S Jojo Nicolas
No. 32: OL Joel Figueroa
No. 33: WR Kendall Thompkins
No. 34: LB Jordan Futch
No. 35: WR Tommy Streeter
No. 36: DT Micanor Regis
No. 37: WR Leonard Hankerson
No. 38: CB Chavez Grant
No. 39: LB Arthur Brown
No. 40: S Ray Ray Armstrong
No. 41: WR Davon Johnson
No. 42: DE Steven Wesley
No. 43: OT Matt Pipho
No. 44: RB Lee Chambers
No. 45: DE Olivier Vernon
No. 46: DE Andrew Smith
No. 47: QB Taylor Cook
No. 48: RB Damien Berry
No. 49: OL Harland Gunn
No. 50: OL Brandon Washington
No. 51: FB Patrick Hill
No. 52: DL Jeremy Lewis
No. 53: OL Ben Jones
No. 54: OL Jermaine Johnson
No. 55: TE Richard Gordon
No. 56: DT Josh Holmes
No. 57: DE Gavin Hardin
No. 58: DB Jamal Reid
No. 59: OL Tyler Horn
No. 60: LB C.J. Holton

Top 60 Countdown: No. 17, WR Travis Benjamin

We've given you the final 43 in our countdown of the Top 60 players at the University of Miami. Now, as we inch closer to the start of camp a week from this Saturday, it's time to get to the elite guys, the game breakers, the bad boys. We start with No. 17 on our list: Sophomore receiver Travis Benjamin. Can The Blur rekindle the spark that made him so special at the start of last season? Or will he fade behind some of the emerging talents at receiver?

Travis Benjamin > What we heard about him on Signing Day '08: As an upperclassmen at Glades Central, Benjamin helped the Raiders win a state title as a junior and finish 11-2 as a senior. He caught a combined 63 passes for 1,149 yards and 15 touchdowns his final two years. The cousin of former Canes safety Alphonso Marshall, he chose the Canes over USF, Florida, LSU and Auburn. Rivals.com tabbed him the 42nd best receiver in the country. Scout.com had him 104th at his position. ESPN rated him the highest -- 21st at his position and 144th overall. When he arrived at UM, he was 5-10, 155 pounds.

> What he's done as a Cane: Benjamin made the biggest splash of any freshmen last season, using his speed (4.23 in the 40) to catch the attention of coach Randy Shannon in fall practice. He finished the season leading the team in punt return yards and kick return yards, finished second in all-purpose yards (968) and touchdowns (4). He started five games at receiver and finished fifth on the team with 18 catches for 293 yards and three touchdowns. But an ankle injury midseason slowed his progress and he missed the spring game with a knee injury.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: There's no doubt Benjamin has special playmaking abilities. Last year's FSU game is the only one you need to watch to see why. He hauled in a 51-yard pass, scored on a 18-yard reverse and had a career-long 57-yard return on a kickoff. The question is will we see this again from Benjamin? Since he tweaked his ankle, he wasn't the same player. This spring, as a few other newcomers thrived -- Kendall Thompkins and Tommy Streeter -- Benjamin disappeared even further down the receiver depth chart. The question is now where does he fit in? Chances are Aldarius Johnson and LaRon Byrd are No. 1 and 2 on the list. After that, Benjamin, Thearon Collier, Streeter, Thompkins and Leonard Hankerson are probably competing for the next few spots. Odds are Benjamin will make it if he's fully healthy. And if he doesn't play a lot of receiver, he will at the very least remain in the mix on kickoff and punt returns. His speed is too valuable a weapon for Miami coaches not to use.

July 27, 2009

Top 60 Countdown: No. 31, S Jojo Nicolas

As we move ahead in our countdown of the Top 60 players at UM, we wrap up the second half of our list by taking a look at No. 31: Safety Jojo Nicolas. The junior-to-be has been overshadowed of late by the arrival and return of other players at his position. But will Nicolas just get passed up on the depth chart or will he give new defensive coordinator John Lovett a reason to let him keep the lead role at a position he started at eight times last year?

Jojo Nicolas started eight games last season, but will he get passed up by Vaughn Telemaque, Randy Phillips and Ray Ray Armstrong? > What we heard about him on Signing Day '07: Nicolas didn't come to UM with a lot of hype even though he was a tremendous playmaker in high school. At Homestead High, he caught 32 passes for 400 yards and six touchdowns and had four forced fumbles and an interceptions as a safety. But Rivals and Scout both rated him a three-star recruit, rating him the nation's 30th best and 48th best safety respectively. He chose the Canes over Rutgers and basketball offers from FAU, Tulsa and UTEP.

> What he's done as a Cane: After making his first career interception in his first game against Marshall, Nicolas spent most of his freshman season playing on special teams. He played in 11 games and returned for his sophomore season hoping to compete for playing time at safety. He started eight games last year, played in 11 and recorded 31 tackles -- including seven against Georgia Tech. The 6-1, 197-pounder still hasn't had another interception since his first game (then again how many Canes did last year?).

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: With all the excitement over the return of Randy Phillips and Vaughn Telemaque and incoming freshman Ray Ray Armstrong, Nicolas has become sort of the forgotten man at safety. In case you missed it, he did start in eight games last year. Defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff told me last March Nicolas has tremendous instincts, but is a quiet leader. Whether he's loud or not, I still expect Nicolas to be in the rotation in the secondary and a contributor on special teams. He's too athletically gifted -- 4.49 in the 40, 38 1/2 inch vertical -- to not get on the field somehow and help.

ACC media picks UM fourth in Coastal

I wasn't there to cast a vote, but the 87 reporters in Greensboro for the ACC Kickoff have spoken. And they expect the Hurricanes to finish right where they did last year -- fourth in the Coastal Division.

Greg Boone Virginia Tech, winner of three ACC championships in its first five seasons of membership, was the overwhelming pick to claim a fourth in voting conducted by media Sunday. 

The Hokies, who have won two of the first four ACC championship games, has been picked to defeat Atlantic Division favorite Florida State. The Hokies received 78 first-place votes and 512 points in divisional balloting. Georgia Tech claimed the other nine first-place votes and 415 points for second. North Carolina (350) and Miami (282) followed the top two and placed ahead of Virginia (148) and Duke (120).

Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer, who carved up the Canes last season, was chosen as the Preseason Player of the Year with 39 votes. Clemson's C.J. Spiller (28 votes) was second, followed by N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson (16 votes).

We'll find out soon which Canes end up on the preseason all-ACC team. But my money is on three Canes getting either first or second team honors -- kicker Matt Bosher, left tackle Jason Fox and linebacker Sean Spence.

Anybody miffed the Canes aren't getting any love?

Top 60 Countdown: No. 32, OL Joel Figueroa

As we move ahead in our countdown of the Top 60 players at Miami, we take a look at another one of the few players who have overachieved their lately with the Canes. That would be No. 32 on our list: Offensive lineman Joel Figueroa. He wasn't highly touted coming in. But he could prove to be one of the most valuable offensive lineman in the system over the next two years -- including possibly at a new position.

Joel Figueroa could be one of UM's biggest keys to the season > What we heard about him on Signing Day '06: When Fig was playing at North Miami High, there weren't many scouts who were high on him. Rivals and Scout.com both had him tabbed as a two-star recruit. Even the UM media guide said "an athletic lineman who has good strength but needs to work on his technique." Figueroa made the Dade-Broward All-Star Game but was just an All-Dade Third Team selection.

> What he's done as a Cane: After being redshirted in 2006, Figueroa worked his way into games faster than players all rated higher than he was -- Ian Symonnette, Chris Barney, AJ Trump and Matt Pipho. As a redshirt freshman in 2007, he played in seven games and saw an increased role toward the end of the season at left guard. Last year, took another step forward, starting the first four games of the season before playing in the rotation at guard the rest of the way. This spring, he injured his right shoulder. But he's expected to be healthy to start fall camp.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland loves what the 6-5, 344-pound junior brings to the table -- a mean streak and mentality that he has to constantly prove himself. Although Fig missed the spring, opening the door for Harland Gunn, Stoutland made it sound like when Fig got back the starting right guard job was going to be his. "I can’t wait to get back to coaching Fig again. I believe he’s going to be a force," Stoutland said back in March. "I think the best thing to happen to Harland was Fig not playing. Now we’ve established some depth. But Fig is really going to have to drop in a bucket [for him not to start]. I have a lot of confidence in that guy. I think all of our players do. Still, our guards have always rotated. So, Harland Gunn is going to play." 

Gunn could end up playing even more if Figueroa ends up giving tackle a try. Two staffers I spoke to last week said the idea has been floated around about having Figueroa compete with Matt Pipho at right tackle. According to those staffers, coaches simply don't want to break up the left side of the line that features Jason Fox and Orlando Franklin. If Fig can handle it, he might be able to ease the concern of a lot of Canes fans, who know the right tackle position is one of the biggest question marks on the team.

July 26, 2009

Top 60 Countdown: No. 33, WR Kendall Thompkins

As we move along further down our list of the Top 60 players at Miami, we take a look at another talented receiver at No. 33: Redshirt freshman Kendall Thompkins. The 5-10, 170-pound speedster made quite an impression this spring and is hoping to be on the Canes "short bus" before the season begins.

Kendal Thompkins > What we heard about him on Signing Day '08: After UM nabbed Aldarius Johnson and Tommy Streeter at Miami Northwestern as two of its top receiving targets, they happened to stumble upon Thompkins (who had just one offer from FIU) mid-season. The Canes are certainly happy they did. Thompkins was every bit as important to Northwestern's run to back-to-back state titles as any player on the team. The slot receiver made 46 catches for 839 yards and a team-leading 14 for scores as a senior. Rivals, Scout and ESPN.com didn't even have him ranked among the nation's top recruits until the end of the season. He ended up choosing the Canes, despite after taking a late trip to Nebraska.

> What he's done as a Cane: Thompkins made two catches for six yards in UM's first two games then missed the rest of the year with a wrist injury and earned a redshirt. This spring, however, he caught the attention of plenty during practice, making a number of big catches from the slot receiver position. He caught two passes for 45 yards -- including a 34-yarder from Taylor Cook in the spring game. Thompkins also shined during testing with strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and the second-fastest short shuttle time (4.04) on the team.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: It didn't take long to figure out who impressed receivers coach Aubrey Hill most this past spring. The first two names out of his mouth were Streeter and Thompkins. "Without a doubt he brings versatility because he can play slot and the outside receiver," Hill said in March of Thompkins. "He's become a valuable player already. He's very elusive. He can make the first guy miss. He can catch the passes." The Hurricanes have several talented players they can play in the slot -- Thearon Collier, Davon Johnson, even Graig Cooper if new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple wants to. But what separates Thompkins from most is his natural ability to find open spaces underneath and his tremendous route running. With as much attention as Johnson and LaRon Byrd will get on the outside, I believe its Collier and Thompkins who could ultimately lead the team in catches this season. It's just a matter of who emerges as that primary, No. 1 guy in fall camp. Right now, you'd have to give Collier (26 catches for 324 yards) a slight edge because of experience.

July 25, 2009

Observations from CanesFest

Even if you don't bleed green and orange, Saturday's CanesFest event at Land Shark Stadium had to be one of the most fan friendly events I have ever covered.

Canesfest Not once in the 14 years I've been working for The Miami Herald have I ever seen fans not only have two hours worth of access to players and coaches, but to be able to interact (take pictures, dunk players, even get some smooches) with them like family and friends. Hats off to athletic director Kirby Hocutt and coach Randy Shannon for taking a giant leap forward from the way these events used to be run.

UM has certainly surprised me in the past month with their new approach of reaching out to the community. From having quarterback Jacory Harris and other players call season ticket holders to the local football camps players have been attending throughout South Florida, the Hurricanes have done more over the last 30 days to say thanks to their community than I've ever seen. All I have to say is: It's about time.

Shannon said Saturday's event and many others recently have been in his vision since he took over. "As a coach you want to change certain things," Shannon said. "The fans have to be able to touch them. You can't just hie them behind a table and have them sign autographs. Mingle with them, get to know the players and have fun with them. That's what it's about."

If only it was the same way for reporters during the season...

Here are some more observations and interesting notes from CanesFest

RAY RAY READY TO SHINE? He may have the body (6-4, 218 pounds) and the highlight reel to suggest he's going to play a lot like the late great Sean Taylor, but fans ought to give Ray Ray Armstrong a chance to adjust to college before expecting him to play like a first round draft pick. After all, shouldn't U have all learned something from the struggles of guys like Allen Bailey and Arthur Brown?

After speaking with senior cornerback Chavez Grant, I got the notion Armstrong has already been told what what he has to work on this fall. "He's definitely big and strong," Grant said. "But everyday in practice we're working with him, trying to get his feet right and work with his hips. He's not bad. But at this level you have to be a lot quicker, a lot faster at what you do... at this level you get beat by a step and it's over."

WHO ARE THE FILM JUNKIES? One of the biggest questions I get regularly from you is about how much time players spend in the off season studying film and trying to get better. Last week, cornerback Sam Shields estimated he did it about twice a week. Receiver LaRon Byrd said he and fellow receiver Aldarius Johnson are in there almost every day. The more and more I pop the question, I keep getting the sense it's the younger guys who are more passionate.

Saturday, cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke said he and sophomore Brandon Harris wake up early everyday before class to watch film. Why early? Because that's when the NFL guys are usually around to break it down with them. "I've been watching it lately with Phillip Buchanon and Antrel Rolle. Those guys were All-Americans," Van Dyke said. "They tell me little things about how guys break and move across the line. I try to pick their brains a little and things like that."

Consider safety Vaughn Telemaque another film junky. "I usually catch LaRon when I'm leaving the room," Telemaque said. "I'm in there five out of the seven days. If the weekends weren't closed, I'd be in there seven out of seven."

For what it's worth, Armstrong told me he's been breaking down a ton of film with defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff. Tight end Jimmy Graham said he's been studying tape daily of former Canes greats Kellen Winslow, Bubba Franks and Greg Olsen. Freshman defensive end Olivier Vernon said he goes in three to four days a week and studies up on older players like Eric Moncur.

IS JACORY'S SHOULDER OK? As if the worry about his brittle 6-4, 190-pound body breaking down after one vicious ACC hit isn't enough to drive him crazy, Jacory Harris has had the question of his injured shoulder thrown at him about 1,000 times since the spring. I made it 1,001 Saturday. "The pain in the shoulder went away mid spring," Harris promises. "My arm used to die on me. But it's ok now. My arm is way stronger. If you are down the field, I'm going to throw it and it's going to get there."

I asked Jascory -- by the way that's a terrible nickname -- what the biggest request from fans has been throughout his interactions with them in the past month. His response: "A national championship," Harris said. "The fans want us to win and that's what we have to do and need to do. I'm willing to take the throne and be the leader."

"IN RANDY THEY TRUST" No. I'm not talking about Randy Shannon. I'm talking about Randy Phillips. The fifth year senior is THE GUY nearly every player on defense says they go to when they have a problem. Sam Shields said last week Phillips is showing him what to do at corner. Ray Ray Armstrong said Phillips is helping him adjust. Here's a question: What happens when Randy leaves Miami after this season?

IS ARTHUR BROWN GROWING UP? One of the more interesting comments to come out of Colin McCarthy's mouth Saturday was about the guy who will learning behind him at middle linebacker. McCarthy said AB, once a tentative young man, is no longer keeping quiet. "Now, he isn't afraid to ask questions, not afraid to get advice. Coming in as a freshman, he didn't want to say much, he was low key. But now, he's talking a lot more, being more of a leader."

BRYCE BROWN SIGHTING: I didn't notice it until near the end of the day, but AB's little brother -- yeah the guy who committed to UM before going to Tennessee -- was one of the fans in attendance Saturday. He showed up with his girlfriend wearing his Tennessee shorts and a smile to support his big brother. Our Barry Jackson interviewed him, but I passed (no reason to talk to a Vol). My question is this: How does a guy who dissed the Canes not draw the wrath of Canes faithful? Yet, 2010 recruit Tavadis Glenn get kicked out of Friday Night Lights in Gainesville for throwing up a U during Gators camp? I guess I'll just chalk up to the strange world of College Football.

SOUND CHECK... Again, a reminder. If you would like to listen in to the interviews I recorded today, check out our UM audio page. There are tons of stuff there to listen to.

Kosar, Reed helping Graham's transition to TE

In his first four seasons at UM, Jimmy Graham was being taught how to improve his jumper, his rebounding skills and how to take a charge. The last four months, however, have been a crash course in football.

Jimmy Graham used to do battle with guys like Tyler Hansbrough. Now, his battles are with learning to play tight end. Saturday at Land Shark Stadium, I caught up with the former shot swatter at Canesfest and found out how his transition from basketball to football has been going. And it was interesting to hear who the 6-8, 260-pound tight end hopeful has been learning the most from.

Here is my interview with Graham -- one of more than 15 from  today with some of the Canes' newest players. If you would like to hear them, check out our Canes audio page. If not, check back this week and in the Sunday paper for plenty of news and notes.

Q: What's been the toughest part about making the switch from hoops?
JG: "It's just very different. There's no more hardwood and no more air conditioning. It's been a hot summer. Just getting used to the heat has been one of the hardest things."

Q: What were the first seven-on-seven drills like? I'm sure you were using muscles you hadn't before.
JG: "It was fun. I remember the first week I was sore and my hips were sore. I was wondering why they hurt so much. I love the physicality of it. I've enjoyed it and being able to use my body and my hands. I'm excited. I really am."

Q: What do you feel is the biggest adjustment footballwise? Is it catching the ball?
JG: "I don't think its the catching. I know I can catch the ball. It's just getting used to hit after I catch it. And the playbook. We have a great offensive coordinator."

Q: Physically, what would they like you to do to get ready for this season? Anything?
JG: "I'm 260 right now and that's as big as I want to get. And they want me to keep my vertical."

Q: Why did you decide to give this a shot when you could have been playing overseas?
JG: "I want to win a ring. That's why I came back to college. I had some opportunities and some training camps in the NFL who wanted me to come in. But I've been in college for four years and I haven't won a ring. That's what I want to do."

Q: Who has helped you make the transition? Any former Canes teaching you?
JG: "One of the biggest helpers I've had is Bernie Kosar. I talk to him quite a bit. He's really helped me out a lot, teaching me little things. He's really been teaching me the game. He always tells me I have great hands. He talks about keeping the beginning of your route the same so people can't predict that. Also, how quickly to come out of a break and how quickly the ball is going to be on you and just getting used to that. I've also had a little help from Ed Reed, teaching me how to read defenses. You have to be able to read safeties and linebackers. It's a lot more than five people. I'm just getting used to that."

Q: What about film? Who are you studying?
JG: "I've watched more films in the tight ends in the last couple months than ever before. Kellen Winslow. I've been watching a lot on Greg Olsen. Bubba Franks. Bubba was the man. The good thing is there is so much film to watch. It's not like I have to search for it. It's easy to find."

Q: What are your goals? Do you want to start?
JG: "I just want to play. Football was my first love and just the opportunity to play it at the highest level is what I'm really excited for. I just want to get in the game and catch the ball."

Q: How has Dedrick Epps helped you out?
JG: "Dedrick's been doing all his rehab and stuff and he's been great. He's done well in 7-on-7 and I can't wait to have an opportunity to play beside him."

Q: What's it like to play football at the U versus basketball? This place today is insane.
JG: "Football is a little different. These fans are a little different. I love it. I wish basketball had fans like this."

Top 60 Countdown: No. 34, Jordan Futch

New day, new player to focus on in our countdown of the Top 60 Canes. Today, we take a look at No. 34 on our list, sophomore linebacker Jordan Futch. The former Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna standout followed the footsteps of Jon Beason and Glenn Cook to The U. But who will he end up being more like: Beason who is playing for the Carolina Panthers, or Cook who is playing for the Chicago Cubs Rookie League in Arizona?

Jordan Futch > What we heard about him on Signing Day '08: Futch was one of the very first players UM received a commitment from in it's 2008 class, someone who tried and help sell The U most of his senior year. Although his senior season was a bit rocky (he had an altercation with his coach), Futch still came to UM with plenty of praise. He was ranked the 67th best player overall regardless of position by Rivals.com, the nation's 15h best strongside linebacker by Scout.com and the 77th best player overall by ESPN. He picked the Canes over Auburn, West Virginia, Georgia and Louisville.

> What he's done as a Cane: Futch got five games into his freshman season before a head injury forced him out the rest of the season. He finished with three tackles after playing mostly on special teams. This spring, he worked at both outside linebackers positions and ran with the first team during the spring game alongside Darryl Sharpton and Sean Spence.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: The first thing you notice about the 6-2, 215-pound Futch is his size, personality and smarts. Testing-wise, his spring numbers didn't compare well to fellow sophomore linebackers Ramon Buchanon (No. 28 on our list) or Sean Spence. But what Futch lacks physically, he makes up for with instinct and the ability to be in the right places. This season, all Hurricanes coaches are hoping for is for Futch to mature more and put himself in position next year to replace seniors like Sharpton and Colin McCarthy in the starting lineup. If he can rack up 25-30 tackles in spot situations, then his sophomore season should be considered a success.

July 24, 2009

Top 60 Countdown: No. 35, WR Tommy Streeter

We'll move back to the 30s in our countdown of the Top 60 players at The U. Although No. 35 on our list still hasn't played in his first game as a Cane, expect redshirt freshman receiver Tommy Streeter to start doing some special things when he does.

Tommy Streeter > What we heard about him on Signing Day '08: Streeter didn't get as much love as Miami Northwestern High teammate Aldarius Johnson for most of his high school career. But he never let it bother him. In the Bulls' biggest game of the season -- a nationally televised game against Southlake Carroll in Texas -- Streeter showed the country what his 6-5, 202-pound frame and long, speedy strides could do. He caught three touchdowns --including a 75-yarder -- and finished his senior year with 36 catches for 676 yards and 11 touchdowns. That followed a junior season in which he caught 57 passes for 804 yards and 14 touchdowns. The PrepStar All-American was ranked 88th overall regardless of position by Rivals and 153rd by Scout.com. He chose Miami over Oregon, USF, South Carolina and Boston College.

> What he's done as a Cane: Streeter didn't get to play last season after suffering a wrist injury. But in the spring, he made his presence felt. He ran the fourth fastest 40-time in the spring (4.40) behind Sam Shields (4.20), Brandon McGee (4.23) and Graig Cooper (4.37) and hauled in a countless amount of long passes for touchdowns during practice.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: Streeter obviously needs to put on some more weight down the road. But he has the size, speed and long arms to be very, very special. In addition to his talents, he also has the advantage of having already built several seasons worth of chemistry with starting quarterback Jacory Harris. That's something guys like Leonard Hankerson and LaRon Byrd don't have yet. While I don't expect Streeter to put up silly numbers at a position so loaded with talent, we should still expect him to find his way on the field and underneath a few of Harris' long bombs this season. Canes fans just ought to be ready to take the cue from Northwestern fansm who used to shout "wooooooooooooooooosh!" each time Harris and Streeter hooked up on big plays.

Top 60 Countdown: No. 18, RB Javarris James

As we move back inside the top 20 of our Top 60 countdown (I figured we could take a break from the 30s), we take a look at a player who came to UM with a lot of promise, but simply hasn't lived up to them because of injuries. That would be No. 18 on our list: Running back Javarris James. Baby J, now a senior, has one more shot to prove to the NFL he has star potential. But will he be able to prove it in a crowded backfield?And, more importantly, will he be able to stay healthy?

Javarris James ran for 802 yards as a freshman, but has been plagued by injuries as a sophomore and junior. > What we heard about him on Signing Day '05: When Baby J was a senior at Immokalee there wasn't a newspaper, recruiting website or college football team that didn't have high expectations for him once he got to college. As the cousin of former two-time NFL rushing champion Edgerrin James, Baby J tore up high school opponents to the tune of 1,658 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior before an injury his senior year caused him to miss five games. Rivals.com had Javarris ranked 13th at his position nationally, Scout.com had him 35th and ESPN had him 21st. When UM nabbed him over USC, Florida, USF, Nebraska and Oklahoma it looked like UM had found its next star in the backfield.

> What he's done as a Cane: As a freshman, it looked like Baby J was headed for greatness. He was named a Rivals.com second-team Freshman All-American after carrying the ball 175 times for 802 yards, the second most ever by a Miami true freshman. His career since has been far less full of sparkle. Injuries and the emergence of Graig Cooper slowed him down as a sophomore. Last season, he missed four games and started just once, finishing with 286 yards on 68 carries to go with four touchdowns. This spring, he was out again with an injured wrist.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: Nov. 3, 2007. Why is that date important? No, it is not because Timbaland and One Republic had the No. 1 song in the country (Apologize). It's the last time (and only time since his freshman year) James has managed to run for more than 100 yards in a game. The likelihood of it happening again before his UM career is over is doubtful at best. With Cooper healthy and freshman Mike James making a push for playing time, Baby J has a long way to go before proving he can be the man again. His speed (4.41) in the 40 (not far off from Cooper's 4.37) has improved. And his 315-pound bench (top among RBs) and 545-pound squat (third overall on the team behind Harland Gunn and Allan Bailey) show that physically he might be ready to break out. But until he proves he's fully healthy -- that he can take a lick and keep on ticking -- he'll just be among the many other highly touted recruits who came to UM and were not able to play up to their full potential.

July 23, 2009

Top 60 Countdown: No. 36, DT Micanor Regis

As we inch closer to the start of fall camp (Aug. 8) we inch closer toward the top of our countdown of the Top 60 players at UM. Now, we'll zero in on No. 36 on our list: Defensive tackle Micanor Regis. The big, talented sophomore surprised some last year with his early contributions. Will he take another step forward and help a UM run defense that took a huge step back in 2008? The Canes are hoping so.

Micanor Regis > What we heard about him on Signing Day '08: One of the starts for the nation's sixth-ranked high school football team according to USA Today, Regis was tabbed the 29th best defensive tackle in the country by Rivals.com, 31st by Scout.com and 28th by ESPN. At 6-2, 321 pounds, he plugged the hole for Pahokee, racking up 101 tackles (31 for loss) and five sacks as a senior. He built an early bond with defensive line coach Clint Hurtt and picked the Canes over Florida State, South Carolina and Tennessee.

> What he's done as a Cane: Micanor didn't get as much attention as fellow freshman defensive tackle Marcus Forston, but got nearly as much playing experience as the former Miami Northwestern star. Regis played in 10 games for the Canes and finished with 16 tackles. This spring, he graded out as one of the Canes' best, benching 390 pounds (fourth among defensive tackles, but fifth on the team) and lifting 330 pounds on the power clean (second only among DTs to Allen Bailey).

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: The first thing Clint Hurtt told me last spring right after the Canes had signed Forston was not to forget about Regis. The sophomore may not start -- Allen Bailey, Forston or Joe Joseph -- probably will. But he is just as important to UM's success this season stopping the run as those three are. The Canes dropped from 40th against the run in 2007 to 75th giving up an average of 151 yards a game last season. UM coaches have pointed to the depth and talent at the tackle position. If Regis is as good as advertised, there is no reason he won't be a big part of what should be an improvement by UM at stopping the run -- at least up front.

Top 60 Countdown: No. 37, WR Leonard Hankerson

As we move ahead in our countdown of the Top 60 players at The U, we take a look at the 37th-ranked player on our list: Receiver Leonard Hankerson. The junior has always had the physical tools to succeed. But it's hanging onto the ball that has plagued him. Will things change in 2009? Or, will Hankerson get passed up by the talented young, up-and-coming players behind him?

Leonard Hankerson > What we heard about him on Signing Day '07: Hankerson was chosen as Broward's Male Athlete of the Year for Class 6A-4A by our paper after starring on the football field, track and basketball court. Hankerson led St. Thomas Aquinas to three straight state title games, catching 39 passes for 803 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior. He was rated the 43rd best receiver in the country by Rivals.com, 28th by Scout.com and chose the Canes over Ohio State, Michigan and Georgia.

> What he's done as a Cane: The transition from high school star to college star hasn't panned out the way Hankerson has hoped. In his first two seasons, he's caught a combined 17 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns. But it's his drops that stand out more than his catches. At 6-3, 215-pounds most expected Hankerson to be able to hold onto more passes -- considering its what his strength was coming out of high school. But that just hasn't been the case. Physically, he has gifts. He ran a 4.48 40 this past spring -- fourth fastest among receivers. His vertical leap of 37 inches is tops among receivers as is his 295-pound bench press.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: Getting a chance to watch practice this spring confirmed what we saw on Saturdays from Hankerson. Game day isn't the only day he has trouble hanging onto the ball. This offseason, however, No. 85 has been spending a lot of time with another No. 85 -- former Dolphins receiver Mark Duper -- to try and put an end to the drops. UM coaches say they have been encouraged by his improvement. But the bottomline is Hankerson has to find a remedy if his career is going to move forward. Receiver is without question UM's deepest and most talented position. With sophomores LaRon Byrd and Aldarius Johnson expected to be entrenched in starting roles, Hankerson will most likely get most of his catches off the bench. But if others emerge -- like redshirt freshman Tommy Streeter -- he could find himself fourth on the depth chart among the guys lining up on the outside. If that's the case, Hankerson might not end up on the Canes' short receiver rotation at all.

July 22, 2009

Byrd loaded with talent -- and swagger

All the great Canes had it. It was part of their DNA. People have tried to use other words for it in the past. But when it comes to green and orange and that U, it should only be called what it is: Swagger.

Laron ByrdSophomore receiver LaRon Byrd is one of those new Canes who are covered in it. Before you judge or jump to conclusions, understand what swagger means. It isn't being cocky. It isn't being boastful. It isn't running underneath the stadium and firing imaginary guns like Randal Hill at the Cotton Bowl. It's confidence. The kind you are not afraid to show because you can back it up. Byrd -- a chiseled 6-4, 218 pounds -- is all of that. He's not scared. He believes what he says and -- thankfully for us in the media -- isn't afraid to say what he believes.

But it's not Kayne Farquharson swagger. It's Michael Irvin swagger. The kind that if you listen to him talk, you believe he can back it up.

Say what you want about the lack of talent, the terrible coaching and recruiting that has led to Canes mediocrity of late. Swagger is a big part of what you cheered for at the Orange Bowl when times weren't just good, but great. And it's what guys like Devin Hester and Antrel Rolle (who spend their summers working out at the U and mentoring young Canes) have said has been missing from Miami's mental makeup. But you hear it in Byrd. You hear it in Jacory Harris and Sean Spence. It's like a flicker of Canes hope, a spark maybe (think Transformers), that something special might really be brewing instead of the traditional pot of preseason coffee talk that is followed by the same old losing and frustration.

Think I'm full of it? Just listen to their voices and compare them to the guys who haven't gotten the job done. Today, as we inch closer to the start of fall practice Aug. 8, we were once again given access to three Canes players (we've got one week left). Byrd, kicker Matt Bosher and cornerback Sam Shields. You tell me who sounds like the guy you believe will get the job done? Who is the player oozing swagger?


As usual, its pretty hard to get much in the way of news when you attend these preseason interviews. But if you like player observations and thoughts here are a few nuggets from today...

> Byrd said he's picked up a full 10th of a second of speed in the 40 -- going from a 4.52 as a freshman to a 4.42 in recent testing. "I think I've got a little more `X' button," Byrd said, making a video game reference. "There's a big difference."

> Former Canes Ed Reed and Reggie Wayne have apparently been spending a lot of time in Byrd's ear this offseason. "Reggie coaches me up a lot when he works with us," Byrd said. "And I get a lot of the leadership role from Ed Reed. He inspires me a lot, the way he talks to me, the way Reggie talks to me. `Don't embarrass Louisiana,' that's the first thing he'll say. And the second thing he'll say is `When you play for Miami you represent the right and take every play like it's your last because you never know when it's your last.' He said always approach the game serious. Reggie, he says represent the receiver spot right, that every time you run a route run it full speed, always expect that the ball is coming to you, never take off a play because you never know what will happen."

> Byrd said it's not just a rumor that the Canes will be shortening their receiver rotation this year. "They've told us the bus is going to be shorter," Byrd said. "I love it. It's going to bring out the best of both worlds. You're going to see who really wants it, who is going to back away from the competition and if it gets the drive out of you. You cut the list, say only three are going to travel, pand eople are going to work harder. I love it, love the challenges."

> While Miami hasn't had any recent 7-on-7s, I asked Byrd what some of them were like in the spring and who on the defensive side of the ball has impressed him: "To me, Brandon Harris is our best cornerback. He's very physical, he's smart, he knows the game. Brandon is my roommate, so every day I go out there and try to embarrass him, and he tries to embarrass me. Demarcus [Van Dyke] is more versatile - he can pick you off, undercut your route. He's very quick, moves off instinct. Chavez [Grant] knows the game."

Sam Shields > Shields, who switched over from receiver to cornerback this spring, said he expects to be a target of opposing offenses. When I spoke to a few UM staffers after today's press conference, they told me they believe Shields will probably get most of his snaps in dime situations and on the outside. "When we go to that, Brandon will move inside," I was told.

> Shields said he's been getting most of his help adjusting to defense from fifth-year senior Randy Phillips. But he's also been working with Reggie Wayne. "I ask him questions like who was the toughest corner he went against and how they play, who was the weakest and how do they play. What do I have to look at when looking at a receiver, how far they are out or in, what they're going to run - he helps me with things like that," Shields said.

> I asked both Shields and Byrd how much time they spend breaking down film during the summer time. While Shields said he goes about twice a week, Byrd said he's at UM nearly every day. "Usually when I'm walking out, I'm handing the keys to Aldarius [Johnson]," Byrd said. "We're just excited about this offense and learning it more and more."

> Bosher, who won last year's Team MVP award, said roommate and former Cane Francisco Zampogna had to sneak the trophy out of his room and into the living room. Bosher, who has always shied away from praise, said it is now on the table next to the TV in the living room. When asked if being MVP of the Hurricanes has helped him with the ladies, Bosher said: "I'm still with my girlfriend. So, no."

> I asked Bosher for a progress report on Jake Wieclaw and where he thinks the redshirt freshman might be closest to helping the team. "Field goals," Bosher said. "He's really starting to become a lot more consistent with those."

July 21, 2009

A Rolle model for pro athletes

The first time I interviewed Antrel Rolle, I was just getting my feet wet in reporting and he was just starting to get everyone's attention for his football talents at South Dade.

Antrel Rolle Ten years after I wrote my first high school football story on him -- one his father Al, Homestead's police chief, still keeps in his office -- I caught up Antrel for another on Tuesday. This time, it was about the South Dade kid who made good at The U and is doing even better now in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. And by doing better, I mean by his contributions to his community. Tuesday, South Dade High renamed its weight room in Rolle's honor after he gave the school $30,000 this past Christmas. It bought new football uniforms, the $10,000 weight room floor, $5,000 in weights and a bunch of other stuff.

If you've ever been in a Miami-Dade or Broward High School weight room or athletic facility, you know just how poor the facilities run down they are. Most of the time, the equipment is out of date or just flat out dangerous. Rolle's money is going a long way toward helping his alma mater build a new image with its new campus.

But today's act of kindness isn't the only thing Rolle should be applauded for. He's been giving back for years. You just haven't heard much about it. He's not only given $4,000 to Southridge for their school to buy new uniforms, he's provided nine academic scholarships of $2,500 at South Dade and Homestead and helped back 140 kids in Florida City as part of the Marlins RBI program. His dad couldn't be prouder of his son, who planned to with former Canes teammate and the late Sean Taylor to do these quiet acts of kindness. Now, its just Antrel.

Anyway, I caught up with Mr. Rolle and found out he's also been busy working out at UM and helping several Canes cornerbacks get their acts together. Here's what he had to say.

Q: Why do you feel its so important to give back to your community? Some guys don't like coming back to their neighborhood because it wasn't safe or a place they enjoyed too much. Yet, you live right down the street from here. You run by here everyday.
AR: "For me, not a lot of people can say they made it from South Dade. I am one of the very fortunate and blessed who have made it and I want to come back and show them you don't have to move to Hollywood when you make it. You can be the same young and humble young man who just has a little more money in their pocket and a little more success and a public eye watching you. You don't have to leave from your hood. You can keep your foundation, your place of residence. I've always chosen to live down here because of my family."

Q: You played and won a national title. What was it like to play in the Super Bowl?
AR: "It was a life changing experience. I was 26 playing in the Super Bowl. Not a lot of people can even say they played in a Super Bowl, period. It was something you can't describe into words and something you definitely yearn for again."

Q: What was it like to be that close to winning and having Santonio Holmes snatch it from you?
AR: "I was on the opposite side [during the game-winning catch]. There are so many times I think and wish I could turn back the hands of time. I was wishing just for that one play. We switched all the time during the game. I just happened to choose the wrong side. It was a great play, a fantastic catch. But I think we gave the audience a fantastic show nobody predicted. Eight of 10 teams don't even make it to the playoffs after the Super Bowl. We just want to make sure we're not one of those eight teams."

Q: How is this year's Cardinals team going to look?
AR: "I think we're going to be pretty dynamic. Everyone is pretty much in place. We have a few guys that have endured a few bumps and bruises, contract situations. But I think we will get past it and once we do everyone will be looking forward to a fantastic year."

Q: You made a comment during Super Bowl week about the Canes that opened a few eyes. What were you really trying to say about your old program?
AR: "Just that I thought they were missing the swagger that made me attend the University of Miami when I went there. That same swagger that will help you come back from any deficit and help you stay on top. I just feel like we have to get better mentally, not physically. Those guys are a great physical group. I think they may have the fastest group that's ever been at UM. But I think they need to understand the pride and history that goes at the University of Miami. I feel like that will take them miles away from they are now."

Q: Have you tried working with some of those young guys while you've been working out at UM this summer?
AR: "I've had a few conversations with Chavez Grant. And I ran with [Demarcus] VanDyke and watched some film with him, just showed him how to breakdown the film and gave him pointers. All of those guys have my number. I talk to Randy Phillips all the time. I tell him if there is anything you need, give me a call."

Q: Four interceptions for the Canes secondary last year. You used to get four interceptions in your sleep. What was your reaction to that ugly stat?
AR: "Not good. From my end in the backfield, we were going to get that ball. We were fighting to get the ball. If it wasn't myself, it was Sean. It was Ed [Reed]. It was Phil [Buchanon]. We were hungry and we wanted to get that ball. I just feel like they have to get that same mentality. They need to learn how to play the ball once its in the air and become that defense that intimidates you before the game even starts."

Q: I was talking to Devin Hester last week about the new wave of Canes in the NFL and who might be able to carry the flag for The U moving forward now that guys like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Edgerrin James are getting older. You know the first round streak ended. But guys like you, Jon Beason, Kenny Phillips can keep the U visible. Why is it important?
AR: "I think it's important for us to keep it going. It shows the guys here it doesn't matter where you started or where you get drafted, its what you do when you get there. That's the one thing I've been trying to talk to the guys down at Miami about -- it doesn't matter what's happened up until now. It's where you finish."

Top 60 Countdown: No. 38, CB Chavez Grant

We've already unveiled more than half the field in our Top 60 Countdown. Today, we zero in on No. 38 on the list: Cornerback Chavez Grant. A great student and leader off the field, will the senior finally add the same adjetive to his play on the field? Or, will he continue to look like the rest of UM's ordinary secondary?

Chavez Grant has two interceptions in three seasons at UM. Will he step his game up as a senior? > What we heard about him on Signing Day '06: When Grant chose Miami over Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Auburn, the Canes believed they were getting not only one of the best cornerbacks in the country but a good student and leader on the football field. Grant certainly was both at Miami Booker T. Washington, where he picked off six passes his senior season and earned the academic award at the Dade-Broward All-Star game before graduating with a 3.6 GPA. He was rated 32nd nationally at corner by Rivals and 27th at his position by Scout.com.

> What he's done as a Cane: As a leader and example for other athletes to follow off the field, Grant has more than lived up to the expectations. As a corner who UM was hoping could develop into a dominating presence, Grant simply hasn't been that guy. He's made 17 starts in 37 career games and has two interceptions (the most memorable coming on the final play of UM's last bowl victory at the MPC Computers Bowl in 2006). Last season, Grant started seven games at left cornerback and led the team with six pass breakups. He also had 25 tackles (he had 26 as a sophomore and 24 as a freshman).

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: Although he hasn't been burned nearly as much as some of UM's other corners, Grant has not been special either. At 5-11, 180-pounds, he is one of several corners on UM's roster who simply cannot match-up physically with big receivers. That's a big reason he's been more effective in the nickel spot, covering smaller, quicker slot receivers. The bottom line is Grant is better served helping UM in that nickel spot. If the Brandon Harris and Demarcus VanDyke continue to develop and handle the outside spots, than Grant will be able to help the team to the best of his abilities. But if that doesn't happen, it will probably be another long season for the Canes secondary.