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.
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.