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Will '09 be different? Fox, Cooper, Phillips say so

Randy Phillips 

They're tired of losing. They're tired of being written off. They're ready to put the University of Miami's football program back on the map.

Jason Fox has two goals: An ACC title and starting 50 games, more than any other UM offensive lineman That's what three of the Hurricanes most important veteran players talked about Wednesday -- exactly one month before the start of fall practice (Aug. 8). So, should we believe Jason Fox, Graig Cooper or Randy Phillips when they say UM is ready to put the uglier days of Canes football behind them?

After all, wasn't that the same thing we heard last year from Glenn Cook, Bruce Johnson and Reggie Youngblood? Didn't Kyle Wright, Kirby Freeman and Tavares Gooden say the same things the year before that? The bottomline is words don't win football games. But Cooper, Fox and Phillips shared some with us Wednesday -- the first time any reporter has been able to talk to players since the spring ended in March.

The trio filled us in on what the mood of the team is, their early impressions of several new arrivals and their expectations. Since players have simply been working out -- and 7-on-7 drills just got underway last week -- there isn't a whole lot of news to report. But there was definitely a lot of passion in the veteran's voices.

Nobody had more of it than Phillips when I asked him why 2009 will be different. "Because we weathered the storm," he said. "The hurricane came in and swept us, got us. We weren't stable, weren't built from the ground up. Coach Shannon was just getting in. The University of Miami has put those days behind us. We've already fixed our city back. Just like you saw the Dolphins improve, the Hurricanes are going to improve a lot from last year."

Graig Cooper wants to run for 1,000 yards and lead UM to a championship But why? What gives you that confidence? "Just having the young guys come back and feel stronger," Phillips said. "They really didn't get a chance to fully mature last year because they were out there playing. Usually a guy will redshirt and bulk up so he'll be ready. The guys that played, feel a lot stronger and faster and are going out there, doing great things. This year is going to be a whole lot better because we return a lot of great players, players that didn't even play last year like me - Colin McCarthy and Eric Moncur. That's two or three year starters we didn't have on defense last year."

One question I asked all three players about was their reaction to preseason predictions from magazines, who nearly all picked the Canes to finish fourth in the Coastal Division behind Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. (Only Phil Steele picked the Canes to finish higher and had them ranked in his preseason Top 25). Fox said the best way for Miami to put those thoughts to rest are winning the team's first four games, beginning with Florida State (which Fox said has been on his and other players minds for a while).

"One thing I've learned is nobody knows what goes on here and knows how good we are except the guys here," he said. "It's up to us to go out and show to the world how good we are. That's our objective this season. We've got to put Miami back on the map."

I plan to share some of what they talked about as the week goes on, but if you can't wait check out each of their audio interviews by clicking on the link.

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