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FAMU's 'Vann-tastic' return man poses threat

Anytime Florida A&M comes to town, they bring the best soundtrack in the country with them. The school's band, known as the Marching 100, will get hips to sway, butts to jiggle and people like me who were born without rhythm the brief hallucination that even I can dance.

LeRoy Vann is the man for FAMU Rattlers fans love their band. But they aren't just standing for the halftime and postgame musical performances anymore. Nowadays, fans are standing and chanting for another "Vanntastic Voyage" when return man LeRoy Vann steps on the field.

"When he gets back there for a kickoff return or punt return, our fans and our entire sideline will stand up and start swaying their arms and hands side to side and scream 'Leeeeee - Roy!, Leeeee - Roy!'," said cornerback Curtis Holcolmb, a 5-10, 170-pound junior from Miami Southridge High.

"The funny part is he used to joke about how one day he'd get the crowd to do that for him. If you knew this guy two years ago like I did you would have laughed about it. But he's no joke. He's kind of like a rags to riches story to me."

If you haven't heard of Vann by now, you've probably been missing ESPN's College Game Day. The 5-9, 185-pounder from Tampa Blake High has run back four punts for touchdowns this season and earned national player of the week honors twice. He's also averaged 25.4 yards on kickoff returns and nearly broke one for a touchdown earlier this year.

He has 10 career returns for scores since his junior year, and holds the Division I-AA career record for kickoff return yardage (1,583). Holcolmb, who grew up a Hurricanes fan, said Vann runs a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash and reminds him of former Canes greats -- Roscoe Parrish and Devin Hester -- who now earn a living for what they do on returns.

"His first two years he was a gunner, he'd get down the field and hit guys on punt returns or kick returns," Holcolmb said. "When coach Taylor got here, he said 'This guy needs the ball in his hands.' Every time he gets back there, he does something exciting. He's so fast and quick. To me, he's just like Devin Hester."

The Rattlers, ranked as high as 23rd among the three FCS polls, shouldn't be able to play with the 11th-ranked Hurricanes (3-1) on Saturday. But it doesn't mean the Rattlers don't think they can. Two ACC teams have already lost to FCS schools this year. Duke lost to FCS No. 1 ranked Richmond and top-10 ranked William and Mary beat Virginia.

FAMU quarterback Chris Pulley, a transfer from Kentucky, has put up good numbers completing 67 percent of his passes for 846 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. He also leads the team in rushing with 291 yards and can be an elusive threat. FAMU's defense, meanwhile, hasn't given up more than 12 points in a game.

"Miami's a great football," said senior defensive end Joe Wims, who played alongside former Hurricane Kenny Phillips at Carol City High. "Their offense is good. When I look at them on film, they run a lot of pro sets and their offensive linemen do a lot of pro moves. But we aren't scared of them. We know if we take care of our keys, we'll defeat them."

> The FAMU band will perform for seven minutes at halftime Saturday and then will put on a 15-minute show after the game. According to Rattlers players, the performance will likely include a tribute to Michael Jackson.

> The Canes have steadily improved in their kickoff coverage this season under walk-on Alex Uribe. But the punt return coverage has had a few breakdowns. Opponents are averaging 17.2 yards a punt return. The last time UM gave up a punt return for a score was Nov. 13, 1999 when Ricky Hall took one back 64 yards for Virginia Tech. The Canes, by the way, rank dead last among the 119 FBS schools with a 1.1 average on punt returns. 

... RECRUITING NUGGETS: Spoke to a few potential UM recruits on the phone last night. Here's a quick version of what I learned...

- Miramar receiver Ivan McCartney said his desire to play for UM has grown from 50 percent in the preseason to 75 percent after the team's 3-1 start.

- Jacksonville Raines receiver Sean Tapley, a wavering South Carolina commitment, said he enjoyed his weekend visit to South Florida and UM's win over Oklahoma. "I could definitely see myself playing there a lot more," Tapley said. "The Canes are weighing on me and I like the fact Louis [Nix] and Tavadis [Glenn] are going there."

- Jacksonville Raines coach Deran Wiley said Florida is coming hard after UM commitment defensive tackle Louis Nix and trying to convince Tapley to join him. "They think Urban's magic is going to sweep the kid off his feet," Wiley said. "But I'm not so sure that's going to happen after what happened with Tavadis at their camp. Those guys are close."

- St. Thomas Aquinas cornerback Keion Payne said he's really close to committing to Miami -- especially after Gainesville High's Devont'a Davis took one of the two remaining spots for a corner. But he doesn't want to "make any mistakes" with Florida State, Ohio State, Tennessee and West Virginia coming hard after him.

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