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18 posts from December 2009

December 30, 2009

Champs Sports Bowl thoughts

ORLANDO -- About to head out on the Florida Turnpike to get back in time for tonight's basketball game at the BankUnited Center. But before I take off I just wanted to share a few thoughts on the Canes' 20-14 loss to Wisconsin.

The same problems that hurt UM all season -- except interceptions -- turned out to be what did the Canes in against the Badgers.

> The Hurricanes were simply manhandled up front. No, Jacory Harris wasn't at his best. But he was also under serious pressure the entire night. He was sacked five times and hit on about 10 other pass attempts. It's hard for a quarterback to get in any sort of rhythm when the other team has you on the run. Here's the bottomline, UM gave up 35 sacks this season. That's far too many. 

After the game, Orlando Franklin snickered when I asked him how good Wisconsin's front seven was. Sorry O, but you have to give the Badgers credit. Franklin might not have been the problem Tuesday night, but we all know the Canes' six man rotation on the offensive line this year was not tip top by any means. Matt Pipho was the starting right tackle all season. Pipho will make a great doctor one day. But he should have never been the starting right tackle on this team. He was a role player thrust into a starting role because UM didn't get the job done in recruiting offensive linemen in year's past and the young guys that were here simply weren't ready. It will be interesting to see who steps up this spring. Brandon Washington, Ben Jones and Jermaine Johnson are all guys we've heard a lot of good things about. It's time to see what they can really do.

> The second biggest problem this team had all season was getting to the quarterback on defense. Tuesday, Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien had all day to throw the football. Yes, UM sacked him once. But three quarterback hurries aren't enough. UM defensive line coach Clint Hurtt expected his team to do a much better job before the season began. But it just felt like this unit never really got going. Other than some decent work by Joe Joseph and Curtis Porter against the run and the occassional big plays from freshman Olivier Vernon and sophomore Marcus Robinson, the only consistent performer was Allen Bailey. And he was shuffled from tackle to end to back to tackle far too often. All in all, simply a disappointing season from Miami's front four. The Canes definitely need strong returns from Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo next year and Hurtt's guys need to do a better job winning one-on-one battles.

> The third biggest problem UM had all year, which showed itself again Tuesday, was defending the middle of the field. How many times did we see receivers and tight ends get open for key first downs this year against this dfense? Far too many. Wisconsin ate up the Canes in the interior and converted more than a few third and longs. As good as Colin McCarthy and Darryl Sharpton were this season, they were always a step behind in pass coverage and they didn't get enough help from Randy Phillips or Vaughn Telemaque at safety. Defensive coordinator John Lovett did a great job turning UM's run defense around this season. He consider this and his pass rush the primary offseason problems to work on and fix.

> Now, while you all might not be in the mood to hear anything positive about this season after last night's disappointing loss, I think you should take a second to cool off before reflecting on the season or demanding Randy  Shannon's head on a platter. The facts are this program got better. UM won nine games, two more than last year. Four players made the All-ACC First Team. The Canes only had one a year ago.

Is Miami back? No. But I think we need to stop worrying about declaring if Miami back. I'm sorry to tell you this, but the Canes won't be back until they are at least playing for a national championship. They aren't back until they win a conference championship. They aren't back until a starter can go down and the backup can be just as capable of carrying out that job. Here's the bottomline: Miami is better, but they need more depth and more player development from these coaches. I'm not saying everyone on this staff might be the right guy for the job. But the Canes are getting better. And they have to continue that trend this offseason and in 2010.

Hankerson says he's coming back

ORLANDO -- After the Hurricanes disappointing loss to Wisconsin Tuesday night, University of Miami leading receiver Leonard Hankerson at least provided some good news for Hurricanes fans. He said he's coming back for his senior year.

"I'm staying," said Hankerson, who caught one pass for 28 yards on UM's late scoring drive. "That's where I was leaning all along. I just wanted to have a little fun with the media. I know we have a great team around here. I know we have a whole lot of players and we know next year is going to be our time. I know we're going to do big things next year, have a whole lot of fun and have good times next year."

> Running back Graig Cooper could end up doing the same thing especially after severly injuring his right knee during a kickoff return right before the half. Cooper wasn't available for comment.

> One guy we might have to worry about moving forward, though, is defensive end Allen Bailey. The junior, who said a few weeks back he was definitely coming back for his senior year, carried a different tune in the post game locker room.

"I'm pretty sure [I'll be back]," Bailey said. "I'm going to talk to my people. But I'm pretty sure. I have to wait to get home. But it's a pretty high percentage."

December 29, 2009

Gameday blog: UM-Wisconsin

ORLANDO -- The University of Miami will attempt to win 10 games in a season for the first time since 2003 tonight at the Citrus Bowl. I'll be here to provide live updates throughout the game and chat with readers up until the end of the third quarter. Feel free to join the discussion as the 14th-ranked Hurricanes try to knock off the 25th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. 

Reminder for Gameday blog participants: Participation in the Cover It Live program is intended for the exchange of meaningful questions and observations during the game between fans and reporters. Not all comments or questions will be posted. iPhone users are asked to be patient as it takes several minutes for Cover It Live to load.

December 28, 2009

Who owns the edge? UM-Wisconsin

ORLANDO -- Here is the breakdown before Tuesday night's Champs Sports Bowl at the Citrus Bowl. 

Before you dismiss the Badgers as a running team, know that Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien has a slightly higher quarterback efficiency rating (142.44) than UM's Jacory Harris (141.56). The difference here is Harris (3,164 yards, 23 TDs, 17 INTs) has had to win more games with his arm than Tolzien (2,445 yards, 16 TDs, 10 INTs) and has four fourth-quarter come-from-behind wins in two seasons. Edge: Miami

All-Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year John Clay ran for 1,396 yards with 16 touchdowns on 265 carries to pace a Wisconsin offense that ranked 14th in the country in rushing (206 yards per game). The difference here is depth. UM averages 144 yards a game on the ground, but has three capable backs in Graig Cooper, Damien Berry and Javarris James. Ech have run for at least 150 yards in a game this season. They also haven't lost a fumble all season. Edge: Miami

Sophomore receiver Nick Toon, the son of former Jets receiver Al Toon, and All-Big Ten senior tight end Garrett Graham (45 catches, 547 yards, 7 TDs) have more catches than anybody on the Canes' roster. But what UM has that the Badgers don't is depth. Leonard Hankerson (44 catches, 773 yards, 6 TDs) has been the most consistent of the 10 UM receivers with double-digit receptions. Edge: Miami

This one really isn't close. UM has given up more sacks (30) than Wisconsin (22) and is without starting left tackle and All-ACC First Team selection Jason Fox (knee surgery). All-Big Ten selections John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi anchor the Badgers veteran offensive line. Edge: Wisconsin

O'Brien Schofield DEFENSIVE LINE
Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield (10 sacks, 22½ tackles for loss) and UM's Allen Bailey (7 sacks, 11 tackles for loss) are all-conference first team selections and among the best in the country at creating havoc in the backfield. But collectively, the Badgers are simply better at getting to the quarterback (32 sacks) than the Hurricanes (23 sacks) who at times have let opposing passers sit comfortably and untouched for long stretches of time. Edge: Wisconsin

The Hurricanes improved against the run this season -- moving up from 70th to 28th nationally (118.33 yards per game). Both Colin McCarthy (88 tackles, 9½ TFL) and Darryl Sharpton (91 tackles, 7 TFL) had stellar seasons while former ACC Freshman of the Year Sean Spence battled injury. But Wisconsin, led by Big Ten Freshman of the Year Chris Borland and senior Jaevery McFadden (Riviera Beach, Fla.), has the eighth-ranked run defense in the country (90.5 ypg). The Badgers also have more depth. Edge: Wisconsin

All-American cornerback Brandon Harris had a stellar sophomore season for UM with 16 pass deflections and two interceptions. Wisconsin, led by free safety Chris Maragos (44 tackles, 4 INTs), have more picks (15) than the Canes (eight). But the difference here is UM gives up fewer TD passes (14) and less yardage (203 ypg) than the Badgers (220 yards, 20 TDs) on most nights. Wisconsin has given up 270 yards through the air five times season. Edge: Miami

With All-ACC First Team selection Matt Bosher it's easy to think the Hurricanes might own this category. But Wisconsin can be dangerous here. The Badgers have blocked a field goal, blocked two punts and returned them for touchdowns, and scored on a fake field goal this season. Badgers punter Brad Norman averages 42.3 yards a punt -- close to what Bosher does (42.7). But where the Canes own the edge is field goals, where Bosher (14 of 16) has been more consistent than UW's Phillip Welch (15 of 22), who does have a long of 57 yards this season. Edge: Miami

This is going to be another tough, hard fought game for the Canes who are basically taking on a better version of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Wisconsin is physical and can create turnovers and loves to run the football. Sound like Carolina? The difference here is I don't think the Hurricanes will turn it over in this game. UM coach Randy Shannon said Monday he's been stressing all week about winning the turnover battle and protecting the football. I think in the end, UM makes enough stops on Clay and the Wisconsin running game to force the Badgers to throw the football more than they want to and Orlando Franklin has another great game at left tackle. I'm going with UM 34, Wisconsin 24.

Canes see bowl reward as Top 10 start to 2010

ORLANDO -- Playing in a non-Bowl Championship Series bowl game a four-hour drive away from home in December might not be where the University of Miami wanted to be at the end of this season. 

Shannon_brandon_harrisBut with a win in Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl over Wisconsin, the Canes will likely be exactly where their fans have wanted them to get back to for the second half of this decade: in the hunt for a national title. That's the carrot coach Randy Shannon has been holding out to his players this week. And he talked about it plenty Monday afternoon in his final press conference before Tuesday's game.

"If you go into the end of the season and you win your last game, your going into spring football with some excitement, a lot of enthusiasm," Shannon said. "For us, for Wisconsin, 10 wins can put you probably into the Top 10, Top 12 at the end of the season. If you're returning a lot of guys the following season, they'll probably put you into the top six, top seven in the country. Now, it's not a situation where you're starting outside of the Top 25 and bouncing in or bouncing out. It's a situation where you really get your season going from the start."

The Hurricanes (9-3) haven't won 10 games in a season since 2003. The last time they started a season ranked in the Top 25 was in 2006. The last time they began a season in the Top 10 was in 2005 when they debuted at No. 9 and lost at Florida State 10-7. Barring a change in schedule, the Hurricanes will likely open the 2010 season against Florida A&M at home on Sept. 4. The following week, a trip to Big Ten champion Ohio State and a showdown between two potential Top 10 ranked teams looms. With a win in Columbus, the Canes could potentially put themselves on the inside track for one of the Top 2 BCS spots. 

"Winning the bowl game is huge," cornerback Brandon Harris said Sunday. "We know it puts us in the Top 10 coming back next year. That's something we're really looking forward to because we feel like next year is our year to win a national championship. It all really starts with this game right here."

> One thing Shannon talked about Monday was the growth and maturity of his team. A year ago, UM was 7-3 and in the hunt for the ACC title when the Canes (with 22 freshmen in the 2-deep) wilted. He compared it to 7th graders having to take on seniors in high school and not having the stamina to stay up for the entire fight. Monday, he talked about how new coordinators Mark Whipple and John Lovett played roles in helping the Canes grow.

"Our whole football team were freshmen in spring football because they had to learn a whole new offense, totally new defense," Shannon said. "When you have two coordinators coming in, grinding, making sure guys understand what they have to do offensively and defensively, you have to see how players respond to it. We didn't just come out do things the right way. It took us probably on offense until the sixth game of the season for the receivers to run the correct routes, day in and day out. It took us five or six games for the offensive line to get in tune with how many steps we wanted to get down.

"Defensively, we had a lot of injuries at the start. We could have faltered, we could have went backward. But that's the maturity of the football team. That's the maturity of guys understanding we've been there before. That's when true freshman Ray Ray Armstrong came alive. Ray Buchanon, a true sophomore, came around. Curtis Porter. When you're coaching [well], you have guys being productive you're not expecting to come in and produce. True freshman Olivier Vernon is another one. Their play shows you how the coaches are doing a good job. You look at Mike James, being our third tailback, but becomes our fullback. That's a true freshman getting it done. That's what I think coaching is. It's teaching. If you can teach, you can coach. That's the success we've had with Coach Lovett and Coach Whipple."

> Shannon was asked about the reaction his players had when they saw the movie The U a few weeks back. "It's a TV show, a production and you move on," Shannon said. "It can't affect what you do in this time in age. The big picture is what we're doing now, what we're doing on and off the field. You see the improvement on the field, the 100 percent graduation rate. There's a lot of good things going on at the University of Miami.

"To be honest with you, the 30-for-30 helped. We had a lot of parents call in, players we weren't recruiting want to be a part of the University of Miami. But we have to recruit the right type of players that do the things we do, that have the right type of passion for the game and a team mentality, not an individual mentality."

December 27, 2009

Shannon wishes Urban Meyer well

ORLANDO -- The last time Randy Shannon and Urban Meyer were on the same field there wasn't a whole lot of pleasantry. 

Randy Shannon and Urban MeyerAlthough Shannon has never talked about it publicly, he was obviously ticked off last season when Florida kicked a 29-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in the Gators' 26-3 win in Gainesville. Shannon capped the night by barely stopping to exchange a handshake with Meyer after the game. 

We all know how the Hurricanes have always felt about the Gators. But Sunday when asked about Meyer and his health situation, Shannon took time to publicly support Meyer. 

"Anytime something happens to a coach, what I call a family member, a coach, you never want to see it happen," Shannon said after his team's afternoon practice at Thunder Field across the street from the Citrus Bowl. "Health conditions are serious these days. These jobs we do are serious business. I wish him well and everything, recovery from his medical condition. It's tough to see a family member go through that."

Shannon, who has always been slim, trim and in shape, said there is no way for a college coach to avoid health issues these days with the stress of the job. "I was an assistant when one of my friends Chuck Pagano had a semi-heart attack," Shannon said. "He was 29, 31 years old. He used to do the treadmill four and five times a day, three or four miles in 40 minutes... You just don't know. Everybody is different."

Shannon said the one thing that won't be affected by the coaching changes at Florida and Florida State is recruiting. "It don't make a difference [who is coaching]," Shannon said. "Florida is Florida. Florida State is Florida State. Miami is Miami. Central Florida, South Florida, we're all the same.

"It doesn't change anything in recruiting. Coaches have gone different places and those schools have always recruited the same type of players. Players like who they like. Sometimes they like the colors. Sometimes they like the school. It just depends on what they like. It won't affect anybody at all."

> Shannon said defensive end Eric Moncur, who has battled a groin injury all season, has been practicing this week in Orlando. "We'll probably get some plays out of him," Shannon said. "But you don't know. Something may happen before game time."

> For a few audio interviews today check out our Canes audio seciton

Canes having fun in Orlando

ORLANDO -- Javarris James took off his sweatshirt, adjusted his white Florida Marlins baseball cap and leaned into Jacory Harris to deliver a message: "Prepare to get rocked."

Javarris James (left), Travis Benjamin and Jacory Harris play Guitar Hero Sunday at DisneyQuest.  For the next 20 minutes inside the Guitar Hero room at DisneyQuest, that's exactly what the Hurricanes' senior running back and his quarterback did. They rocked out to Foghat's Slow Ride. Then, they laughed and laughed some more. 

Not far away from them and spread out throughout the five floor video game haven in Downtown Disney were the rest of the Canes, mixed in among a group of players from Tuesday night Champs Sports Bowl opponent Wisconsin and Capital One Bowl foes Penn State and LSU (who play on New Year's Day at the Citrus Bowl). And all of the kids were being kids. 

"Man, I'm going to miss this," said James, who after a stellar freshman season (802 yards) is hoping to end his injury-riddled career by leading UM to its first 10-win season since 2003. "I've just enjoyed being with the guys, cracking jokes, doing the little things we do. I'm not really too much sad. But I'm going to miss them."

Canes players pose with a poster outside of DisneyQuest  The four-hour ride up the turnpike from Coral Gables to Orlando has been done plenty of times before for most of the Canes. So, there's not much most of them haven't seen before. But that doesn't mean this bowl experience hasn't been as fun as last year's trip to San Francisco for the Emerald Bowl where they got to visit Alcatraz or even the MPC Computers Bowl in frigid Boise, Idaho where they went sledding and got into snowball fights in 2006. 

In the last 48 hours, UM players have been treated to a $420 shopping spree at Best Buy, a fun-filled three hours at Universal Studios and a morning chalk full of video games. For UM's seniors, this trip to Orlando have really been about cherishing their final days as Canes. 

Harland Gunn takes on a Wisconsin player in Madden 2010  "In terms of gifts and events, you can't beat all the things we've been able to do this week," senior center A.J. Trump said. "[Saturday] at Universal, we had [injured left tackle Jason] Fox with us. A lot of the o-line just got together and with Fox still a little nicked up [from his surgery] we took it a little easier. We went on the Men In Black and Terminator ride. We have a great picture of me, Orlando [Franklin], [Matt] Pipho, [Joel] Figueroa, [Tyler] Horner and Fox on the Men In Black Ride. It's a pretty funny."

James said he and a group of 25 teammates spent most of their team at Islands of Adventure. Players said they weren't given speed passes. But they got "hooked up" by ride operators. "We went on Hulk twice, [Deuling] Dragons twice, Spiderman and that ride that shoots you up [Dr. Doom]. That last one caught me by surprise. We were just talking and that thing shot up. I closed my eyes. I was scared boy."

Trump said the team's shopping spree at Best Buy Saturday resembled "a bunch kids let loose at a Toys 'R Us."

Running back Graig Cooper spends a moment with a young Canes fan.  "Everyone went straight to the laptops. I think we cleaned them out," Trump said. "I got a $600 laptop -- Toshiba -- for like $200. I used the gift card they gave us and just spent some of my own money on top. It was cool."

James said he grabbed a charger for his iPhone and a video game controller, but ran out of ideas. He said he tried calling his parents to ask them what they wanted. "But I couldn't reach them," James said. "So, I just started grabbing stuff, getting late Christmas presents." 

Linebacker Colin McCarthy and cornerback Brandon Harris said they both bought plasma TVs. McCarthy also got his father a TV stand. Receiver Leonard Hankerson said he bought his son a set of walkie-talkies, a camera and a CD player. "He can't have a cell phone yet. He's only 3," Hankerson said. "So, the walkie-talkie was the next best thing."

The biggest spender -- according to teammates -- turned out to be sophomore defensive tackle Marcus Forston. He used his gift card and put up some serious cash to get himself a 52-inch plasma TV. On his way out of DisneyQuest, Forston was asked about his purchase. "I had to get one, have my own theater at home," Forston said. "That way, instead of spending 12 bucks when I want to go to the movies, I can just be like 'Baby, let's stay home. We can cuddle up on the sofa."


> James said UM coach Randy Shannon gave his players a midnight curfew after going to Universal Saturday night. He said he and several teammates spent time at his cousin's house in Orlando where he met up with Wisconsin sophomore cornerback Aaron Henry, a high school teammate and childhood friend of his from Immokalee.

Defensive end Adewale Ojomo (right) plays DinosaurHunter with teammate Richard Gordon (left)  > Linebacker Sean Spence might be a terror on the football field, but on a roller-coaster he has the reputation for the most terrorized. "Before we took off on the Hulk, he had this thing in his head that his safety belt wasn't strapped in right," Brandon Harris said. "He was trying to get off before [the ride] took off. He must have seen Final Destination before we got to the park or something. He was screaming, almost made me go deaf."

> UM might be having plenty of fun in Orlando, but they're still working hard. Strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey gave UM players "The Swasey Workout" Saturday. According to James, the workout at Jones High was a little rougher than usual. "Their weight room is kind of like my old weight room at Immokalee," James said. "It was metal weights. Incline bench was old school, heavy."

> Receiver Leonard Hankerson said he's pretty much made his mind up (80 percent) about going pro or returning after this season. He said he'll wait a few days until after the bowl game to tell UM what he decides. Our Susan Miller Degnan has more on it.

> Defensive end Adewale Ojomo said he dropped all the way down to 215 pounds when his mouth was wired shut. He said he's back up to 260 pounds. "I can't wait for spring ball," Ojomo said.

December 21, 2009

Could Linder be the key to an Aquinas pipeline?

Next to Miami Northwestern, no high school program churns out major Division I talent year in and year out quite as often Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. The Raiders, five-time state champions under coach George Smith, have sent players to the University of Miami in the past. Receiver Leonard Hankerson, former Canes safety Anthony Reddick and current freshman offensive lineman Jermaine Johnson all wore the golden helmets at Aquinas.

Brandon Linder (right) is the first major recruit UM has been able to land at Aquinas since Leonard Hankerson in 2006.  But the Raiders' gems, the best of the best, have usually headed to other schools. Florida got safety Major Wright and has star cornerback Cody Riggs set to join next year. Notre Dame landed stud left tackle Sam Young four years ago and now has Gio Bernanrd lined up for 2010. Florida State got tackle Andrew Datko and is supposed to reel in this year's star Lamarcus Joyner. 

Linder, a three-year starter at Aquinas and stud left tackle, is hoping his commitment to UM over the weekend will help the Canes' nab more of the stars that go to Aquinas. "I'd love for UM to build a pipeline to St. Thomas," Linder said. "The fact four of us [tackle Jermaine Barton, cornerback Keion Payne and punter Ben Hopfinger] are going there from this class is great. I think it could just be the start of more us going there."

Three weeks ago before Aquinas beat Ely in the regional finals, I caught up with longtime offensive line coach Jay Connolly, who has been an assistant with Smith since 1990. He's coached a lot of the best linemen in South Florida over the years and said the Hurricanes are definitely making more of an effort lately to build a better relationship. Canes offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is the primary person responsible.

Connolly gave me his thoughts on the three Aquinas offensive linemen who will be wearing orange and green the next few years. He says Linder, a kid that kicks 55-yard field goals barefoot for fun after practice, might be the most athletic lineman he's ever coached.

"When he came up as a freshman he played on JV and we saw something special right away," Connolly said. "He came up played sophomore on varsity as center. We had a pretty good left tackle (Andrew Datko) at the time. But we saw he had the versatility to play left tackle. His size and athleticsm. Brandon is a great basketball player. I remember when he was a freshman the basketball coach told me the best hands in the freshman class were Brandon Linder's.He's just a big kid who is able to move. He's smart. He's a natural football player. Put him at tackle, put at him center, wherever. But left tackle, that's where I think he'll be for the next four years. He's good enough to make an impact right away."

Jay Connolly Connolly said Barton (6-7, 290) will likely need some more time to grow. But he said the kid has enough physical gifts to be a special player. Last year, Barton was the sixth man on St. Thomas' offensive line. This year, he took every snap at right tackle. "His biggest thing is toughness," Connolly said. "In basketball Jermaine was always told not to touch people. But now, we have to get him to touch people. He's really converted a lot of those basketball skills. I think his work ethic has helped me a lot. He's bigger, stronger and he's growing."

Current Cane Jermaine Johnson only played one season for Connolly, but he showed him he had the ability to be special. "He didn't get into a game until the third game of the year. But when he got in he was good enough to start at right tackle. We actually moved Datko to guard so Johnson could start at right tackle," Connolly said. "He has the best punch of any kid I've ever coached. He can just drill you and stun you. He's real athletic. He's built like [Barton], maybe a little bit taller. He's going to be a great player."

The Hurricanes are definitely going to want to keep their eyes on Aquinas. The Raiders have a pair of 2011 recruits in Andrew Reyes (6-3, 240) and Austin Barron (6-3, 250) who started in the interior all season. Sophomore Brad Mills (6-2, 220) is another player Connolly said could have a bright college future.

A few more recruiting nuggets...

> Northwestern coach Billy Rolle told our high school editor Andre Fernandez Saturday that after reports surfaced last week that defensive tackle Todd Chandler had switched his commitment to USF, UM defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff visited Northwestern the next day to tell let him and Chandler know UM still wanted him. "My advice to Todd was be patient, your going to talk to a lot of coaches over the next month," Rolle said. "Todd told me he was going to think about it."

Rolle said receiver Michaelee Harris, another UM target, is also being heavily recruited by Florida State. Recently hired Florida State assistant Eddie Gran is supposedly pushing hard for Harris. Running back Corvin Lamb, meanwhile, is strongly considering committing to North Carolina. 

> Miramar receiver Ivan McCartney told me Saturday after the Class 6A state championship game while he likes the University of Miami a lot, he also feels strongly about Oregon, Florida and West Virginia. McCartney said he is supposed to visit UM during Super Bowl weekend. My money is on West Virginia. Several Miramar assistants told me McCartney wants to badly reunite with former quarterback and close friend Eugene Smith.

December 20, 2009

Canes land Aquinas OL Linder, Barton

St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Brandon Linder told me back in August that as long as there weren't any coaching changes at the University of Miami come December or January, he'd be a Hurricane. Linder stayed true to his word.

Brandon Linder Sunday morning, the 6-6, 290-pound left tackle -- and possibly the best recruit in UM's 2010 class -- told coach Randy Shannon and position coach Jeff Stoutland he wants to be a Cane. 

"I always liked Miami and I just wanted to see the other schools and make sure it was the right school," said Linder, whose other finalists included Notre Dame, Florida and Ohio State. "Coach Shannon and Coach Stoutland are just regular people. So is the rest of the coaching staff. They all care about each other. They're like family. That's what I saw this past weekend when I visited. And that's what I like."

Linder, a U.S. Army All-American and ESPN Top 150 Recruit, is rated the third best center in the country (the position he played his sophomore year) according to Rivals.com. But UM will likely ask him to protect the blind side of their quarterback once he settles in. Linder said his first goal at UM is to simply find a way to contribute.

"Every freshman wants to go in and compete. I just want to go in there and help out," Linder said. "I can see myself playing any position on the line. Wherever I can fill in and play faster -- tackle, center -- that's what I want to do." 

Jermaine Barton Aquinas, ranked the No. 1 team high school in the country until it was beaten in the Class 5A state semifinals by Bradenton Manatee two weeks ago, will also be sending right tackle Jermaine Barton (6-7, 290) and cornerback Keion Payne to Miami with Linder. Barton, a second-year football player, also called UM coaches Sunday to give him his commitment.

Linder said he and his two teammates spent their official weekend visit weekend with fellow UM commitment and Glades Central tight end Clive Walford and Byrnes, S.C. defensive lineman Brandon Willis, a Tennessee commitment. 

"They put us up in a nice hotel, went out to dinner, had a great time," Linder said. "We also went down to UM and watched practice. Me and Jermaine are just motivated to start working out and helping out as much as we can. Jermaine is a great player. He's got a great body, great athleticism. He's 6-7, 6-8, 290. He looks lean as can be. He has a lot of talent that hasn't been discovered yet. He's a great learner. I think we're going to have great careers."

Linder said he hopes he can convince Willis to join UM's class. The two went head-to-head when Aquinas played Byrnes in the regular season.

"Brandon is a great kid," Linder said. "I'm going to start talking to him now. Going against him, he's probably the best we faced all year. I definitely want him to become a Cane."

December 19, 2009

Surgery ends Jason Fox's UM career

ORLANDO -- This wasn't the way things were supposed to end for Jason Fox. 

Jason Fox But after 47 career starts at tackle (third most ever at UM), his Hurricanes' career is now officially over. UM coach Randy Shannon announced Saturday that Fox has had season-ending "lower extremity" surgery. According to Canesport.com, Fox currently has an immobilizing brace on his left knee.

"We've really appreciated all of Jason's efforts this season as well as throughout his career," Shannon said in a statement released by the school. "He's had some nagging injuries this season and has played through the pain to the point where we as a coaching staff and athletic training staff feel like it would be best for him to not play in the bowl game. Jason has a bright future ahead in football and he needs to be 100 percent going forward."

Fox earned first team All-ACC honors this season. He was a two-time ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week after wins over Oklahoma and Virginia. Through 11 games he graded out at 96 percent with 20 pancake blocks and 15 lumberjacks and allowed just one sack this season.

Fox missed the final regular season game of the year with what was first reported by WQAM as an irregular heartbeat. Junior Orlando Franklin started in his place at left tackle against USF, while freshman Brandon Washington got the start at left guard.

The Hurricanes are practicing Saturday and Sunday, but will take Monday off before resuming practice Tuesday. UM is scheduled to leave for Orlando on Christmas day.

December 16, 2009

CB Brandon Harris tabbed All-American

Brandon Harris  Sophomore cornerback Brandon Harris became the first University of Miami player since Kenny Phillips in 2007 to earn All-America honors this week when he was awarded the honor by the SI.com, the Associated Press and Phil Steele Magazine.

Harris, an All-ACC First Team selection, earned second team All-America honors by SI, third team honors from AP and fourth team honors from Phil Steele. Harris led the ACC in pass break ups (14) and passes defended (16) and tied fifth nationally passes defended per game and finished third at UM in tackles with 52 (37 solo, 15 assists). 

Phillips was named an AP third team All-American in 2007 at safety. There's little doubt Harris, a graduate of Miami Booker T. Washington, will be one of the favorites to win the Thorpe Award next season. 

December 15, 2009

Are the Canes really done with Todd Chandler?

Everybody and their mother is reporting that Miami Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler is no longer committed to the University of Miami. But is it true? Or, are we dealing with a recruit's bruised ego and a tiff between a program and a local star?

Todd Chandler  I spoke to Chandler twice Tuesday on my cell phone during visits to Miramar High and Belen Jesuit -- the two remaining South Florida high school football teams playing for state championships this week in Orlando. My impression of this internet ratings sensation of a story: the 6-foot, 300-pound prospect (considered a four-star recruit by both Rivals and Scout.com) is upset with the Canes because he hasn't heard from them in a while. But is Chandler definitely not headed to Miami anymore? No. And I won't believe it until he signs a scholarship to another school until National Signing Day.

Chandler has been a UM commitment since his junior year. He plays for the one high school in Miami-Dade County the Canes could ill-afford to anger for dropping one of their players. You remember the West, don't you? The school Randy Shannon and his entire staff came to watch in October during the Northwestern-Central nationally televised showdown. The school that sent eight recruits to Miami in 2007.

It simply doesn't make sense for Chandler to get dropped like a bad habit six weeks before National Signing Day. "I switched to USF tonight," Chandler told me by phone at around 9 p.m. 

Why? "Coach [Jim] Leavitt said they want me real bad," Chandler said. "They got room for me."

Is it a done deal? Are you finished with the Hurricanes? "I don't know. I'm confused," Chandler said. "I'm still thinking about UCF, Colorado State and Louisville. I still have to talk to my dad and uncle about things, see what they think."

But Todd, what went wrong with Miami? "The way they're acting makes me feel like they aren't recruiting me anymore," he said. "It's been so long, I don't remember how their voice sounds. The last time I spoke to [recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt] was during the football season. The last time I talked to coach Shannon was last year."

But didn't I see you at practice a bunch of times this season? Didn't you hang out at UM all the time? "I was going to practice, but the way they made it seem was like they were playing me," Chandler said. "When I spoke to coach [Wesley] McGriff three weeks ago, I asked him what the deal was, why they were looking at other defensive tackles. He said they were just recruiting."

When asked if UM were to call him tomorrow telling him they wanted him, Chandler said he would have to think about things. "We'll have to see what happens," Chandler said. "At first, I was disappointed. But I know I can go anywhere and become a star. My grades and my test are in order. I can qualify where I want to go."

Chandler said he's still considering UCF, Louisville, Colorado State and Louisville. But my guess is we will still hear a lot about the Canes and Chandler over the next few weeks. I just don't want to be a part of it. I had enough with Bryce Brown last year.

For the record, our recruiting writer Larry Blustein is on board with me in believing all of these Chandler reports make for great reading at internet paysites.

"This is a Miami Northwestern program with 25 Division I recruits," Blustein said. "Why would they ever jeopardize their relationship with a program in their backyard like that? It's not like Chandler is an add on. He's one of the best defensive tackles in the country. I'd be shocked if Randy Shannon just really cut him loose because they are upset about him taking other recruiting visits."

CANES OPEN PRACTICE FRIDAY: I'll be in Orlando this weekend for the state championships, but our Susan Miller Degnan will be out there Friday and Saturday and will provide reports at MiamiHerald.com. UM will practice again Tuesday and Wednesday next week before heading to Orlando on Christmas Day. I'll be arriving in Orlando Dec. 26.

December 09, 2009

Shannon, Bielema do lunch in Orlando

University of Miami coach Randy Shannon sat down with Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and several out of town reporters Wednesday to talk about the Champs Sports Bowl. Here's some of what each coach was talking about.

First, Shannon...

Randy ShannonOn playing in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl: "It’s big for us. Our players have done a great job of working to get into this position where we are today. I think the more we continue to work is progress. I think this is one of the best bowls for us, we know that we couldn’t win up in the Orange Bowl and we feel that the Champs Sports Bowl is the next best bowl for us and our fan base. We drew a big crowd when we played Central Florida, we drew a big crowd when we played South Florida and when we played in Tallahassee against Florida State we had a great crowd there. The showing throughout the state is unbelievable and I think the fan support is going to be unbelievable when we play Wisconsin on December 29."

On whether or not playing in Orlando is advantage for the Hurricanes: "Not really. It’s a situation where you just have to go out and play. Two great teams that go out there and try to get a 10th win. When you have those kinds of teams that go out play hard and physical and know what to expect from each other and have a lot of respect for each other, were going to go out and have one of those games that one will remember and enjoy the night."

On whether the common notion that players in the South have speed and players from the Midwest have size: "Everybody recruits speed. It’s not going to be a situation where were going to be faster than those guys or they’re going to be faster than us. We have a big offensive line, they have a big offensive line. They have big guys on defense, we have big guys on defense. It’s going to work itself out. Its just a myth that if you’re down south you run faster.

On recruiting in South Florida and building the program: "I think with this young football team that we have right now with a quarterback that’s a sophomore, receivers that are sophomores, defensive backs like true freshman Ray Armstrong, redshirt freshman Vaughn Telemaque and sophomore Sean Spence, we have a lot of young guys on this football team, especially on our defensive front. These are all young football players that play hard and with a lot of excitement and experience. The more they mature, the better off we’re going to be as a football team. We’re going to continue to recruit the state of Florida and that’s the one thing that we have the most success from. We’ve got two players from Orlando and we’re going on the west coast and also getting players from South Florida. You can’t get all of them, but if you can get a nucleus of them and go outside the state, you’re going to be ok."

On the matchup against Wisconsin: "They can run the football. They are a big, hard-nosed team that believes in establishing the run and they’re not going to bend in the run game. They are not going to sit up and go “okay, if we can’t run the ball in the first 20 plays then we’ll start throwing it." They’re going to come out and still establish the run. They are going to play hard-nosed defense, stop the run and not give up big plays. They’re going to play great special teams. When you look at both team its kind of equal. I’m a defensive coach, Bret is a defensive coach. Both of us believe in running the football, playing great on special teams and playing hard defense. It’s going to be a matchup that you’ll want to see. There’s going to be thrills and some highs and lows, but the team that stays focused in the fourth quarter is the one that will win it."

On the Miami fan support: "They’ll be a lot of fans there on December 29. A lot of ex players have called in getting tickets for the game, a lot fans from south Florida and our alumni base in Jacksonville have been buying tickets. They keep selling the tickets in Jacksonville. Across the state they’re going to come see a great game and give the University of Miami great support."

Here is what Bielema had to say...

Bret Bielema  On playing in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl: "To be able to play Miami, a quality opponent, really works on our behalf. There was talk and speculation about where we would might end up and I know our kids, if they would have told us we have the chance to play Miami, the 15th ranked team in the country, they would have been excited. To come full circle from where we were a year ago in this game and make the improvements we have is a great way to end the season."

On the mystery of the bowl selection process: "This was a very unique year, because we when we found out, we were on a plane flying back from Honolulu, Hawaii, so it was very rare in those regards. There are certain things that get slotted, but because we have been so good these last few years, we have been in Florida the last six years in a row, either in Orlando or Tampa and both bowl games here. More than anything our fans, because we got 18 inches of snow today, are excited to come down to Orlando. I don’t think anyone is going to argue with the opportunity to land here and see the sunshine. And the way we get treated here, it’s a great city, great town and a great organization with the Champs Sports Bowl and Capital One Bowl."

On the trip to Orlando: "It’s a great trip and our kids are excited to come here. You’re going to see a couple guys who have never made this trip because we had so many freshman playing significant roles for us. I know we’ll come down on Dec. 23, give them a day off so they’ll have a chance to take in Orlando on Christmas Eve and then we’ll get to work and ultimately capitalize with a good showing at the game."

On the player’s familiarity with the Orlando surroundings being an advantage: "I know they love the hotel we are staying, but I think our kids were excited about the matchup. The fans and the media can talk about where were at and the festivities, but the bottom line is you come to a bowl game to play a quality out of conference opponent and we can’t ask for anything better."

His thoughts on the Badgers regular season: "I think if you asked anybody before the season where we were picked, I think we were seventh or eighth in the league. Going into the last ballgame to be able to win a Big Ten Championship, unfortunately the right teams didn’t win, but we have made a nice transformation to what we do well. John Clay is the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Award. Chris Borland, who is Freshman of the Year for the league which is rare as a defensive player. I think this team has made giant steps, but the great news is that we are very young and we have an excellent opportunity to be very good in the future."

On Wisconsin running back John Clay: "John is a big back who runs angry. He is very gifted athletically and has done a better job this year of where he needs to be in the whole package, and the good news is he’s only a sophomore."

On the matchup against Miami: "It’s a unique matchup and that’s why we love bowl games. I’ve known Randy for a number of years and Mark Whipple, his offensive coordinator, is a good friend of mine. I think the matchup in itself will be neat because everyone is going to talk about the Florida speed versus the Midwest size of Wisconsin and we have big people, but I think a couple of our guys can run as well."

December 08, 2009

Canes land JUCO tight end

According to Canesport.com and InsideTheU, the University of Miami landed a commitment from Kilgore Texas Junior College tight end Chase Ford Monday night. According to both websites, Ford committed to UM after an in home visit from Randy Shannon.

Chase Ford  Ford (6-6, 245) is rated a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and was also being recruited by Arizona. Ford finished his sophomore season with 32 catches for 545 yards and was named the Southwest Junior College Football Conference's Most Valuable Player, as voted on by the league's coaches.

Ford is supposed to enroll at UM in January and be available for spring football. He'll be classified as a junior. 

His recruitment is a big win for the Canes, who obviously need tight end help with the loss of Dedrick Epps, Jimmy Graham and Tervaris Johnson after this season. Aside from Ford, UM is hoping to have senior Richard Gordon (assuming he's granted a medical redshirt), redshirt freshman Billy Sanders and Belle Glades Glades Central senior Clive Walford (6-6, 225) available at the tight end position.

The Hurricanes are also still currently recruiting Will Tye, a 6-3, 230-pound senior at Salisbury Prep School in Connecticut. Tye, a three-star recruit according to Rivals, has offers from UM, Florida State and N.C. State among others. 

December 06, 2009

Sharpton, Fox share Canes' MVP award

Jason Fox didn't finish out the regular season the way he wanted to. But Fox, a player who made 47 career starts at offensive tackle for the Hurricanes, was still rewarded Sunday night by sharing the Jack Harding Team MVP Award with linebacker Darryl Sharpton.

It was only the fourth time in team history two players shared the award. Fox is only the second offensive lineman to win the award, joining Eric Winston (2005). Sharpton became the first linebacker to win the award since Dan Morgan shared it with Santana Moss in 2000.

It's hard to argue with Fox and Sharpton sharing it, especially after the final month of the season D-Money had for UM. 

Other winners

> Scout Team Player of the Year -- Offense: QB Spencer Whipple. Not sure we'll ever see Whipple on the field, but we heard a lot from his teammates about just how valuable he was.
> Scout Team Player of the Year – Defense: DB Cory Nelms. The walk-on from Neptune, NJ definitely earned it with his big hits.
> Hard Hitter Award: LB Darryl Sharpton. Vaughn Telemaque (Duke) and Ray Ray Armstrong (Oklahoma) had a few bone-jarring hits this season. But nobody was more consistent than D-Money. Remember what he did to that Clemson tight end? He does.
> Special Teams Player of Year: K/P Matt Bosher. From Jack Harding MVP to Special Teams Player of the Year. Just doesn't seem right for the Chuck Norris of Canes football.
> Strength Training Athlete of the Year: DE Allen Bailey. If you haven't walked into the weight room or seen the team records board, Bailey has his face all over it. No surprise here.
> Nick Chickillo Most Improved Player: CB Sam Shields and RT Matt Pipho. I'm going to go ahead and respectfully disagree. I would have given this one to Brandon Harris. The kid went from looking like a freshman to All-ACC First Team in a snap. 

 > Walt Kichefski Hurricane Award - Commitment, Consistency, Work Ethic: C A.J. Trump. Hard to argue here. Trump had two major injuries and provided a strong season for UM at center. It's too bad we didn't get to see more of him in his time at UM.
> Albert Bentley Most Valuable Walk-On Award: LS Chris Ivory. He won it last year as a freshman. 

> U Miami Sports Hall of Fame Unsung Hero Award: FB/TE Tervaris Johnson. Great choice considering how valuable he became after Pat Hill went down. 

> Mariutto Family Scholarship Award for Academic Excellence: QB Jake Byrne. 

 > Plumer Award for Leadership, Motivation and Spirit: S Randy Phillips. He was the vocal leader of that defense, no doubt.
> Melching Leadership Award: RB Javarris James and DL Joe Joseph.

> Community Service Man of the Year Award: CB Ryan Hill and CB Chavez Grant. 

 > Newcomer of the Year Award: RB Mike James. James had a phenomenal freshman season. But I would have made him share the award with tight end Jimmy Graham, who was without question a great addition to the team.

> Training Room Comeback Player of the Year: TE Dedrick Epps and LB Colin McCarthy. No complaints here. Both of those guys made great comebacks from injuries.
> Hurricane Media “Good Guy” Award: QB Jacory Harris and S Randy Phillips. Nobody did more interviews than these guys. 

Canes to play Wisconsin in Champs Sports Bowl

After all that, it looks like the Hurricanes will get to play close to home after all. 

Champs Sports Bowl Although it hasn't been officially announced yet (the bowl announcements will take place at 8 p.m.), the University of Miami will play in the Champs Sports Bowl at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando Dec. 29 against the University of Wisconsin. According to reports, the selection process came down to a narrow vote between the Hurricanes and ACC runner-up Clemson, which has already agreed to play in the Music City Bowl in Nashville. 

The Hurricanes, 9-3 and ranked 14th in the Associated Press poll, haven't played in an instate bowl game since it beat Florida State 16-14 in the 2004 Orange Bowl.

The Badgers, 9-3 and ranked 24th in the AP poll, will be UM's first opponent from Big Ten since it lost to Ohio State in the 2002 national championship game. Miami has played Wisconsin three times, beating the Badgers 51-3 the last time the teams met in 1989 up in Madison. The Badgers, who won at Hawaii 51-10 late Saturday night, played in last year's Champs Sports Bowl and lost to Florida State 42-13. 

The Champs Sports Bowl began as the Blockbuster Bowl in Miami in 1990 and has since changed sponsors a handful of times. The Hurricanes won both of their appearances in the bowl game, beating Virginia 31-21 in 1996 and North Carolina State 46-23 in 1998. 

December 02, 2009

Canes lose another top recruit DT Louis Nix

University of Miami coach Randy Shannon has always said he doesn't buy into early commitments if players continue to take visits to other schools. He's compared it to be engaged to one woman while dating another. If that's the case, Jacksonville Raines defensive tackle Louis Nix (6-3, 318) just dumped UM for Notre Dame.

Louis NixNix, considered an ESPN Top 150 recruit and the seventh best defensive tackle in the country, had been flirting with the Irish since he first gave UM a "commitment" a year ago. He attended one of Notre Dame's summer camps in June and officially visited for its game against Michigan State in September. Then, he followed up with an unofficial visit for the USC game in mid-October.

Raines coach Deran Wiley said Wednesday morning he thinks Nix "won't be going back to the Canes" and is "really done with recruiting." Raines teammate Tavadis Glenn, a 6-5, 297-pound lineman, is still committed to UM. Wiley has said he thinks Glenn, who could end up playing on either side at UM, will stick to his word.

"Louis was a shock to me," Wiley said. "But I guess that's part of the recruiting world. To be honest with you, it's going to be boom or bust. I guess it's something totally different than what he's been around. As his coach, I have to support him."

> The Hurricanes are still chasing Hialeah High defensive end Corey Lemonier (6-4, 221) and Hargrave Military Academy's Ego Ferguson (6-3, 272). Ferguson told Canesport earlier this week Miami was in the running for his final visit.

Lemonier's coach Mark Berman said Wednesday morning the Hurricanes were in the top four for Lemonier along with Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State. Lemonier will take his final visit this weekend to LSU. "To be honest, UM has always been part of the mix," Berman said. "They are one of his top five and they're definitely in the mix. I don't think Nix decommitting will entice him more. Corey does his homework and that will play a role in his decision. Corey is a young man who is very smart, very loyal and committed. If he makes a decision at any point he'll be firm in that decision. He wants to be firm. I think there could be a possibility after the holidays he could make a decision."

> The Canes are down to 23 commitments in their class. Last week, they lost Glades Central safety/receiver Greg Dent to Florida State. UM recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt said in September the Hurricanes were looking to sign between 23-25 players in its next class.

December 01, 2009

Bowden's retirement could affect UM's bowl plans

With Bobby Bowden headed out the door at Florida State, Canes fans were probably thinking this would help UM out in some form or fashion. Maybe not.

The Florida Times-Union reported Tuesday afternoon that the Gator Bowl, which chooses third among ACC teams, has decided it wants Bowden's 6-6 Seminoles to take on West Virginia (the team he coached prior to FSU) in the Jan. 1 Bowl game in Jacksonville. So, how does that affect the Canes?

It means they'll likely slip down the bowl pecking order, which begins with the Orange Bowl (which takes the ACC Champion) and Chick-Fil-A Bowl (which is likely to take Virginia Tech). That means whoever loses the ACC Championship game -- Clemson or Georgia Tech -- would likely go to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. That leaves UM, North Carolina and Boston College available for the Music City Bowl (rumored to be taking Kentucky), Meineke Car Care Bowl (which will likely take Pittsburgh or Rutgers) or the Emerald Bowl (unlikely considering UM played there last year).

We'll find out where everyone is going officially on Sunday.

> In other ACC news, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson was named ACC Coach of the Year for the second year in a row. UM's Randy Shannon didn't get a single vote. Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams was named ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year and Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, the nation's second-leading tackler, earned Defensive Rookie of the Year.

> FYI, for those of you who have asked, I did not vote in the all-ACC awards.