Doesn’t seem that long ago that Sean Spence came to the University of Miami on the heels of a Miami Northwestern High national championship –- an undersized outside linebacker who hadn’t hit 200 pounds but had more than 100 tackles as a senior and the determination of a future collegiate star.
Now, Spence is closing in on his final season as a Hurricane, proudly wearing the black jersey awarded by new UM coach Al Golden for being a first-teamer. Some have relinquished their black jerseys to more deserving players, but not Spence. He’s holding on tight.
“He’s not resting on his laurels,’’ Golden said before Tuesday’s practice. “He’s not satisfied. We can’t take credit for any of that. It’s his expectations. We don’t have any goals we can impose on him that are greater than what he has on himself. He has been working very hard, has done a tremendous job.
“He’s gotten better in every facet of the game.’’
Spence, 6-0, is up to 225 pounds. This 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year, was UM’s Most Valuable Player in 2010 with 111 tackles – a team-leading 17 of them for losses.
He said he wants to be “a vocal leader’’ this season “by taking charge of the defense and making plays.
“I can do a lot of things better. I can get off blocks better, shed quicker, help other guys by tipping them [as to] which way the ball is going to go. I want to help in any way I can.’’
He said defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s new system allows for “a lot of versatility. We have a great mixture of blitzes and coverages.’’
For now at least, Spence – backed by Jordan Futch (who can also play in the middle) – is staying on the outside, with sophomore Jimmy Gaines wearing the black jersey in the middle and redshirt freshman Travis Williams also on the outside.
Linebacker was a position without a lot of experience at the start of spring, but with former starter Ramon Buchanan (middle) suspended indefinitely and Kelvin Cain (middle) and C.J. Holton (outside) working out with the injured players, the situation is even more precarious.
FORSTON “BANGED UP’’
Golden confirmed that defensive tackle Marcus Forston is “banged up.’’ Forston told Canesport.com that he sustained a knee injury in practice last week and was on crutches initially and now wearing a brace. Golden said Forston hasn’t had his MRI yet. “Certainly we expect to have him for the season if he is banged up now,’’ the coach said, adding that Forston has had a “tremendous’’ spring.
WEATHER SHORTENS PRACTICE
About 100 students and faculty members showed up at Greentree Field for Tuesday’s session, but instead of the usual three-hour grind, lightning shortened the practice less than an hour into drills. Because of the weather, Golden has invited UM students and faculty back to practice at 2:15 Thursday. Students and faculty must bring their valid Cane Card for admission…The public is invited to UM’s first scrimmage of the spring at 10 a.m. Saturday at Spanish River High in Boca Raton. It’s free.
MORE ON WEEK LEADING TO FIRST SCRIMMAGE
Golden said he is treating this week, leading to the first scrimmage, as he would a game week during the season. "For us, what we don't want to do is get into Maryland game week and then start teaching the guys what it's going to look like -- what the handouts are going to look like, what the cut-ups are going to look like, what the expectations are for us in the meetings. So, we're going through it now. It will allow us to play faster on Saturday, hopefully play with energy and enthusiasm and just eliminate the mental errors. We're trying to get better here over the last eight practices.''
How much does a spring scrimmage reveal to Golden? "A lot,'' he said. "You've got to think on your toes. Here, in practice, it's more controlled. I'll tell them when we're in the red-zone, or I'll tell them when we're in a goal-line period or third-down period. I think they're going to have to think on their toes out their [at the scrimmage] because if you're not right mentally and you're not on top of it, it will be third down and you won't know it. We want to get them thinking in that game mode and we'll continue to do that here throughout this week to get them ready for Saturday.
Malcolm Bunche is at first-team left tackle again; 6-6, 275-pounder Cory White, who was switched from offensive line to tight end, has impressed coaches. "We've been pleasantly surprised with his fluidness,'' Golden said. "He's 275 pounds and you can tell he was trained as a tight end at some point in his career because a lot of it is coming back to him. We'll keep him right at that weight. We want a big, strong tight end there, but he has really been a bonus in the passing game. We didn't realize he'd have that impact for us.''
KICKING GAME (AND WIECLAW) TO BE PREVIEWED
Fans will get a chance to see what rising junior Jake Wieclaw and walk-ons Alex Irastorza and Cameron Dean can do in the kicking game Saturday. Irastorza is a 6-3, 190-pound sophomore who grew up in Miami (and graduated from Columbus High) and transferred to UM from Marist College. Dean is a 6-3, 225-pound junior punter who transferred from Fordham.
Wieclaw, 6-2 and 200 pounds, is a scholarship player listed as first-team kicker and punter. A rising junior, he has basically spent his career sitting behind Matt Bosher, who is hoping to play in the NFL. Wieclaw, from New Lenox, Ill., was the Illinois prep record-holder for most field goals in a season (19 in 2006) when he came to UM in 2008 from Lincoln Way Central High. But he was slowed after breaking his right ankle making a tackle in a game as a senior.
As a high school senior in 2007, Wieclaw was 9 of 11 with a long of 52 yards. He also was a wide receiver, with a team-leading 35 catches for 485 yards and three touchdowns in 2007. He blocked three punts on special teams.
"It's been a learning experience,'' Wieclaw said Tuesday. "Everybody coming in out of high school has to learn kicking off the ground [as opposed to off a tee], and they have to learn the speed of the game. The last three years have been a learning experience for me, and being behind someone as good as Matt Bosher has helped."
Joining Wieclaw this fall will be 2011 signees Matt Goudis and Dalton Botts. Goudis, 6-0 and 160 from West Hills, Calif, was ranked the 13th-best kicker according to Rivals.com and 18th on ESPNU. He converted 12-of-16 field goals as a senior with a long of 55 yards, adding 37 extra points to earn all-league honors. He averaged 40 yards per punt .
Botts, a 6-3, 198-pound punter from Taft, Calif., comes to UM from Moorpark Community College, where he averaged 37.5-yards a punt.
Said Wieclaw: "As of now, it's open competition across the field. We're all just working to get better and competing amongst each other"
Golden has not gotten entrenched in the kicking game yet, but that will change with the first of three scrimmages Saturday.
"It has been more segmented right now,'' he said. "We'll kick live kicks on Saturday. If a drive stalls, we'll finish it with kicks. We'll get a really good shot at seeing them. I purposely withheld some of the special teams early in terms of [installation]. We're starting to get into that special teams segment now.''
--SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN