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Five former Hurricanes who left early for NFL keeping the faith (and Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you!)

Their decisions -- at least most of their decisions -- weren't very popular among University of Miami football fans.

The UM football underclassmen caravan one year ago began with receiver Tommy Streeter, and continued with defensive tackle Marcus Forston, running back Lamar Miller, offensive lineman Brandon Washington and defensive end Olivier Vernon.

UM coach Al Golden was admittedly shocked that so many departed even before waiting to receive their projected draft status from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, which can be requested by any underclassman eligible to leave early.

Some of those players were equally shocked during draft weekend. Washington was drafted 200th overall by the Eagles -- the 30th pick in the sixth round -- and didn't make the team. He's now on the practice squad with the St. Louis Rams.

Forston wasn't drafted, earned his way onto the Patriots roster as an undrafted free agent, then was released after three games and subsequently named to the Pats' practice squad.

Streeter was taken 198th overall by the Ravens and signed a four-year, $2.19-million contract, with a signing bonus of $94,500. He broke his left foot in the final preseason game and was placed on injured reserve for the season.

Olivier Vernon was the 72nd overall pick (third round) by the Dolphins and signed a four-year contract reportedly worth $2.84 million, with a $638,000 signing bonus.

Miller went 97th overall (fourth round) to the Dolphins and signed a four-year contract reportedly worth $2.58 million, with a $486,000 signing bonus.

I talked extensively to four of the five players, and to Tommy Streeter's dad.

All said they're happy they made the decision they did (Streeter's dad would have liked him to return for his senior season, but said Tommy is happy), although I'm figuring Brandon Washington, Marcus Forston and Streeter had their doubts after the draft.  

Washington was quoted last spring as telling ProCanes.com that if he knew he was going to be drafted that low, he would have stayed in school.

He told me that he really likes St. Louis, that sometimes he does get lonesome, but that he's just waiting for his moment. 

Streeter and Marcus Forston earned their college degrees while at UM. The others did not earn their degrees.

When asked if he'd make the same decision again, Washington told me, "Yeah, I would. I have my personal reasons. I think I made the best decision for me. I try not to look back.''

Streeter's dad, Tommy Sr., told me he feels Tommy "could have gotten better at his craft, and that putting together another great season like he had would have looked really good. But I wasn't disappointed because he did what I asked him to do. He went to college and got his degree.''

Marcus Forston told me he has become very close with former Cane defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, now an NFL star with the Patriots. HIs mother, Pearline Simmons, is spending Christmas with him in Foxboro.

"I have built a great relationship with Vince,'' Forston said. "I really feel like he's going to bring my game to the next level. Being around him, his attitude on the field and off the field, and even around his family - he's an all-around great guy.''

Forston and Vernon talked about how tough it was having three different defensive coordinators while they were at UM. Vernon admitted that it was tough having a new coach as well, and getting used to his ways. 

Forston respectfully declined talking about what effect the new coaching staff had on his decision. But he did say he never intended to be at UM for five years. Injuries took their toll on him, and he said he was ready to leave when he did.

Lamar and Vernon are very satisfied, and realize how fortunate they are to have landed in their backyards  in Miami -- where they grew up and have played their entire careers.

Here's the link to the story I wrote for today's paper about the five Canes who left early. http://hrld.us/Y6yBIZ   By the way, they said they all keep in touch with each other.

Everyone have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas and holidays. 

SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN

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