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Busy weekend for UM. What's in store tonight? Football on tap (& baseball, tennis & graduation)

It's hoppin' now at the U, where 70 Hurricanes student-athletes participated in graduation ceremonies Thursday and Friday at the BankUnited Center. Fifty of those students received their bachelor's degrees Friday, and some, who will complete their degree requirements this summer, were allowed to participate in the ceremonies.

UM reported that all 18 teams were represented with a least one spring graduate. Track and Field led all teams with 15 graduates, followed by football with eight (A.J. Highsmith, who earned his undergraduate degree in December, got his masters Thursday. Seniors Jimmy Gaines, Kacy Rodgers II, Maurice Hagens, Asante Cleveland and Tyrone Cornileus earned their bachelor's degrees. Redshirt juniors Jon Feliciano and Sean Harvey also received their undergraduate degrees).

   Guard/center Jared Wheeler said he expects to receive his bachelor's in mechanical engineering in a few weeks.

   Over at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center on UM's campus, the 12th-ranked women's tennis team defeated Boston University 4-0. It's on to the second round of the NCAA tournament at 2 p.m. tomorrow for the Canes, who will face No. 18 Oklahoma. 

   The Sooners defeated Wichita State in the first round Friday morning.

       In baseball, Javi Salas, Sam Abrams, Brad Fieger, John Lawroski, AJ Salcines, Bryan Radziewski and Adam Sargent all earned their bachelor's degrees and took part in Thursday's grad school commencement so they could be on board a 9:50 p.m. flight out of Miami International Airport -- headed for Durham to face Atlantic Coast Conference opponent Duke. 

   The Hurricanes (35-14, 19-5 ACC) who have won 22 of their past 24 baseball games, take on Duke (30-18, 15-9) beginning at 6 p.m. tonight for a three-game series. They are ranked eighth by Baseball America and fifth by Collegiate Baseball and will return home Sunday to prepare for their final regular-season series -- at home against North Carolina.

   But while the Canes play tonight, my focus at 6 p.m. will be on the NFL Draft, as the second and third rounds get played out on television for the world to see. Tomorrow at noon the fourth through seventh rounds will be televised.

  There's a decent shot that nobody from UM gets drafted tonight. Guard Brandon Linder, quarterback Stephen Morris, tackle Seantrel Henderson, receiver Allen Hurns and punter Pat O'Donnell are the Canes widely regarded as having the best chances at getting drafted. But most, if not all, are projected to go tomorrow. However, despite all the analysts and gurus out there, the draft is unpredictable at best.

The Canes I've talked to are staying home to watch the draft with their families. It can be a long, torturous process, so family is always best.

There are also several Hurricanes who likely won't get drafted, but nonetheless hope to get their NFL shots through signing free agent contracts. They include Asante Cleveland, Curtis Porter, Jimmy Gaines, David Gilbert, Shayon Green, Maurice Hagens, A.J. Highsmith, Tyrone Cornileus, Justin Renfrow, Luther Robinson, Kacy Rodgers II and Jared Wheeler

   Either way, be assured that all of them will get increasingly nervous as the hours tick away. And all of them, I'm sure, are excited. After all, this is what they've been dreaming about for years.

   "All I really want is a shot,'' said safety A.J. Highsmith.

  "It's kind of crazy how fast it's picked up,'' Stephen Morris told me and a group of reporters at UM Pro Timing Day when I asked him how fast these past four years have flown. "You come here as a freshman and don't really think about the NFL. Then in your sophomore and junior years it's kind of in the back of your head.''

   He said that this moment was basically in his mind all senior season.

   "Now it's here and you have the opportunity to do something you've been dreaming of.''

   Guard/center Jared Wheeler, who graduated from Plantation American Heritage and is from Hollywood, also will be with his family this weekend. 

   "Of course you're a little nervous because there are 32 teams and you don't know which ones are going to pick you up,'' Wheeler told me. "So you get anxious. There are so many possibilities, but in the end I'm excited because I'm ready to get started. Someone is going to pick me up and I'm going to have a chance to start a new career.''

   I talked to Stephen Morris' dad Colin yesterday. He said Stephen would be with his family in Sunny Isles watching the draft.

   "We've always had plans ever since he graduated and put up the Miami Hurricanes' shoes that he was going to work really, really hard and get ready for the draft knowing that he'd be hanging out with his family during the draft,'' Colin said. "We're just going to hole up in our place. He's really excited. We all are.

   "It's tempered with a great deal of uncertainty as you can understand and imagine. We don't know where he'll go, but this last week he's heard from 20 teams I'd say. But you never know. You know how the draft is a very fluid event. But he has received such positive feedback from teams. We're just hoping he goes real quick.''

   I also talked to Linder and his dad Kent. Brandon will be at home in Southwest Ranches in Broward with his younger brother Nick, an incoming UM freshman offensive lineman who also played at St. Thomas Aquinas.

   "I'm kind of one of those guys who doesn't get excited,'' Kent Linder said. "I mean I freak out inside and I let it out without it being seen. I'm optimistic but I'm also realistic. We'll see where he ends up.''

   "I think it really hasn't hit me yet, but you can never tell with Allen because he's real humble,'' said Erica Wilson, Hurns' mom. "But our family is all excited because they've all flown in from everywhere. We have at least 50 to 60 family members who flew in to celebrate with us.'' 

   When I asked her if Allen was nervous, she said, "No. He's done a lot of smiling. I know that much.''

    In a perfect world, they all would realize their dreams. Here's hoping that in one way or another, they all do.

   SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN

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