January 15, 2015

On second thought, Elder and Jones stick to football

UM basketball coach Jim Larranaga, tickled to see a crowded interview room after the Canes' huge road upset over No. 4 Duke, opened by announcing that, upon further review, football players Corn Elder and D'Mauri Jones decided to stick to football and not play for the basketball team.

"Despite how excited myself and my staff were about having Corn Elder and D’Mauri Jones join us, those guys realized the amount of work they have to do academically and still with football, and the time commitment was just going to be way too much, so neither will be with us any further. Corn was with us two practices, D’Mauri just watched, and realized, `Well, maybe I need to just concentrate on the football.'’’

(My translation: Perhaps they realized just how serious college basketball is, how skilled the players are, how hard the practicees are, and it would be hard to just dabble in it. It requires a bigger commitment than they have time or energy to give)

--Michelle Kaufman

January 14, 2015

Scarlett still committed to the Canes, but going into final three visits with an open mind

St. Thomas Aquinas running back Jordan Scarlett can see the recruiting finish line and the truth is he can't wait to get there.

Committed to the Hurricanes since July, the U.S. Army-All American and consensus four-star recruit opened some eyes late last month when he told reporters in San Antonio his commitment to UM was "85 percent."

Wednesday afternoon, I caught up with Scarlett at Aquinas after he posed for his Miami Herald All-Broward County First Team photo and asked him where he stands with UM with only three recruiting weekends left before National Signing Day on Feb. 4.

This weekend, Scarlett said he's going to visit Coral Gables. Then, he'll be off to official visits in Gainesville and Tallahassee the following two weekends. 

I asked Scarlett what he's looking for on the visits. His response: "I'm just hoping to see how the lifestyle is at all those schools, and see what's going on."

What made Scarlett go from a 100 percent Canes commitment to 85 percent? 

"How their season went," Scarlett said. "It wasn't the best season out of all my options of the schools. And I just feel like I don't want to miss on an opportunity of taking visits and seeing what's out there."

Booker T. Washington star Mark Walton, UM's other elite running back in its 2015 signing class, has developed a friendship with Scarlett this season. Last week, Walton told me the comments made by Duke Johnson's mother shortly after the bowl game (regarding how half the team would transfer out if not for NCAA rules) rattled a few recruits. Did it do the same to Scarlett?

"That didn't really rattle me at all because that's just the parents' point of view," Scarlett said.

Scarlett said he and Walton have talked often throughout the recruiting process. What has Walton's message been to Scarlett? 

"We just talk about how it's going to be there, how we're going to be a good 1-2 punch, how things are going to be great," Scarlett said. "Hopefully it all works out."

I asked Scarlett if he worries at all about coaching changes at UM? Does possible coaching changes after the 2015 season (assuming Golden and his staff fail) enter is decision-making process at all?

"No. Not really," he said. "The coaches don't really make a factor in the school for me. I'm going to play football and get my education. The coaches are great people, but I wouldn't make my choice on that."

What did Scarlett like about UM to begin with? "It's a home school, they have a great education, and they run the ball. So it's a great opportunity for me," Scarlett said. 

What has been UM's message to Scarlett throughout the recruiting process? "That's it's the place to be," he said. "That I should stay home and bring Miami back."

Is that something that still entices Scarlett? "Yes," he said. "That's why [I'm still committed to them]."

So are these trips basically to see if things might be better at UF and FSU? "Yeah," Scarlett answered.

What does Scarlett like about Florida and Florida State? "Florida is a good school. I feel like it's going to be a great school coming up because it has new coaches. I want to see what the coaches and the school is like," he said. "Florida State has just been a school of mine, part of the recruiting process since the beginning. They're a great school."

Scarlett said former Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon is his new recruiter for the Gators. 

"I didn't know him before this," Scarlett said. "He's just saying he's the new guy and he just wants to show me how much of a good opportunity it is up there and to give Florida a chance."

So is Scarlett still "85 percent committed" to Miami? "Yeah," he said. 

Scarlett said he's not planning anything special for Signing Day or some big announcement before hand. He said he's going to sign his National Letter of Intent on Signing Day and be done with the whole process.

So whoever gets Scarlett's fax is where he's going, I asked him. "Pretty much," he said. 

Miami Trustee Bob Mann gives $1 million bucks, says he's also disappointed in football, but wants to "help build the program up''

   As I said in my last post, Bob Mann is a very generous person.

   I spoke with him today about being that generous when so many understandably disgruntled football fans are saying they won’t renew their season tickets or give any more money to Hurricanes athletics until changes are made in the football program, which finished 6-7 this past season.

  If you hadn’t heard, Mann, 68, a UM alum and Trustee, gave $1 million to establish the Robert A. Mann Endowed Fund for the Department of Athletics.

 The gift will support UM football, basketball, baseball and emergency needs for all student-athletes as determined by the athletic director and is “in support of Momentum2: The Breakthrough Campaign for the University of Miami.’’

UM said Mann’s gift means as of now, the athletics department has raised more than $104 million toward its Momentum2 goal of $125 million.

 Mann has been very generous financially and otherwise over the years to support Hurricanes athletics – and other areas of UM as well. He said he chooses to keep giving, despite being upset about football’s downward trend.

“The contribution is to help build the program up,’’ he said. “There are so many needs. I continue to give every year anyway. A lot of people do. We’re really happy with the basketball program and some of the other programs are doing well and we’re all looking for the football program to turn around again.

  “Everything in football seems to go in cycles, whether it’s Ohio State or Alabama or Oklahoma. All these schools have up or down periods . I just know that everybody in the university is committed to winning. And I’m sure the resources will be there at the university to do it. So much has gone into athletics in the last decade.

   “Over the last year we put $2.5 million worth of high definition scoreboards in the BankUnitedCenter and that was to increase the fans’ experience.”

  Mann, an avid football fan who attends all the games, including the Duck Commander Independence Bowl, said he believes it’s a misconception that the administration does not care about football.

   “I think the person who wants to win more than anyone else is Donna Shalala. She’s a very competitive person. We all want to win. Losing is not fun.

   “I think fans will be very happy with what they see in the future. There will be a commitment by the administration to athletics and things will only get better.’’

    SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN  

Robert Mann endows Miami Hurricanes athletics fund with $1 million gift

  

Bob Mann is generous, and willing to support the Hurricanes through rain or shine. He has given plenty of money to his alma mater, and in particular, athletics. On Wednesday, UM announced that he has gifted $1 million to create an athletics fund to support football, basketball, baseball and "emergency needs for all student-athletes as determined by the Director of Athletics.'' 

Here’s the release from UM:

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The University of Miami Athletics Department announced today a gift of $1 million from UM Trustee and alumnus Robert Mann to create the Robert A. Mann Endowed Fund for the Department of Athletics.

This endowment gift, which will support Hurricanes Football, Basketball, Baseball and emergency needs for all student-athletes as determined by the Director of Athletics, is in support of Momentum2: The Breakthrough Campaign for the University of Miami. With this gift, the Department of Athletics has raised over $104 million towards its Momentum2 goal of $125 million.

“Thank you to Bob Mann for his longstanding generosity, commitment and leadership to University of Miami Athletics,” said UM Director of Athletics Blake James. “Bob is a trusted friend to our program and we are grateful that our dedicated student athletes will forever benefit from Bob’s generosity and leadership.”

A Cleveland native and longtime Golden Cane, Mann has generously supported scholarships and facilities in both Athletics and at the School of Communication. Mann, B.A. ’70, serves on the University’s Board of Trustees’ Athletics Advisory Committee and is the Chair of the Visiting Committee of the School of Communication. Bob’s past contributions to Athletics include supporting the construction of Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, the Robert A. Mann Auditorium in the Schwartz Center for Athletics Excellence and many years of generous discretionary support for UM Athletics.

Recognized for his unwavering commitment to his alma mater, Mann was named Henry King Stanford Alumnus of the Year in 2008.

Blake James explains why 'Fire Al Golden' and 'Bring Back Butch' posters taken from UM students last week; plus other nuggets on Marlins Park, indoor practice facility

In case you missed it, a frustrated Hurricanes fan holding a poster board with a 'Fire Al Golden' message made his way into the view of ESPN cameras Monday afternoon in Dallas, site of this year's national championship game.

Fire Al Golden poster boardScreen shots of the 'Fire Al Golden' poster -- when it was visible on TV during afternoon shows like The Herd with Colin Cowherd (you can spot it just over Tim Tebow's right shoulder in the photo here) -- made its way around social media rather quickly before the game. 

Some UM students like Willy Herrera, a 22-year old senior studying accounting and finance in Coral Gables, are saying they wish they could express themselves in a similar way on campus, but claim they aren't being allowed to. Twice last week during men's basketball games (against Virginia first and then Boston College), Herrera said he and friends had 'Fire Al Golden' and 'Bring Back Butch' signs snatched away from them by UM staffers Jesse Marks (Associate Athletic Director for Development) and Alfonso Restrepo (Assistant director of Development).

I reached out to Herrera after the Virginia game (after a prominent former UM player reached out to me privately to let me know what happened to Willy and others) to get the details. Then I asked athletic director Blake James last Thursday (shortly after the press conference to announce UM's new deal with Adidas) if he thought the school was impeding on freedom of speech rights of Hurricanes fans and students displeased with Golden.

"It's a policy at the stadium that there aren't any signs [allowed in]," James responded. "So it wasn't that it was 'Bring Back Butch' or 'Fire Al' or anything like that. The policy at the BankUnited Center is that there isn't any signs allowed in. And that's for a variety of reasons.

"Obviously if you're sitting behind someone and they're holding up a sign the whole game you can't see the game. And so the environment we create is to allow the fans to enjoy the game. Like most facilities, rarely do you allow things that are going to hamper the experience of others around them."

During Donna Shalala's tenure the school has conveyed to students through various messages the administration supports their rights to freedom of speech and other civil liberties. James was adamant last Thursday the actions taken by UM staffers wasn't censorship.

"Obviously we want to recognize the freedom to express your opinions and it wasn't something that was done on that front," he said. "It's our policy that signs aren't allowed in that facility. Again, I'm not sure how they got by the security. If they had it hidden or how it was done. But, that is something that is a policy there at that facility."

James said UM doesn't make the policy at Sun Life Stadium, but the rules at the BUC are the same as the ones for Canes baseball games on campus.

"I'm pretty sure they don't allow signs or umbrellas in Sun Life Stadium," James said. "Again, most stadiums aren't going to allow you to bring things in that are going to hamper the viewing enjoyment of others around you."

Obviously there are quite a few others who enjoy the Fire Al Golden posters like Herrera, who grew up a Canes fan and graduated from Miami Columbus High before coming to UM.

"It's not the act of [my poster board] being taken away," Herrera said of why he's upset. "We're not allowed to say anything, and at the end of the day it is a school and it's for the student first. We also pay our athletic fee every year. A lot of us could argue what we pay for isn't what we expected when we decided to go and pay our athletic fee. A lot of these people who make these big decisions are in politics and are used to listening to constituents. It's just frustrating that we're trying every way of being heard and no one listens to us. Athletics is a big part of student life, a huge part of athletic experiences. Why can't we express ourselves?"

MORE QUESTIONS FOR BLAKE JAMES

I spoke to James for 10 minutes one-on-one about a variety of other issues last Thursday. Here is a short Q&A of the topics covered:

Q: It feels like there's been overwhelming constant negativity from fans regarding Al Golden being the football coach. What's your message to the fan when there is a level of vitriol we haven't seen before?

"We all want the same thing. We all want to see the program win and I'm confident -- and you spoke to Al -- Al wants to win. I know there's some out there that question if he's the right one out there to do it and if he can do it, and I still feel that he is the guy that can get it done. The only thing I would say is 'Hey that's what we all want.' We all want to see this program winning ACC championships because if you're doing that you're going to have a chance to win the national championship.' And we all know that's the end goal. Let's get an ACC championship and then let's have an opportunity at the national championship. So, it's really just to try to give -- as with any one of our programs -- give them the support they need and give them the resources to be successful.

"That's part of this [Adidas] deal. It's going to give me greater ability to give them resources they need to be successful. Whether it's the facilities we've done over the last couple years -- the student athlete training table, practice fields. We're going to put lights up out here within the next few months. It's putting all those things in place to allow us to have success. I understand people are unhappy about us being 6-7. But Al's not happy about being 6-7. I'm not happy about being 6-7. I think we just have different views on how do we get back to the top. And mine let's support and invest. Obviously others have different thoughts."

Q: Have you spoken to Al about changing his assistant coaches?

"Al and I talked about those sorts of things. But that's something I trust him to make the judgement on. We brought that conversation up and that's something that he constantly has to do. He has to do that every year. Obviously in a year that you're 6-7 it becomes a much more targeted area I think. As is the head coaching position when you go 6-7. I recognize that's what people are going to want to talk about right now. It goes into his evaluation every year. Whether you're winning a national championship or going 6-7 there's things you're going to need to change for next year. Because if you sit in the same spot everybody is going to pass you by. So it's Al's job to constantly evaluate his program and make sure we're doing the things we need to do to progress. Because you always need to make progress regardless of what you're record is. So those are things that I leave to him. But my challenge to him was evaluate everything and make the changes you need to make and then tell me what you need on resources so I can get us to where we need to be. We need to be winning the Coastal. We need to be going to the ACC championship, and again we need to be back on the national stage. And we're on the same page with that. And that's my commitment to him to get him back to that spot."

Q: I've had a couple Golden Canes boosters reach out to me and they've said the you and administration have told them there will be changes after Signing Day. What's been your message to them? What have you tried to convey to them?

"My message is the same to everyone whether it's a Golden Cane or anyone else is. I want to give them their resources. Any one of our programs. Obviously, football is the one that's the big one and football is the one that's been talked about the most. For me, it's just continuing push them to evaluate, push them to make sure I'm giving them the resources they need, and then continuing to look at our facilities and our infrastructure to see what we can do better. We need to get lights on our practice field. We need an indoor practice facility and I'm excited about what the Dolphins are doing with Dolphins Stadium. I think that will enhance some things too and should help create a better gameday environment for us."

Q: What can you tell us about the new gameday experience for Canes fans might be like with all the changes being done at Sun Life?

"The Dolphins are going to have a press conference on that. I'd rather just comment after that press conference just not to say anything."

Q: But it's going to be a better experience?

"Yeah. I would say with everything they've shared with me I'm confident our fans will feel it's a much better game day experience."

Q: Where are you in terms of season tickets sold for 2015?

"We still haven't even started because we're still waiting for the Dolphins to finalize everything. Once they finalize everything then we'll send out our renewal notices. We haven't sent out our renewal notices, which is again off schedule for us. Normally we would have already sent those out. Given this construction project it looks like it's probably going to be February when we send stuff out that normally would have been out by now."

Q: In terms of an indoor practice facility at UM how close is that to becoming a reality?

"We're working on it. It's hard for me to say how close we are. We're working on identifying the right spot for it. I think once we find the right spot the institution and our supporters, are in-line and recognize the need for it that we're going to be able to make it a reality. Right now, it's finding the right spot. Then it will be lining up the funding for it. But I'm confident we're going to make that happen."

Q: Marlins Park hosted its first bowl game. Any chance you might play a game there at some point? Maybe against FIU?

"I think it would be hard. We signed a deal with FIU and [athletic director] Pete [Garcia] had mentioned maybe we could look at doing something like that. Sun Life Stadium is our home filed and to go play somewhere else in our own market -- if it's not on a permanent basis -- I don't think it would make sense for us. But I'll continue to monitor what they're doing at Marlins Park. And if there's something we ever felt would be a fit for us we'd investigate the possibilities."

January 12, 2015

Q&A with UM basketball coach Jim Larranaga on Hurricanes football players Corn Elder & D'Mauri Jones

Here’s the full Q and A between Miami Herald UM basketball writer Michelle Kaufman (first two questions) and Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga, and me and Larranaga (final question) during today’s Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball teleconference, as the Canes prepare to play at Duke on Tuesday night.

Please read the previous Eye On the U blog entry for more information about former Tennessee high school star point guard/ current UM cornerback Corn Elder, and UM receiver D’Mauri Jones. Both attend UM on football scholarships.

Jones has one catch in his career, this past season against FAMU, for 13 yards. Elder played extensively in football, and is expected to have an even bigger role next season. Both are rising juniors.

 Q: Two football players are coming over to help. Do you see them being practice players or contributing on the court and how good are they at basketball? Have you watched them play?

 Coach Larranaga: “I’ve really not watched them play. Corn Elder was an outstanding high school basketball player in the state of Tennessee. He was going to play last year and got injured, had surgery, so he didn’t. D’Mauri Jones I’ve never seen play at all.

   “Right now, game preparation is so important and we want to have as much depth as we possibly can, so we’d like to have a scout team that can just be the opponent, so that these young guys – especially our freshmen – can just focus on being Miami and don’t have to bounce back and forth between what we call our white team and green team. So we’ve added a group called our black team, and they’re the ones that become the opponent, so the white and green team can really prepare for our next game.”

Cornelder

 Q: When can they start practicing?

 Coach Larranaga:  Corn Elder was able to start yesterday [Sunday], but D’Mauri Jones is still waiting for NCAA clearance. He’ll either be ready today or Wednesday. They will not be traveling to Duke.”

D'Mauri Jones

 Q: Is there a possibility that either or both could play this season. For that to happen -- if they should play – would that have to be cleared by Al Golden?

 Coach Larranaga: “Before Corn and D’Mauri ever came to my office to talk to me, which was yesterday, I called Al and told him that those kids had expressed interest. And Al was very, very cooperative and said it was fine with him. He felt it was good for them to stay very, very active. As far as my relationship with Al Golden, it’s terrific. He’s been wonderful and very supportive of our basketball program and he said if these guys can help them practice for games, you know, go for it.

   “As far as playing in a game is concerned, our first thought is we are going to put them on the scout team and have them help us prepare for games. Beyond that I can’t tell you because honestly I haven’t seen them play. But we already have a very strong starting unit and five guys off the bench who are very capable of helping us. So, it’ll be very, very challenging and it would take some unusual circumstances before either one of them would actually get into a game. They would have to work their way onto the green team.”

 SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN

"Money Mot'' named Natl Player of Week

UM guard Adrienne Motley, nicknamed "Money Mot'', was definitely on the money last week, and it didn't go unnoticed. She was named ESPN-W National Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 32 points against No. 4 Notre Dame and 22 against Virginia Tech. She shot 68 percent against the Irish and had eight rebounds against the Hokies.

The Canes are 13-3, 3-0 ACC, and surely will break into the Top 25 today. Now, if only they could get more fans -- and students -- to show up at their games.

--Michelle Kaufman

January 11, 2015

Jim Larranaga: UM football players Corn Elder & D'Mauri Jones walking on to Hurricanes basketball

Hurricanes cornerback Corn Elder of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, starred in football and basketball at The Ensworth School in Nashville -- leading Ensworth to three state titles in each sport.

Elder, 20, a rising junior whose scholarship is with the football team, had a goal of playing both sports when he came to UM as a true freshman in 2013. But he tore the meniscus of his right knee against Virginia in November 2013, underwent surgery, and had to temporarily let the basketball dream linger while he rehabilitated and got stronger for football.

Now, fully healed with a complete 2014 football season behind him (in addition to 10 games in 2013), Elder is, indeed, in the process of walking on to the Miami men's basketball team, as confirmed Sunday night by basketball coach Jim Larranaga.

Also in the process of joining the team as a walk-on is 6-4, 196-pound rising junior receiver D'Mauri Jones of Leesburg, Fla. Like Elder, Jones goes to UM on a football scholarship.

A UM spokesman said both players are not yet on the basketball roster, nor will they  will travel to Duke on Tuesday. 

"One of the keys to our success is game preparation,'' Larranaga told our Michelle Kaufman tonight. "Corn Elder and D'Mauri Jones can really help us in that category. They are two terrific young men and great athletes. We greatly appreciate Al Golden and his staff for allowing them to join us at this time.'' 

Cornelder

Elder, a former star point guard, recently told The Tennessean while he was home for winter break: "I'm not sure at this point [about joining the basketball team]. "I'll see how I feel once I get back. I want to sit down with Coach, kind of take it from there.''

 Elder also said in the story: "It's a lot tougher playing both sports because the football season is so much longer in college than it is in high school. It's just something I'm going to have to really think hard about.''      

  The UM hoops team is now 11-4 overall and 1-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It travels to Durham, North Carolina, to face the Blue Devils at 9 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN2).

    Elder told the paper he's "looking forward to next season'' in football. This year he finished with 34 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, two fumble recoveries and four pass breakups.

   "I had a pretty good football season, but I feel like I could have played better,'' he said.

  When I interviewed Elder this past season, he told me he "loves'' both sports, "but I think I have a higher ceiling in football. ...Right now I'm just focusing on all football.''

  Elder was obviously undersized in football, at "about 175 pounds'' on his 5-10 frame last August (the UM bio said 182 then and now says 188). He was clocked last summer with a 4.46-second average after running two 40-yard dashes -- the fastest time for a UM defensive back. He was a star running back in high school.

   "He has good athleticism, he can flip his hips and has good body control and is very fast,'' UM defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio told me about Elder. "And the thing that was surprising in the beginning was he was also very willing to be physical having really not played defense before."

 SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN

    

 

  

January 09, 2015

Booker T. Washington star running back Mark Walton looking forward to becoming a Hurricane

Mark Walton said he's always been a diehard Hurricanes fan. So becoming a Cane soon will be easy.

"No matter what record we had, what record we finished with, I was always a University of Miami fan," the 17-year-old Booker T. Washington running back said on Wednesday. "Edgerrin James was my favorite player."

Walton got a chance to meet James at the Florida State game back on Nov. 15. 

"He didn't know I was committed and he asked me what position I played," Walton said. "I told him running back. He started telling me, 'This is a great place for you. You've got the ability to change your family's life.' I said, 'Did you regret going to the University of Miami?' He said, 'Not at all, that's a decision he made and it was the best decision he made his whole life, and it helped change his whole life."

Walton is looking forward to following in James' footsteps soon. A UM commitment since Sept. 29, 2013 (he's the second-longest commitment in the 2015 class), Walton said this week that barring any major coaching changes in Coral Gables (and even that might not be enough) he plans to sign with the Hurricanes on Feb. 4. 

Miami has been his dream school since he was little. Walton said he does have visits lined up to go to Louisville, West Virginia and Georgia after visiting UM this weekend. But he says that's really just in case he has to turn to Plan B.

"The reason I'm going to the University of Miami is because I feel like me, coach Ice, coach Golden and [offensive coordinator James] Coley have a great relationship," Walton said. "Being around them, I love their energy. I think we have a great relationship more than any coach that is recruiting me."

One of six children, Walton said he's been raised by his mother Kimberly Rogers for most of his life. Walton said his father, Mark Walton Sr., was murdered when he was about seven or eight years old -- after his parents were already separated. 

"He was stabbed in the heart by his girlfriend," Walton said. "It affected me big time. I knew he wanted me to do the right things in life and keep my head focused. That's my motivation in life, make my mom happy, the way she treats me. She broke her back for me. I want to make her happy at the end of the day."

Listed at 5-10, 179 pounds, Walton ran for 1,470 yards and 22 touchdowns this season on 203 carries and also caught 24 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns. His high school career numbers (2,769 yards rushing, 45 touchdowns; 36 catches, 462 yards, 7 TDs) would have continued to go up next season had Walton not worked hard to rejoin the 2015 class.

After being held back in the third grade, Walton said he made it his goal when he got to high school to rejoin his class and graduate on time. So he said he did a lot of virtual school over the summer to catch up. He went from starting the school year as a junior in the Class of 2016 to being moved up to a senior and the class of 2015 once his virtual school credits went into effect. 

Coach Tim Harris Jr., a University of Miami grad and the son of UM running backs coach Ice Harris, said the Tornadoes are definitely going to miss Walton's leadership next year. 

Teammate Devante Davis, a Texas commitment and star cornerback also visiting UM this weekend, said Walton was the player everyone rallied around this season when times got tough because he "brought the swag to the team."

"I see a little bit of Duke [Johnson] in him," Harris Jr. said of Walton. "But in all honesty without the track speed Duke has. I also see a little Clinton Portis with the patience, the running, the vision. Then you see the explosiveness of Willis [McGahee] when he was there." 

Harris Jr. said Walton also adds another valuable dimension to the Canes -- superior pass catching ability out of the backfield.

"Being in our system he had an opportunity to add to his game as a receiver," Harris Jr. said. "That dynamic of him taking it to that offense down there can help them open up even more. For us, there were many times he lined up at receiver in one-on-one situations. He's confident he can be an outside threat while also being a running back."

As a runner, Harris Jr. said Walton can handle all phases: "he can run outside, he can pound you and he run it inside."

"At the end of the day, Mark is a playmaker who wants it on his back when things get tough," Harris Jr. said. "You can't coach that in kids.

"The big games we had this year, Mark was that calming factor not only for the players, but even us, the guys on the coaching staff. There were some games he would come to me and say 'Coach, don't worry about it. We're in tough situations, give it to me, I've got it.' I would tell him, 'They're stacking the box. You're not going to be able to do too much.' He would say, 'Coach I got it, I'll figure out how to run against them.' That happened in two of our tough games at the end of the season. Our trusting him and believing in him with his growth over the years, he's made sure to make those things pay off."

One thing Walton wants on his back when he arrives in Coral Gables is helping change the culture around UM. He's not big into losing. After all, he's won three state titles at Booker T. Washington in three high school seasons. So he has no idea what it's like to walk off the field a loser at the end of a season.

"From my conversations with Brad Kaaya I know he wants to change it around," Walton said. "I just want to go in, bring the team together as a family and just let these guys know we've got to win. It's time for the University of Miami to be back. Let's bring more energy. Let's start winning, get all the negativity out, make our fans happy. Do it the right way, win."

Catching up with Coach L...

It’s always fun to attend Coach Jim Larranaga’s press conferences because he is loquacious, has great perspective, loves to teach basketball to anyone who cares to listen, and often goes off on interesting tangents.

Here are some snippets from Friday’s media gathering, as the Canes (10-4), coming off a heartbreaking double overtime loss to Virginia, prepare to face Boston College (7-6) at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

On the starting lineup for Saturday’s game: “We’ll change the lineup.’’ For 13 games, the starters were Angel Rodriguez, Manu Lecomte, Sheldon McClellan, Joe Thomas and Tonye Jekiri. Against Providence, Omar Sherman started instead of Thomas. Coach L mentioned that during the Virginia game, he liked the lineup of Rodriguez, McClellan, Jekiri, DeAndre Burnett and Omar Sherman. Will he go with those 5? Stay tuned.

On Katie Meier, whose UM women’s team stunned No. 4 Notre Dame 78-63 Thursday night, the first time in 62 games the Irish lost to an unranked team: “Katie Meier was the second person I spoke to at UM when I took the job. (Athletic director) Shawn Eichorst was the first. I said I’d like to speak to Katie Meier. She was National Coach of the Year, already led UM to an ACC title. She has a great understanding of what a coach has to do in every category from relationship-building on campus to relationships with high school and AAU coaches, basketball strategy, recruiting, public relations. She is very, very well-thought of. Everybody that is familiar with the women’s side of the game is familiar with Katie Meier and the incredible job she has done here.’’

Asked to switch gears to his team, he broke into a smile and joked:  “Can’t we stay on the women’s team?’’

On overcoming the Virginia loss: “It was very painful after the game Saturday night. It was painful all day Sunday. By the time we practiced on Monday, the pain had changed to anger. I was angry, not at our players, not at my coaches or myself, just angry we lost. I wanted to use that angriness to fuel myself and my team.’’

On the new partnership between UM and Adidas: “It creates some excitement coaches are sharing with the players. (Kids asked how they will benefit) Instead of just white, green, orange, black uniforms, we’re gonna have retro uniforms, gray uniforms. We’re gonna outfit you, more travel outfits…because players, just like all of us, like gear.

“My wife has 500 pairs of shoes, not as many as my players have in sneakers.

On how the Adidas deal affects recruiting: “How do we take that announcement and put that to good use and create an advantage for ourselves in the recruiting process? One thing I’ve shared with our point guard recruits is take a look at the NBA, who’s wearing Adidas, three of the best -- Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose and John Wall. They’re in Adidas. We’ve had Shane (Larkin), Angel (Rodriguez) and now Sheldon (McClellan), great guards. If Adidas is good enough for them, there’s no reason you can’t come to UM and have that same kind of success.’’

On when the obsession with sports branding began: “It started around 1967. Almost every college basketball team was in canvas Converse. First school I can remember not wearing canvas Converse was UCLA, and they were winning national championships wearing Adidas. Those shoes became very popular and kids started buying them. Shoes of champions. Nike took that idea and said, `Hey’ let’s get some college kids in our Nikes. They created an advisory board of college coaches and paid them and provided their universities with product. Free shoes. The AD was benefiting, coach was hugely benefiting, lining his pockets with cash, players were benefiting with free multiple shoes.

“When I was in college, you bought your canvas Converse. No one gave them to you. You had one pair all season. Now kids wear a pair for a week.''

By Michelle Kaufman

How the Hurricanes lost a couple of recruiting battles at Miami Central this season

Last year the University of Miami was able to snag two of the three elite prospects from Miami Central High School -- running back Joseph Yearby and offensive tackle Trevor Darling. 

And they lost a tough one to national champion Florida State, which snagged Mr. Florida Football Dalvin Cook.

This year, the Hurricanes weren't able to get commitments from either of the two players it really wanted at Central, which won its fourth state championship in five seasons and third in a row in Class 6A.

Receiver Da'Vante Phillips, an Under Armour All-American, opted to follow his close friend Cook to Florida State and is already enrolled in Tallahassee. And running back/receiver Anthony Jones stuck with his commitment to FIU over a late offer from the Hurricanes.

Wednesday, I caught up with Rockets coach Roland Smith, a former Hurricane himself, to find out why in his opinion his alma mater wasn't able to win the recruiting war for either player and why the Canes weren't necessarily interested in a few other players at Central.

"My kids are still intrigued by the University of Miami, but I knew it was going to be hard for the kid they were trying to get in Phillips because of the strong ties he had with Dalvin Cook," Smith said. "When Dalvin was committed to Florida a couple years ago, Da'Vante committed to Florida. When Dalvin decommitted, Da'Vante decommitted. Then, even though Da'Vante was intrigued by Miami, I think the temptation and friendship he had with Cook is why he went to FSU. Da'Vante knew he probably had a better opportunity to go in and contribute right away at Miami, but I think the relationship with Cook, plus the opportunity to play for FSU played a big part in it too.

"When you're winning, kids are very impressionable you know. That plays a big part of it too. When you're winning everybody wants to be a part of a winning program. And right now FSU has been winning and getting the fruit of their labor for winning. Miami is just going after kids they think can help their program out."

Right now, the Canes have commitments from just two of the 16 players from Dade and Broward who played in the three major All-American games: St. Thomas Aquinas running back Jordan Scarlett (U.S. Army All-American) and Miami Killian safety Jaquan Johnson (U.S. Army All-American, already enrolled).

"That number is real low. It should be higher," Smith said. "But it is what it is. I work for Miami Central, not the University of Miami. In order for Miami to get back to where we were we've got to keep these local kids home. They've tried. It's not for a lack of effort. From the staff on down, the head coach, coordinators, assistant coaches, they're doing a hell of a job trying. But to get over the hump you've got to win those big games. This year we weren't able to pull off the big ones like Florida State, Nebraska. Kids these days are more impressionable. It seemed like to me like when we were coming up, when Melvin Bratton, Alonzo Highsmith decided to go to UM, Miami wasn't dominant either, but those guys wanted to turn the program around and put it on the map. Nowadays it seems like the kids look forward to going to programs that are winning, already established, not trying to build something. And that's kind of surprising to me."

Running back Anthony Jones, the MVP of this year's state championship game, was offered late by the Hurricanes. 

"I think he stuck with FIU because he has a chance to do a lot more things that he probably wouldn't be able to do at Miami," Smith said. "FIU is giving him an opportunity, putting a package in for him where he could be a running back, receiver, wildcat, do things on special teams. Plus, an opportunity to help change the program around too and be the man too. That's the only reason he stayed with them because he liked the opportunity at Miami. They were intrigued by his playmaking ability and said he could have been a special kid that helped them out at slot receiver or running back. Brennan Carroll, James Coley, Ice [Harris], they all made a strong push. It was late, but they made a strong push to try and get him. It's just he had a better chance to be in more packages at FIU than any other program."

Did it surprise Smith FIU beat out UM for Jones?

"Well, Cincinnati was saying the same thing," he said. "They would have rather lost the kid to Miami rather than lose him to FIU. I've had kids pick Division I-AA schools over Division I schools. I had a coach one time fussing with me because a kid picked Howard over Eastern Michigan. I said, coach that's the kid's decision. Sometimes guys think because of the schools they're from that will win the kid over, but it's the relationship the kid develops and the opportunity they have to play somewhere. A lot of people asked him are you sure this is what you want to do? It was tough for Anthony. He was going back and forth on which way he was going to go. But at the end he had to sit down and pray on it. He felt it was the best opportunity for him to go there to FIU."

Central had plenty of other stars on the team including three others already enrolled in college: U.S. Army All-American safety Calvin Brewton (Florida State), defensive end Fermin Silva (FIU) and linebacker Marquis Couch (Marshall). Why didn't the Hurricanes show more interest in any of those guys? 

"Miami was recruiting Fermin [Silva], but they never offered him," Smith said. "They wanted to see him stand up a little bit more. He was a kid that was very intrigued by Miami. If they would have offered him he would have gone. 

"With Bretwon, they felt like they had some other guys at safety that they liked a little bit more. Calvin was always intrigued by FSU. His friend Bobo Wilson, who he played with before is at FSU. He had some other schools that came after him that I thought would be a better fit. But like I told him, in the end you have to be happy where you go. It's your decision."

January 07, 2015

Golden talks Dallas trip, making changes for 2015, the new Testaverde and more

The goal for every college football team back in August was to make it to Dallas in January.

Turns out, Al Golden made it to Dallas in January after all.

The Miami Hurricanes' head coach -- along with offensive coordinator James Coley -- have spent the past couple days studying how the Dallas Cowboys run their organization from practices to meetings to drills.

The idea: learn how a successful NFL team does it, come home with fresh ideas to implement here for the future, and plot a new course that includes putting a disappointing 6-7 season behind them for good.

"Really since the day we got back from the bowl game the message that I wanted to convey to the team was improving," Golden said by phone Wednesday night. "Not just change for change sake, but to really identify the things we needed to improve and start to plot that course from the head coach's perspective."

Before arriving in Dallas Monday, Golden said he spent every day following the bowl loss to South Carolina in his office in Coral Gables looking at every facet of how things are done at UM. Everything, he said, could end up on the cutting room floor once he's done with his evaluations.

"It's fair to say I'm evaluating every aspect, every part of the program whether that's personnel or staff or off-season programs or how we run summer camp, spring ball, right down to our systems," he said. "I want to make sure we're doing things right. 2014 was unacceptable."

Does that include changing defensive scheme? "Oh sure," Golden said.

Golden already has many changes in mind, but he said he's not sharing any of them with the public until the team hears it first. That will happen when everyone gets back together on Sunday night.

> One new thing Golden is bringing back from Texas that he is willing to talk about: quarterback Vincent Testaverde, a transfer from Texas Tech.

The son of UM's former Heisman-winner will be eligible to play immediately at UM because he was a nonrecruited walk-on for the Red Raiders this past season. Testaverde played in one game as a freshman, throwing for 116 yards on 15-of-26 passing with an interception in a game against Texas.

He'll wear No. 14 -- his father's old number -- for the Hurricanes. His addition fills the need for another backup quarterback after UM lost a commitment from its only quarterback recruit in the 2015 class. Testaverde figures to backup ACC Freshman of the Year Brad Kaaya and provide depth along with returning redshirt freshman Malik Rosier.

"I'm excited about him joining our program," Golden said. "Just to hear Vinny Sr. and the pride he has in his voice to have Vincent come to The U, it's awesome."

> Three new arrivals were already posing for selfies at UM on Wednesday: former Miami Killian safety Jaquan Johnson, defensive lineman Scott Patchan and tight end Jerome Washington. Linebacker Charles Perry is expected to enroll on Monday along with junior college offensive lineman Jahair Johnson.

Golden said he's excited defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, suspended for the 2014 season, and safety Rayshawn Jenkins, injured for the 2014 season, are already back with the team.

> Two guys who won't be around for spring football because they have to recover from injuries: offensive tackles Kc McDermott and Taylor Gadbois.

"Everybody else should be good to go," Golden said. "[Receiver] Herb [Waters] is going to be cleared here soon. [Kicker Matt] Goudis will be ready by spring ball. [Offensive lineman] Hunter Knighton is making a lot of progress in his rehab, we're hopeful to have him return sometime this spring."

> Freshman cornerback Ray Lewis III transferred to Coastal Carolina on Tuesday. Golden said he doesn't expect anybody else on UM’s roster to leave. "But at this time of year,” he cautioned. “if kids are going to leave they do leave. We're just not anticipating it."

> With a month to go before National Signing Day, UM has 20 new recruits either committed or signed. Golden said UM won't sign a full 25 this year because his goal is to exhaust the nine scholarships the program was docked by the NCAA for the Nevin Shapiro mess so it doesn’t affect the class of 2016.

> Golden declined to discuss comments attributed to Duke Johnson's mother late last month. Cassandra Prophet Mitchell created a stir on Facebook by saying "the majority of the team wouldn't be there" if players could transfer without sitting out a year and that "kids [are] tired of this crap."

A source at UM claims Mitchell reached out to Golden to say her comments "were misrepresented" and "the issue has been put to rest.”

"There was disappointment, but there was no finger pointing, no fighting, no dissension," Golden said of how 2014 ended. "Nobody is discouraged. The United campaign [on Instagram and Twitter] isn't a campaign from us the coaches or the administration. That's a grassroots thing from the players. Those are the guys calling, texting, spreading that. Talk to our kids. They can't wait to get going in 2015."

Open letter to Canes fans: Mountain of negativity only making things worse

Al Golden can’t win.

I don’t mean that in the literal sense, like the Hurricanes have yet to beat a high-end opponent under Golden's leadership.

I mean it in the sense of there’s nothing Golden can say at this point to overcome the mountain of negativity on top of him and this football program.

Al needs to phone a friend. And he needs you -- the Miami Hurricanes football fan –- to answer even if you don't want to.

I’ll admit it. I was a little angry late Monday night. About 10 days after a fourth consecutive loss to end the season, Golden’s first words weren’t delivered in a season-ending press conference (the way things are normally done) but through a one-on-one interview with Gary Ferman at Canesport. As a reporter, you get a little ticked off when you aren’t given equal opportunity.

Then, I read the Canesport interview and didn’t feel so bad. Golden's responses were what we expected. In the end, it hit me why Golden is going one-on-one with select reporters versus facing a firing squad at a press conference (there will be more one-on-ones by the way). He can control the message. He can keep tough questions private. We won't get to see him bristle.

That's smart from a public relations perspective. In the end, what is Al going to say publicly that’s really going to make anything better anyway? Will blaming himself put an end to the fire Golden chants? No.

Truth is, only actions will do at this point. And after 10 days of inaction, does it really look like coaching changes are going to be made –- forcefully by the administration, anyway? It would have happened already.

Which brings me back to my point: that mountain of negativity.

Al Golden can bunker himself in, ignore the noise and plead with his players and assistants to do the same. But the rest of us? We do live in that world. That includes recruits, parents, influential coaches, street agents, girlfriends, Ray-Ray on the corner, the woman who does Susan Miller Degnan's hair and a bunch of loud people on the radio and internet. And that’s where all this irreparable public relations damage is being done.

That’s where the University of Miami – the program you are supposed to be supporting – is losing a much bigger war.

It might look like a one man job, one man’s sole responsibility to clean up after himself, after Randy Shannon and Larry Coker. After all, Al's got the fat paycheck, those pillars and that orange tie. But this isn’t a one-man job. It’s on fans too. Even if it's a smaller role, you play one on Saturdays and all the days inbetween.

In case you didn’t know (I’ll put in capital letters to make it clear Canes Fam): WE’VE HEARD YOUR CRIES FOR CHANGE. We saw those banners fly over the stadium over and over again. We’ve read Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, seen the red cups form the phrase FIRE AL GOLDEN on the Palmetto Expressway overhang. We get it: You are not happy with the job Al Golden has done.  We know you not only wanted Mark D’Onofrio gone before Christ was born, but you wanted him to legally change his name to Mark Onofrio too.

This voicemail box is full, people.

Now, it’s time to stop digging the hole even deeper for UM. You’ve got to lend the Canes a hand even if Golden can’t fix this mess himself; even if in the end he doesn't turn out to be the right man for the job. It’s time to give up on the dream of creating such a loud chorus of boos that it will result in Golden's firing, bringing Butch back or ending D'Onofrio's reign of terror.

Athletic director Blake James is not going to fire Golden anytime soon. He’s said it over and over again. James isn’t even forcing Golden to fire anyone on his staff. They are going to see this through – at least through 2015 in my opinion – whether you show up to No Life Stadium or not (and not that many of you were doing that before this 6-7 mess anyway).

Status quo is the message Golden Canes, the donors, have been receiving for weeks when they’ve voiced complaints and concerns or threatened to pull funds if changes aren’t made. One Golden Cane told me James and others have told them "to keep holding on, nothing will happen until Signing Day.”

So, there. Something might happen after Signing Day. There's a ray of sunshine, a glimmer of hope. But that's all it is for now. 

That aura of negativity permeating 24 hours a day? That's not doing anyone any favors. Nobody in their right mind, who could be part of fixing the future at Miami, is looking at UM and saying ‘Man that place is sexy. Look at all the support that school gets. Those fans are the best.’

And I don’t mean coaches. You can throw money at any coach and they'll lie through their teeth about anything. They are mercenaries paid to put their heart into something. 

I’m talking about kids -- from seniors on down to Pee Wee football players. I’m talking about the future. I’m talking about all those people who don’t live in Al Golden’s world. I’m talking about the people who can see, smell, taste, hear and feel the negativity and have it push them away. And right now on the nasty scale, that storm is a Category 5.

Blake James, the aforementioned athletic director who took over after Golden had already received his contract extension through 2019, tried to wish fans a Happy New Year on Twitter a few days ago. The Rated-R responses to James were sickening. These were some of the PG-responses:

I can't imagine what the response would have been had Golden or D'Onofrio tweeted something.

Wait, I can.

Brad Kaaya’s mother, Angela Means, has tried to stem this tide of negativity on Twitter and Facebook, urging fans to stick by the side of the players and the team. So has UM. Somehow, they've come up with another clever marketing campaign sure to win folks over.

The public relations machine in Coral Gables has been on overdrive promoting positivity and unity left and right. It’s obviously a direct rebuttal to what Duke Johnson’s mother and Clive Walford were putting out there in the aftermath of the bowl loss –- that there was a division among players and that players would transfer out if they didn’t have to sit out a year per NCAA rules. You know, all the kind of stuff that makes recruits feel warm and fuzzy this time of year.

In the end, though, it’s clear UM is fighting a huge uphill battle. A really, really, really big one. And one they likely won't win on Signing Day either. Recruiting wars for 2015 have already been lost long ago. More could be on the way in more decommitments.

Golden and his staff deserve a lot of that blame. Did you know Miami-Dade and Broward County produced 16 seniors this season that played in the three major All-American games? Do you know how many are headed to UM? Two: St. Thomas Aquinas running back Jordan Scarlett and Miami Booker T. Washington running back Mark Walton.

Not all of that failure can be traced solely to Golden or the results on the field. Some of it can be traced to the black cloud of negativity surrounding the program, the one fans have helped create.

Michael Irvin, the face of The U, the man who supports Miami through thick and thin, Mr. Positive, Mr. It’s going to get better -- even he couldn’t blame his nephew, Miami Westminster Christian All-American safety Tim Irvin, for skipping out on UM to head to Texas.

Pinning blame on fans for the program’s current state of affairs isn't the idea here. The players and coaches deserve all that blame –- Golden the biggest chunk of that.

You can’t have fewer wins over FBS schools (5) in 2014 than potential NFL Draft picks in 2015. You can’t keep pointing to an NCAA cloud that “devastated the program” when the basketball team won an ACC title while said cloud was hanging over its head too. And you just can’t keep harping on a convenient argument (we improved from 90th in 2013 to 15th in total defense in 2014) to show signs of improvement.

Nobody cares. Nobody wants to hear it because they’ve heard it all before. Fans want action. They want results. And if not, they want blood.

But in this case, there doesn’t look like there will be blood. No matter how loud the chorus gets, Blake James doesn’t look like he’s changing his mind or his coach.

So, my advice, take a step back and put your energy toward something you can help change. And that’s making the cloud over Coral Gables -- the real one -- a little smaller each day. Turn down the noise a little. Al Golden can pretend he doesn't hear it. It's what he does. But just remember everyone else in this world can hear it loud and clear.

January 06, 2015

Ray Lewis III transferring to Coastal Carolina per his Instagram account

Ray Lewis III, the son of former Hurricane and Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, is leaving UM for Coastal Carolina according to his Instagram account.

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," Lewis III wrote as the caption to a cartoon of Coastal Carolina's mascot holding a football. "If opportunity doesn't knock... build a door! #Round2"

Lewis III, a redshirt freshman cornerback, never played a down for the Hurricanes in his two seasons in Coral Gables and dealt with some off the field issues. He was suspended for the bowl game his freshman year.

Lewis was a three-star recruit and Semper Fidelis All-American as a two-way star at Lake Mary Prep, a small private school near Orlando.

-- MANNY NAVARRO

January 05, 2015

Multiple sources: UM switches from Nike to Adidas: long-term deal to be announced Thursday.

Those smoke uniforms the University of Miami unveiled this season?

Collectors' items or trash-heap material. You decide.

Multiple sources told the Miami Herald on Sunday and Monday morning that the Hurricanes have switched apparel providers from Nike to Adidas.

UM will announce the deal on Thursday.

Adidas has already been canvassing athletic department personnel to find out what type of shoes and apparel are needed to suit each sport's needs. Almost all are pleased with the situation, though the Herald reported previously that some basketball recruits might be hesitant because they are associated with Nike shoes and uniforms.

"Significant,'' is the word one source associated with the situation used to describe the financial boost that the school will receive with Adidas compared to Nike.

The UM sports team budgets for apparel will be much, much larger.

One source told the Herald the contract is in the 10-year range. UM is a private university and does not have to disclose its financial dealings.

Arizona State recently switched from Nike to Adidas as well, and signed an eight-year contract that starts in July 2015 and is worth $33.8 million or $4,225,000 annually, according to the Arizona Rebublic.

Miami has been contracted with Nike since 1987, but between the extra millions UM will make and the more apparel and better attention it believes it will get with Adidas made the deal impossible to refuse, sources said.

The Hurricanes will begin using the new apparel going into next football season.

SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN

 

December 29, 2014

Flowers declares for NFL Draft, could become UM's first 1st rounder since 2008

Hurricanes left tackle Ereck Flowers, a man of few words, reached out to local recruiting guru Larry Blustein on Tuesday to get out a message. Like star running back Duke Johnson, he too is foregoing his senior season at the University of Miami to enter the NFL Draft.

"I have done everything that I can in college as a football player and now it's time to take that next step," Flowers told Blustein. "I believe this is the best for my family and myself. They had told me I had a second round grade, but I will really look to raise that bar over the next few months."

The news of Flowers departure -- still unannounced by school officials at UM -- comes as little surprise. Scouts have said Flowers has the potential to be a first round pick since November and ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projected the 6-6, 324-pound junior as the 12th overall pick in May's draft. The Hurricanes haven't had a first round pick since safety Kenny Phillips was taken by the New York Giants 31st overall in 2008.

"We sat down and looked at everything and felt that this was the best thing for Ereck and our family," his father Everald told Blustein. "After being injured early in the year, he came back and worked harder than ever to get himself back on the field.

"Right now, we cannot listen to where people are  projecting Ereck to go. We have to continue putting ourselves in a position and work hard to get to that next level."

Flowers had minor surgery to repair a torn meniscus after the Virginia Tech game. He missed the following game, but returned and had a stellar performance against Florida State. He's started 29 games in his career at Miami including 25 of the last 26 at left tackle.

Said Flowers: "I am very excited about this next challenge in my life and career."

December 28, 2014

Duke Johnson: "The life for running backs isn't that high. I think it's best to get out when I can.''

By David Furones

Special to the Miami Herald

 Though not much of a surprise, Duke Johnson announced on Sunday that he will enter the NFL Draft and forgo his senior season with the Miami Hurricanes.

 “I will be going to the NFL next year,” said Johnson in a news conference at UM’s Mann Auditorium inside the SchwartzCenter. “In the NFL, backs don’t really get too much value, so I think it’s best that I leave and get a jump while I can and do what’s best for me.”

The announcement came after Miami's 24-21 loss Saturday to South Carolina in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

The 5-9, 206-pound junior running back finishes his collegiate career as UM’s all-time leading rusher (3,519 yards) and the program’s leader in career all-purpose yards (5,523) in 33 games as a Cane.

 Johnson says it was a tough decision for him because of his passion for the program, but the short shelf-life of running backs in the NFL ultimately was the key.

 “Of course there was back and forth,” he said. “As a kid, I always wanted to come here, love it, didn’t want to leave it. At the same time, the life for running backs isn’t that high. I think it’s best to get out when I can.”

 Projected as a second or third-round pick, there was no need for Johnson to continue to put his body at risk without getting paid to do so after a broken ankle ended his sophomore season five games early.

 “I broke my ankle, so that was enough thought for me,” Johnson said. “It was something I don’t want to go through again, so I think that was a decision that played a part – injury and is it worth the risk?”

 Duke’s announcement came on his mother’s 45th birthday, and he said it’s one of his presents to her.

 “I think it’s special in a way because we didn’t know which bowl game we were going to and I knew I wasn’t really going to make a decision until after the bowl game and it just happened to fall on her birthday,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a blessing.”

 He looks forward to being able to provide for his mother and grandmother, who he says provided so much for him in his upbringing.

 “Everything I do is for her – her and my grandmother, who sacrifice so much,” Johnson said. “My grandmother is someone who actually took care of me a lot when my mom was at work and was trying to find a better way for us. This decision is made for them too, just to help them out and put them in a better situation because of all the hard work they did for me and my family growing up.”

 Johnson will continue taking classes toward his degree in the spring.

 

December 27, 2014

Gameday blog: Miami Hurricanes vs. South Carolina Gamecocks

Live Blog Independence Bowl | Miami Hurricanes vs. South Carolina: Dec. 27, 2014
 

December 26, 2014

Revisionist's history or the truth? Steve Spurrier denies Shockey comment in The U Part 2 movie.

SHREVEPORT, La. – And you thought The U Part 2 had some good  footage about the infamous Bourbon Street Brawl.

    South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, always a gem to interview, didn’t disappoint Friday at the press conference for the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

     Somehow, the topic of  Billy Corben’s recently released The U Part 2 movie and the Bourbon Street Brawl between Spurrier’s former 2000 Gators and the Hurricanes came up – courtesy of the Head Ball Coach himself.

      After he talked about what it means to return to Shreveport for the first time since 2005 – “Like I said earlier, with our record, I said, ‘Man, I hope we get to Shreveport again’’’ – Spurrier took a dramatic turn.

    “And while I’ve got your attention here,’’ he began about five minutes into the press conference, “let me say something. We’ve all been watching this University of Miami 30 for 30 on ESPN. OK. They won the game. They beat us fair and square.

   “But a Miami player on that team quoted me as saying, ‘We got our ass kicked off the field and we got our ass kicked in the game.’ And I didn’t say that. I wouldn’t be that stupid to ever say anything like that.

   “Now, a scuffle happened sometime earlier in the week on Bourbon Street. Nobody got arrested. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got suspended for the game. To me it was history.

   “But for some reason, some people, some teams, or whoever, they like to glamorize fighting. Our teams don’t fight. I don’t think I’ve ever had a team in a brawl – not that I can remember. But I certainly didn’t say that, and that 2000 Florida team was one of my favorite teams. Those guys won the SEC after getting clobbered by Mississippi early in the year and came back and won it.

   “I just wanted to say that. I did not say what is attributed to me by a Miami player, to get the record straight. Now let’s talk about the Independence Bowl.’’

   Did Spurrier say anything like that?

   “No, they quoted a player,’’ Spurrier continued. “They never called me and said, ‘Did you say that?’ But that’s not the first time in life somebody put a quote on me that I didn’t say. I did say most of them, but not that one.’’

   Did Spurrier actually watch The U Part 2?

   “I watched part of it, yes. I saw that part. …Shockey said that, right? Jeremy Shockey, the tight end.’’

   The U Part 2 producer Billy Corben told the Miami Herald on Friday after Spurrier’s comments that it was, indeed, Shockey who commented about Spurrier in the documentary.

   Corben said former UM offensive lineman Brett Romberg said in the movie: “We were 2-0 that week, actually, against the Florida Gators.’’

   Then, here’s Shockey: “I remember their head coach Spurrier coming up to me after the game, saying, ‘You guys definitely deserved it. We got our ass beat off the field and on.’’’

   Now, here’s Corben’s reaction to what Spurrier said Friday morning:

   “That’s the challenge of documenting history. You have to rely on people’s memories.

   “It could be apocryphal or Coach Spurrier could just as easily be mistaken. Bottom line: the quote is definitely Spurrieresque and, whether he said it or not, it’s 100 percent factually accurate.’’

   When Corben was asked by the Herald for his prediction on Saturday’s game between the Canes and Gamecocks, Corben said, “Whatever I tell you about my game prediction, I’ll just deny I said it in 14 years.’’

  ***South Carolina defensive tackle JT Surratt, a senior captain, “had some kind of stomach ailment,’’ Spurrier said, and was in the hospital as of Friday morning. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to play tomorrow,’’ Spurrier said. Surrat, 6-2 and 310 pounds, was the lone returning starter this season for the Gamecocks’ defensive line. He has 30 tackles and a blocked field goal this season.

 SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN

December 25, 2014

Star running back announces he will enter the NFL Draft after Duck Commander Independence Bowl

SHREVEPORT, La. – The two star running backs in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl are friends – and one of them revealed to reporters Thursday that he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

    No, not Duke Johnson.

   It was South Carolina tailback Mike Davis, though Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier told reporters before he arrived in Shreveport that this would be Davis’ last college game.

    “Yeah, it’s officially my last game,’’ said the 5-9, 223-pound tailback, who rushed for 927 yards and nine touchdowns this season and has 2,385 career yards. “Of course I always want to go out with a bang. I want to tell my team that I love them and that I’ve enjoyed this long ride.’’

    Davis said he met and was roommates with Johnson at The Opening in 2012, a Nike elite recruiting event in Beaverton, Oregon. “We’re really good buddies, spent a lot of time talking to each other [Wednesday],’’ Davis said. …He was trying to recruit me [at The Opening] to come to Miami. That’s how good of a person he is.”

   Davis said he and Johnson “talk everyday’’ and . We’re in a group [text] message with him, Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and all the top running backs.

    “Lots of positivity, wishing each other well, telling each other that we hope you have a good game or to do this or that. Talk about family and stuff outside of football. No trash talk at all, always wishing each other well.’’

   And that’s not the only Davis-Hurricanes connection.

   Davis played on the same team his senior year at Stone Mountain, Georgia's Stephenson High with UM linebacker Raphael Kirby, who will try to pummel him Saturday.

   The two are good friends.

   “It’s going to be very fun,’’ Kirby said. “We’ve had a few conversations. Once we get on the field there’s not going to be much talking, but that’s my homeboy.

   “He’s a powerful running back and he fools a lot of people because he’s very fast as well. …He’s a complete back in my eyes. It’s going to be a great challenge for us and I’m looking forward to it.”

CHRISTMAS BOWLING

  The Canes had a closed practice Thursday, then spent Christmas afternoon bowling at Holiday Lanes. The players had Christmas dinner together at the Shreveport Hilton.

   SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN