November 15, 2011

Ojomo unsure if he'll return in 2012; plus news on Benjamin, Seantrel and more

CORAL GABLES -- Although he's classified on UM's roster as a junior, defensive tackle Adewale Ojomo said Tuesday he isn't sure if he'll be back next year in a Hurricanes uniform.

Adewale OjomoAnd the reason has nothing to do with him possibly going pro early. According to Ojomo, his future rests in the hands of the NCAA, who will have to determine whether or not he's worthy of being granted a sixth-year of eligibility.

When Ojomo signed with UM in 2007 he was redshirted his freshman season while he practiced with the scout team. In 2008, he played in 11 games, made two starts and had 22 tackles and three sacks. Then, he missed the entire 2009 season with a broken jaw after being sucker punched by a walk-on teammate in a preseason locker room brawl. That season, Ojomo said, he received a medical hardship for. The question now is if the NCAA will allow him to do the same for 2007.

"They're trying to figure out if they have any medical records from my freshman year when I had a groin injury," Ojomo said. "They're trying to figure out if there's any documentation so they can give it to compliance and file the paperwork. But if they can't, then I don't have another year."

Ojomo said he hopes to hear news on that "documentation" issue in the next two to three weeks. Getting a sixth-year usually isn't that difficult. Offensive tackle Joel Figueroa received a sixth-year before the start of this season. Former defensive end Eric Moncur got one a few years back. But Ojomo said the key is proving you were injured.

UM coach Al Golden would love to have Ojomo back. After injuries decimated the defensive tackle position two weeks into the season, Ojomo was asked to move inside from end to tackle despite being weighing only 260 pounds.

"I'm really proud of him," Golden said. "He's really an example of what we want in terms of being unselfish and being an example to the team. I think he's embraced it. He's been fairly effective in there, he has done a nice job there. He's a starter in the nickel as well, so it gives us more speed inside. Adewale is strong. He's over 270 pounds now. He's starting to become a harder player inside, hold the point better. It's difficult to do during the season. We appreciate what he's doing for us there."

Ojomo said he likes playing tackle and thinks it "suits me better than defensive end."

"I definitely have to add weight, probably another 10 pounds, get up to 280," said Ojomo, who in six weeks has packed on 11 more pounds by loading up on carbohydrates.

"My production hasn't been very good. But in terms of my job and the defense, I think I'm doing my job, holding my own. I'm taking on a lot of double teams. I know that's good because Olivier Vernon and [Anthony] Chickillo will come free."

If he is able to come back next season, Ojomo said he "would like to play all over the line. Just know the whole playbook, everybody's position and stay on the field as much as I can."

Over the past few weeks Ojomo said he's been getting about 45 snaps a game while alternating with Micanor Regis. He said defensive line coach Jethro Franklin told he him he needs to "bat more balls down and have more strip attempts, try to get more turnovers."

"I need to improve in that area," Ojomo said.


> Golden said Tuesday that safety Ray-Ray Armstrong is all set to play on Saturday at South Florida after being cleared by athletic director Shawn Eichorst on Monday. But Armstorng will not start after serving a one-game suspension and will be "in the rotation and will be back on special teams as well."

> Seantrel Henderson is the new starter at right tackle.

"Seantrel played better [than Jonathan Feliciano] in the game and Seantrel's weight is where it should be [at 350 pounds]," Golden said. "And Seantrel is preparing the last seven or eight days like he should be. Prior to that it was hit or miss. Really, I think I said this about [Olivier Vernon] last week and I'm saying the same thing about Seantrel today -- he looks different. It looks like the conditioning, all the normal things you would get get in training camp, he has it right now. He has a great attitude. He really has. I'm excited to watch him play Saturday. That kid loves football. One thing about Seantrel. He loves football."

Henderson spent the last few minutes of Saturday's loss to Florida State stomping his feet on the sideline out of frustration.

> Golden said freshman Phillip Dorsett is the No. 1 punt returner -- ahead of Travis Benjamin, who had a key muffed punt return at FSU.

"They're competing, but if we were going to play today, Phillip's the guy," Golden said. "You can't do that in a game and not have some kind of repercussion. You just can't. We can't have that kind of decision-making in a game of that magnitude. Travis knows it, he's been communicated to. He'll fight back; I know Travis will. But he'll have to steal it back now, because that gave Phillip an opportunity."

> Defensive tackle Curtis Porter, who has missed the entire season with a right hand injury, could return this weekend. Golden said Porter is battling with freshman Jalen Grimble to get in the rotation at tackle.

> Golden said sophomore Kacy Rodgers, who gave up the touchdown at FSU, will focus primarily at cornerback this week.

"I don't want to say he froze," Golden said. "He just didn't execute. In fairness to the kid, you would like to have that exposed to him in training camp, in some scrimmage or at some game where you have such a lead that you're playing everybody and not for the first time in front of 85,000 and many more viewers. He wishes he had the play back."

Golden said Rodgers should "have run through and separated [the receiver] from the ball or intercepted it."

Senior JoJo Nicolas, who played the entire FSU game safety, will again stick to safety this week.

> Golden said the biggest difference between UM and FSU right now is depth.

"Just looking at Florida State. That's the one thing they're ahead of us on," Golden said. "We're going to work on that. We have a big recruiting class coming in. I think a lot of those guys are going to have to play.

"Where we're hurt the most is at linebacker. Those are the guys that are run and strike, carry weight. They're 225, 230 and can get down there and make plays. Right now we find ourselves protecting linebackers. We're sitting there with five guys the other day. I'm used to carrying 10 to 12 on the road. We're sitting there five, maybe six. That makes it hard, really hard. We're trying to protect those guys. We understand moving forward we have to get that fixed."

Futch doubtful for USF after collapsing at Tuesday morning practice

CORAL GABLES -- Jordan Futch, trying to work his way back from a shoulder injury he suffered against Duke two weeks ago, was recovering Tuesday from a suspected case of heat exhaustion, which necessitated him being taken from the Hurricanes' practice field by paramedics and transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

Jordan FutchLuckily, it appears the 6-3, 235-pound senior linebacker is going to be fine according to UM coach Al Golden.

"I think it was a case of dehydration and low sugar levels," Golden said during his weekly Tuesday afternoon press conference. "Again, I’m not the doctor but I’m just trying to give you the idea that everything’s fine. He just felt really weak or faint. It was sneaky hot out there today to be honest with you. I don’t think we had a day like that in a couple weeks. I think it got sneaky hot, and Jordan has been limited in his activity for the last nine or ten days. So I think the combination of that and we wanted to be safe. From all accounts Jordan is doing fine.”

At first, however, it hardly seemed that way. A normally quiet morning at Greentree Practice Field was interrupted at around 8:30 a.m. by police and fire rescue sirens. An ambulance quickly pulled onto the practice field, surprising some players who had no idea Futch had even collapsed.

"I really didn't know what was going on to be honest with you," defensive tackle Adewale Ojomo said. "I was over there on the field, saw the ambulance on the field and heard something about Futch. That's all."

The National Weather Service reported that at 8:30 a.m., when paramedics were called to the field, temperatures in Miami were 81 degrees with 85 percent humidity and a heat index of 87.

Hope Gibbs, the division chief for the Coral Gables Fire Department, said when they received the call about Futch they were told "there was somebody unconscious on the practice field.”

A paramedic on the scene told The Miami Herald Futch was given fluids and was doing much better by the time he was whisked away in the ambulance. 

Still, it's likely Futch still won't play Saturday at USF.

“I want to give Jordan the opportunity to see what he can do moving forward in the next 48 hours," Golden said. "If I had to give his status, it would be doubtful right now.”

Golden said the team usually starts practice at 7 a.m. and players are offered "fruits, Muscle Milks, Gatorade, and bagels and things of that nature" to make "sure their "equilibrium is good" before taking the field.

But, Golden said, "it's incumbent on every player to make sure they're hydrating and eating... I think his was a case he hadn't been doing anything for a couple weeks, 10 days."

November 14, 2011

UM's No. 1-ranked recruiting class of '08 failed in its quest; now it's all about the Golden process

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Al GoldenWhen the nation's No. 1-recruiting class walked through the doors in 2008, the Miami Hurricanes were supposed to return to prominence. Randy Shannon, the man tapped into South Florida's recruiting pipeline, was supposed to restock the shelves with the talent Larry Coker let escape under his watch.

Winning? That was supposed to come quickly.

But we're still waiting.

With two games left in Al Golden's first season as Canes coach, UM is still sputtering, struggling to play better than .500 football. Are they folding like Shannon's Canes? Nope. Not even close.

Golden and his assistants have gotten more out of this group than Shannon ever did. Tommy Streeter, no where to be found under the old regime, has become a star. Jacory Harris is no longer an interception machine, rather one of the most efficient passers in the country. Sean Spence? Even better than he was his first three years, even wreaking havoc at middle linebacker when they've smartly used him there.

But the overall results for this group of 32 signees in 2008 who were supposed to save the day? Not very pretty.

> UM's record is 28-21, 17-14 in ACC play.
> The Canes are just 4-5 against FBS in-state opponents, going 1-3 versus Florida State, 0-1 versus the Gators, 1-1 versus USF and 2-0 versus UCF.
> The Canes record against ranked opponents since 2008? 5-7.
> The highest UM has been ranked in the AP poll was No. 8, before Clemson beat them at Sun Life Stadium 40-37 in overtime in 2009. The highest UM finished a season in the AP poll? 19th in 2009.
> Bowl wins? Zero.

A few of those kids have shined individually:
> Brandon Harris, a second round pick of the Texans who left school a year early, was an All-American cornerback.
> Spence, considered the 11th-best player for UM in that recruiting class by, will go down statistically as one of best Canes linebackers ever.
> Streeter, who did nothing his first three years here, has the potential to be a first round pick.
> Travis Benjamin became just the sixth player in UM history this past Saturday to eclipse the career 2,000-yard receiving mark.
> And Jacory Harris, for all his interception woes, will likely finish second to Ken Dorsey in all the major career passing stats.

Some turned out to be decent starters and contributors:
> Linebacker Ramon Buchanan, out for the season with a knee injury after just four games and could return next year, has 106 career tackles, 13.5 for loss in 39 games.
> Vaughn Telemaque, once compared to Ed Reed by Shannon, is a three-year starter at safety with 152 career tackles, 5 fumble recoveries and 4 interceptions.
> Defensive end/linebacker Marcus Robinson has 14.5 career sacks and 102 career tackles.
> Defensive tackle Micanor Regis has 101 tackles, 14.5 for loss, 3 INTs in 43 games.
> Receiver LaRon Byrd, who has struggled to get on the field his senior season, has 100 career catches for 1,179 yards and 6 TDs.
> Defensive end Andrew Smith, a 2-star recruit coming out of high school, turned out to be a decent third-down pass rusher (49 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 sacks).
> Junior College signee Pat Hill had two decent years opening holes as UM's fullback.
> And kicker Jake Wieclaw, once considered a mistake by coaches, has finally worked his way into the kicker's job after Matt Bosher left.

But so many of those 2008 recruits turned out to be busts:
> Arthur Brown, the No. 1 linebacker in the country and recruit in UM's 2008 class, did nothing in two years at UM. He's now a starter at Kansas State.
> Marcus Forston, the other 5-star recruit in UM's 2008 class, has had two seasons cut short by injuries including this one. But he's still made just 60 tackles, 7 sacks in 31 games.
> Jordan Futch -- a kid with a great attitude and a lot of heart -- didn't crack the starting lineup until this year. He has 36 career tackles in 31 games after being tabbed as the fourth-best player in the class.
> Aldarius Johnson, the No. 1-rated receiver in UM's 2008 class, has done nothing since his freshman year and got booted off the team in August for allegedly lying to NCAA investigators about the impermissible gifts he received from Nevin Shapiro.
> C.J. Holton? Davon Johnson? Ben Jones? Jeremy Lewis? All four-star recruits who have never cracked the starting lineup or done much outside of mop-up or special teams duties.
> From the Where are they Now Department: Joe Wylie, Thearon Collier, Antonio Harper, Gavin Hardin, Cannon Smith, Taylor Cook, Brandon Marti, Zach Kane and C.J. Odom.
> And we're all still waiting to see when Kendall Thompkins -- practice superstar -- does more than just help out on special teams. Fullback John Calhoun is a nice kid. Not much to say beyond that.

The reason I bring all this up -- this recap of ups and downs for what in essence is UM's senior class -- is to try and clear up why I think the Canes (5-5) are still stuck in this muddle of mediocrity even whileGolden and his staff have done a better job than the previous staff. Two reasons are depth and talent. UM simply missed on too many recruits the last few years. Another, is the mental makeup of the kids who are here. When the tough has gotten going, they've simply cracked.

"We have some bad habits that surface during pressure situations that we have to fix," Golden said of his team Sunday. "It is frustrating, but at the same time it's part of the process. We just have to stay with it. The kids have to continue to be willing to make the changes necessary."

That's the frustrating thing with these Canes. They've had three to four years to break those bad habits. This 2008 group -- and the one that came in right after it in 2009 with Ray-Ray Armstrong, Lamar Miller, Brandon Washington, Brandon McGee, Dyron Dye, Mike James and Olivier Vernon -- has just always found a way to blow close games.

The same problems always arise. Poor tackling. Freelancing. Blown coverages. Brain farts. Jacory Harris always seems to make a bad decision near the end zone. Travis Benjamin runs the wrong routes at Ohio State then chases after a punt that's past him at Florida State. Ray-Ray? Forget that he's always out of position because he tries to make too many plays. How does anyone get in trouble off the field again after they've already served a four-game suspension for doing something similar to what they got into trouble for the first time?

It's maddening really.

You can look at this picture sunny-side up and say UM's five losses this season have been decided by a total of 26 points, three by four points or less. You can say UM is just a few plays away. You can say they are just a few players away.

But to me, it feels like the process is going to take awhile. Until this group leaves and new ones with a different late-game DNA come in, it really won't change. Golden has tried hard to change the culture. He's tried to get his team up for every game. But the woes just seem embedded in some of these guys.

In the end, you can't be an ACC or national title contender when you can only hit on 40 percent of what is supposed to be your senior class. Golden has to do better than what Shannon did in recruiting. He has to land quality backups.

And he has to continue to change the off the field culture. You can't build consistency when some of your best players are getting suspended for doing really dumb things (Ray-Ray, Regis, etc). All of that in the end is why I believe this team is 5-5. There's just a lack of depth in too many places (corner, safety, linebacker). And the football IQ just hasn't gotten better.

Now, I'm not trying to say all of 2011 has been bad by any stretch.

Golden has gotten this football team -- which has been smacked hard by distractions -- to improve dramatically in a lot of areas. Despite Saturday's nightmare performance, UM has improved on special teams. Same with penalties. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has worked wonders with Harris and UM's offense, which before Saturday was No. 1 in the country in efficiency. Miller became the school's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002. Sean Spence is having an All-American season. Freshmen Denzel Perryman and Anthony Chickillo have shown us they will be stars in the future. And Golden has 26 commitments and a consensus Top 10 recruiting class lined up for 2012.

But don't let your imagination wander into the danger zone of unreal expectations. Don't start believing championships are right around the corner. We're still talking about a 5-5 football team that will face scholarship reductions and bowl-bans once the NCAA's investigation into this Shapiro fiasco is completed. We're talking about a 5-5 football team that next season will be without any of those good seniors I mentioned earlier -- and maybe some of those underclassmen too. That's the football team somebody -- hopefully Golden -- will be putting on the field next year.

So, dig your heels in. As Al says, it's a process. One that is going to take some time.

November 12, 2011

Did swapping QBs hurt UM's offensive rhythm? Byrd appears OK

TALLAHASSEE -- For much of the first half Saturday, Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris swapped in and out for each other at quarterback for the Hurricanes.

While the first half results in terms of offensive output weren't necessarily bad -- they combined to go 13 of 18 for 136 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and ran the ball five times for three yards -- the results weren't exactly stellar for the Canes offense.

UM only managed to put up seven points -- on a 2-yard Harris to Clive Walford touchdown pass. And Harris, who had thrown just one interception over his previous six games, was easily picked off in the end zone by Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner right after replacing Morris, who lost six yards on a poorly executed option read the play prior.

Did the in-and-out rotation of quarterbacks hurt UM's offensive rhythm? Harris didn't necessarily think so.

"Coach put some plays in for him and he gets in and runs them," Harris said. "[As for the INT] I had a little pressure, but I shouldn't have even went there. If I was going to go there, I should have threw it out the back of the end zone to let [Tommy] Streeter get a play. They were running quarters and he sat flat. I should have gone to the flat. That's on me. I blame it on me."

Said center Tyler Horn of the dual-QB system: "In practice, that's how it is in practice. Stephen goes in for a package and Jacory comes in and throws a touchdown pass. It's just part of it. In my opinion if we might have blocked it better, Jacory might have had time to throw it on point. Put that [INT] on us."

Morris only took one snap in the second half, on a trick play where he ran in from the receiver position and tried to unsuccessfully to dive into the end zone on a sneak near the end zone.


Receiver LaRon Byrd took such a vicious hit from Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham late in the fourth quarter some of his teammates got on one knee and began to pray.

Luckily for Byrd, hit he took didn't appear to cause serious injury. After laying on the ground for several moments motionless, Byrd got up and jogged to the sideline.

"I' saw him on the sidelines after that. He was LaRon. He said nothing happened to him, it just knocked the wind out of him," Harris said. "But that was a big hit. It scared the heck out of me. Had to pray for a second."

Receiver Tommy Streeter might be less fortunate. He hobbled off the field with 3:03 to play after diving into the FSU sideline to make a catch. On the sideline, Streeter had his left foot examined by UM's trainers and winced in pain as they pressed down on it. His status moving forward is uncertain.

> Senior Marcus Robinson, who started at strongside linebacker with Jordan Futch out Saturday, left the game with 10:10 to play in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury and didn't return.


Running back Lamar Miller moved past Edgerrin James and Daynell Ferguson and into fifth place in UM's single season yardage list Saturday. Miller ran for 92 yards on 22 carries and now has 1,108 yards on the season.

He also fumbled twice Saturday, the first time he's actually fumbled all season. UM, which came in having fumbled six times (four were lost), fumbled three times and lost two of them.

"They weren't making big hits. I was just getting careless with the ball a little bit," Miller said.


UM was flagged nine times for 55 yards Saturday. Five penalties were false starts. Right tackle Jonathan Feliciano, who started and saw his first action in two games, was flagged twice. Fullback Maurice Hagens and tight ends Dyron Dye and Walford were the other guilty parties.

"We practice with [noise] all week, have the speakers out there. But it's nothing like being on the five yard line [facing] the student section at Florida State. You know what can try to reproduce those decibles," Horn said. "At the end of the day you have to watch the football, get used to it if you're going to play college football. That's how it is everywhere."

November 05, 2011

Gameday blog: Duke at UM

SUN LIFE STADIUM -- The Miami Hurricanes (4-4, 2-3 ACC) welcome the Duke Blue Devils (3-5, 1-3 ACC) for a 3 p.m. kickoff, a game televised on the ACC Network. UM is 7-1 all-time against Duke and hasn't lost to the Blue Devils since 1976. Duke is coming off a 14-10 loss at home to Virginia Tech and has wins over Boston College (20-19), Tulane (48-27) and FIU (31-27).

> ABOUT DUKE: Coach David Cutcliffe has come close to beating UM before. Although UM has won the last four meetings by double digits, 28-13 (2010), 34-16 (2009), 49-31 (2008) and 24-14 (2007), Duke have kept the games relatively tight and came within a Canes goalline interception in 2006 of pulling off an upset. UM won 20-15. This Duke team still has two big playmakers at wide receiver in former Miami Gulliver Prep standouts Conner Vernon (51 catches, 740 yards, 4 TDs) and Donovan Varner (37 catches, 443 yards, 0 TDs). Tight end Cooper Helfet ranks second among ACC tight ends in catches (28 for 276 yards, 2 TDs). Quarterback Sean Renfree has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 2,004 yards, but also has just 6 TD passes to 7 inteceptions. Defensively, the Blue Devils will often employ an eight-man front to shut down the run. Safety Matt Daniels is their big playmaker. He leads the team with 82 tackles (26 more than the second person on the list) and has 2 INTs and 13 pass breakups (more than UM's entire secondary, 8). Duke is among the best teams in the country in kickoff return defense (5th overall), allowing just 17.19 yards a return. But they rank 66th in punt coverage (7.67 yards per return). Kicker Will Snyderwine is 7 of 14 on field goal attempts.

> WHAT TO WATCH FOR THE CANES: Redshirt freshman Jonathan Feliciano is expected to make his return to the starting lineup at right tackle, which should help UM's running game which has sputtered over the last three games. Receiver Tommy Streeter, who was apparently took a cleat to the top of his left foot on Wednesday during practice, has 14 receptions for 347 yards and 3 TDs over his last three games. With 45 more receiving yards, Travis Benjamin will become just the sixth player in program history to reach the 2,000 yard plateau -- joining Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Michael Irvin, Lamar Thomas and Leonard Hankerson. Defensively, the Hurricanes will look to rebound after a deflating performance against Virginia. The Canes gave up six plays of 20 yards or more in the loss including three TD passes of 37 yards or more. Look for Duke to try and expose UM's struggling safeties with playaction, especially when Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque are in the game together. UM's pass defense ranks 102nd in efficiency and has surrendered 12 touchdown passes already with only four interceptions. Kicker Jake Wieclaw has either missed a field goal or had one blocked in each of his last two games.

> MANNY'S PICK: UM 33, Duke 21. Canes offense hasn't played well over the last 10 quarters, struggling in the red zone and in short-yardage situations and relying too much on Touchdown Tommy Streeter to make the big catch. Defensively, the Canes have also given up too many long pass plays and looked bad in coverage. Duke is well coached enough to expose all of those areas and upset the Canes the way Virginia did. But UM is the better team and this week Al Golden has scared them enough to make them act like it.

November 03, 2011

Gunn aiming to jump start Canes offensive line, running game

As the son of a part-time DJ, Hurricanes offensive lineman Harland Gunn said he grew up listening to all kinds of music in his home in Omaha, Nebraska.

Harland GunnOldies. Rap. R&B. Lately, though, the 6-2, 310-pound left guard at the University of Miami said he's been expanding his tastes even more.

"I've been listening to Led Zepplin and stuff like that to get me ready for the games." said Gunn, a fifth-year senior who has started 26 games in his career for the Hurricanes including 21 in a row.

"If I had to pick one song as my theme song it would be Power by Kanye West."

Why? "Because it's all about power," Gunn said. "You got to have power in this world."

Truth is there may not be a more fitting theme song for Gunn, hands down the strongest and most powerful player on UM's football team. Strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey said Gunn owns the highest marks on both squat (600 pounds-plus) and bench press (500-plus). "I think [defensive end] Olivier Vernon might be the only one who has [Gunn] on the power clean," Swasey said Wednesday.

Those strength numbers hardly surprise Gunn's father, Harland Gunn Sr. In the eighth grade, Gunn Sr. said his son was bench pressing 250 pounds, wearing a size 13 shoe and challenging his dad to lift offs in their garage.

"Harland's hands are bigger than mine. My fingers might be a little longer. But his fingers are thick. He's got big paws, man," said Gunn Sr., who at 6-6, 320-plus pounds was a standout high school football player himself who didn't make it further because he "tore his right knee up" and "started making children early."

"Harland's always been a competitor. When you're a young man, you see your father as a big guy and you want to be as strong as him. We'd go at it on the bench. I'd try to push him and keep him going. It didn't take him very long to pass me by."

Of course, there is more to Gunn than power and strength.

After hardly speaking a word to his teammates the first three months he was at UM according to center Tyler Horn, Gunn has grown into a chatter box, comedian and team leader. Gunn has even learned how to perfect his Spanish in his time time in Miami, taking two Spanish classes at UM after taking four years of classes in high school.

"I try to speak to the natives, people around town," Gunn said. "I know the basics. Como estas? [How are you?] Estoy bien, y usted? [I'm good and you?] I'm a pretty big guy, I like to tell people 'Tengo hambre, necesita comer ahora.' [I'm hungry and I need to eat now]. Basic stuff."

"I think you'd be surprised how funny he is because he looks like a quiet guy," Horn said. "[Those glasses he wears] that's the studious Gunn -- that's his costume for Halloween... He's a big personality. He's one of those guys that takes a while to open up and now that he has he's a lot of fun."

Said right tackle Jonathan Feliciano: "Sometimes we can't get him to shut up.

But on the field, Feliciano said, "he's like a bowling ball. He kills people like they're pins."

UM coach Al Golden said Gunn's only bad game this year was against Georgia Tech. But despite that game, Golden feels Gunn is having "an all-conference type year" and said the senior has "the most second level cuts of anyone on the offensive line."

"I don't know if he's the foundation of [the offensive line], but he might be," offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. "He's a solid, strong, high character, high work ethic, lunch pail guy. He's a true blue collar approach to offensive line play. He'll fit in great for the rest of his life playing offensive line. They love those type guys in the NFL."

Offensive line coach Art Kehoe said Gunn's style of play reminds him of former Hurricanes K.C. Jones and Claude Jones.

"He's explosive man," Kehoe said. "I'm trying to get him a little more functional, a little more loose on his hips so he can use better footwork. But man, I like the way he plays. I like the way he pulls. He's a terrific person. He's almost a better person than he is a player. And he's a hell of a player."

Still, Gunn himself, wants to see improvement on the Canes offensive line as a whole. UM, which has given up 12 sacks (40th-fewest among 120 FBS schools), has struggled in short yardage situations this season.

The running game, which on Oct. 9 was averaging 182.6 yards per game (39th best in the nation), has struggled to get going over the last three games (UM now ranks 75th best in rushing offense at 145.5 yards per game). And the way the team was manhandled against Virginia left a bad taste in the mouths of everyone in charge of blocking.

"Last Thursday was probably our least physical game as an offense," fullback Maurice Hagens said. "When we watched the film, offensive linemen were in the backfield. Tight ends were getting blown up, fullback was getting blown up. That was something we weren't seeing. The last four games we have to go and blow everybody off the line."

Gunn agrees. "For some reason, we were just off rhythm, out of sync," Gunn said. "Offense is all about rhythm, timing, executing. This was our worst game in terms of execution by far.

"To me, it's just been about finishing. Guys are getting on their blocks. Nothing is wrong with the schemes or the blocks. It's the finish factor and it hasn't been here the last few games. It's the attitude. You have to reinvest in the attitude of running the ball."

October 20, 2011

Canes Midseason Awards: Winners, Blinkers and Stinkers

The Miami Hurricanes head into Saturday's game against 20th-ranked Georgia Tech with a 3-3 overall record and a 1-2 mark in Atlantic Coast Conference play. 

If you listen to WQAM play-by-play man Joe Zagacki and color analyst Don Bailey Jr. -- who always see the bright side of things -- the Canes are just a few plays away from being 6-0. That may be true. But by the same rationale, North Carolina and Bryn Renner were a mere 30 yards away from rallying from a 24-point deficit to beat UM last Saturday and drop the Canes to 2-4. And that's something that surely would have dropped the old Canes Satisfaction Meter on Greg Cote's blog way down.

In the big picture, this team still is what I said it was three weeks ago after Kansas State beat them: Mediocre. Al Golden is trying to squeeze more out of his team. He's trying to create a real sense of competition, questioning the level of play of some of his best players to get them to play even better (Golden said Lamar Miller has a long way to go as a running back; Brandon Washington isn't playing up to par at left tackle). But until proven otherwise, until UM can play four strong quarters of good Hurricanes football (not one very good half in Chapel Hill) I'm not ranking this team's overall grade better than a C. 

But I am giving away fake awards. So, here are your Eye on The U Midseason Winners, Blinkers and Stinkers:

Jacory Harris> MVP: Quarterback Jacory Harris. Yell all you want for Lamar Miller. But this category is Most Valuable Player not Best Player/He's Going To Be The First Cane To Get Drafted In The First Round since Kenny Phillips in 2008. No doubt Miller has played lights out. Before North Carolina held him to 29 yards rushing on 16 attempts, he'd run for at least 100 yards in five straight games. He still ranks 11th in the country in rushing with 117.6 yards a game (706 yards on 110 attempts). But Harris has been more valuable. UM might not have come back to beat Bethune-Cookman (OK, maybe that's a bit dramatic), held on to beat North Carolina or even been close at Virginia Tech or at home against Kansas State if Harris didn't all of a sudden find his mojo. Since halftime of the Kansas State loss, Jacory has gone 56 of 81 (69.1 completion percentage) for 900 yards, 10 touchdowns and 0 INTs. He now ranks as the eighth most efficient passer in the country with a QB rating of 170.77.

> MIA: Receiver LaRon Byrd. Not sure if he made Jacory Harris mad at him or not, but Byrd has gone from starter and second-leading receiver (41 catches, 440 yards) in 2010 to a Where Are They Now TV special (4 catches, 41 yards). Somehow I've got a feeling the 6-4, 220-pound senior will still end up on an NFL roster down the road and we'll be scratching our heads as to why he fell out of the picture.

> Most Valuable Coach: Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Jacory Harris couldn't have made this amazing turnaround without Fisch. How amazing? Well, a year ago, Harris ranked 88th in passer efficiency with a rating of 116.60. He threw 15 interceptions (two less than national co-leaders Boo Jackson of Ohio, Ryan Radcliffe of Central Michigan, Duke's Sean Renfree and Texas' Garrett Gilbert). And Harris would have taken home The Canes' Biggest Stinker Award had we had it last year. But behind the 35-year old Fisch, Harris has had a rebirth (0 picks in his last 14 quarters). UM's offense might not have as good a numbers in terms of yardage -- 56th rushing (159.5), 66th passing (224.83), 71st total offense (384.33) compared to a year ago -- 30th rushing offense (182.46 ypg), 43rd passing offense (238.85), 31st total offense (421.31). But where it matters is on the scoreboard and Fisch (48th scoring offense, 30.33 points per game) is outdoing what Mark Whipple did (67th scoring offense, 26.31 points per game). Fisch is also doing a better job getting the team's best playmakers the ball (running reverses, receiver screens, the Wildcat and a handful of trick plays).

> Razzie Recipient: Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. Every year Hollywood hands out their thumbs down awards for the worst things they've seen on film. D'Onofrio can send in a lot what we've seen from his unit this year. Not that he doesn't have plenty of legit, acceptable excuses. 28 players have lined up for UM's defense this year. Two of his best players -- Ray-Ray Armstrong and Olivier Vernon -- have missed multiple games because of NCAA mandated suspensions. The defensive tackle position has been riddled by injuries to Marcus Forston, Curtis Porter and veteran linebacker Ramon Buchanan was lost for the season against Bethune-Cookman. But who wants to hear excuses? The Canes rank 94th in rushing defense, 58th in pass defense, 81st in total defense and 48th in scoring defense. What's worse? They've blown the lead in the fourth quarter in all three losses. D'Onofrio deserves more time and a chance to have his entire unit in place before anyone tosses him to the sharks. But right now, his unit needs to figure out a way to slow the other team's option down (UM has been shredded by it). The challenge this week is monumental against Georgia Tech. And it wasn't made any easier by Micanor Regis' suspension Thursday.

> Questionable Call: Coach Al Golden. Virginia Tech. Opening drive. 4th and 1. Fake field goal run by Spencer Whipple. I rest my case. 

> Play That Made Me Say Wow: This run by Lamar Miller against Virginia Tech. Click here. The pass by Phillip Dorsett to Miller two plays later comes in a close second.

> Sean Spence Award: Linebacker Sean Spence. Hard to give a defensive trophy to anyone else who has played defense for the Canes over the last three years. Spence leads the team with 55 tackles (14 more than the next guy behind him Jimmy Gaines), leads the team 8.5 tackles for loss, ranks second with 3 sacks and was named ACC Linebacker of the Week the past two weeks. Nationally, he ranks 11th in the country in tackles per game, 8th in tackles for loss. His late sack of Brynn Renner Saturday in Chapel Hill was the first big play anybody on Miami's defense has made in the fourth quarter all season. Sorry, but it's true.

> Mr. Big Surprise: Right tackle Jonathan Feliciano. There were a lot of strong candidates for this one. Receiver Allen Hurns appeared to have it locked up after two weeks (10 catches, 123 yards, 2 TDs) but he only has eight catches for 163 yards and one touchdown over his last four games. Touchdown Tommy Streeter has sparkled (18 catches, 332 yards, 5 TDs). Sophomore linebacker Jimmy Gaines is second on the team with 41 tackles. But nobody -- and I mean not even his position coach Art Kehoe -- saw Feliciano coming. The 6-5, 320-pound redshirt freshman has started five consecutive games and he's done so well of late Golden wasn't thinking of pushing Feliciano out of the starting lineup to make room for Seantrel Henderson, he was considering veteran Brandon Washington. Yes, Feliciano leads the team with four false starts. But nobody is a bigger surprise on the team. Just listen to Kehoe: "I'm real proud of him. He wasn't even in the picture at all. Now, he's putting guys on [their butts]. He had four pancackes and five metrorails last week. He's on guys, tearing after them and having fun. It makes it fun as a coach."

> The Fab Freshman: Defensive end Anthony Chickillo. Denzel Perryman may end up beating him out by the end of the season -- especially if he cracks the starting lineup and finishes in the top five in tackles (he's currently fifth with 27). But for now, Chick is the man. With Olivier Vernon out, he's been one of the few bright spots for UM on the defensive line. He's started three games, is tied with Micanor Regis for the most tackles on the defensive line with 25, has four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

> Special Teams Standout: Kicker Jake Wieclaw. This guy was supposedly unusable while Matt Bosher was here. All of a sudden, Al Golden has found a way to make Wieclaw look like Matt Bosher without the tackling ability. Wieclaw is a perfect 7 for 7 on field goals with a long of 43 yards and he could end up taking the punting duties over by Saturday with Dalton Botts struggling. Who knew? Joe Pannunzio apparently didn't either.

> Deserving of honorable mention -- Senior defensive back JoJo Nicolas. He's third on the team with 29 tackles and has played a valuable role in UM's secondary, shifting from corner to safety at the last moment because Ray-Ray Armstrong had to serve a four-game suspension. He also is playing with a heavy heart following the passing of his newborn son in fall camp. Senior receiver Travis Benjamin: Despite sitting out the season-opener due to an NCAA-mandated suspension, T3 leads the team with 24 catches for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns and has shown the type of attitude in practice Golden said he wanted to see. Senior defensive end Marcus Robinson: A year ago, UM had 37 sacks as a team. This year, the Canes have 17 through their first six games. Not bad when you consider Vernon has been out. So who has helped pick up the slack? Robinson. He leads the team with four sacks and two forced fumbles. He also has 22 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss.

October 06, 2011

Walford eager to help Canes tight ends get in the end zone; Golden talks Forston injury

CORAL GABLES -- Do you remember the last time a Hurricanes tight end caught a pass and got into the end zone?

Clive Walford does. He did it.

Clive Walford Late in the second quarter of UM's 24-6 win at home over Ohio State three weeks ago, Walford caught a pass at about the Buckeyes' 5-yard line, faked two defenders out of their shoes and waltzed into the end zone. The 6-4, 245-pound redshirt freshman from Belle Glade was so pumped about scoring his first career touchdown, he leaped into the arms of guard Harland Gunn and pumped his fist.

But then, the excitement was tempered. UM was penalized for an illegal formation on the play because receiver Tommy Streeter was not lined up with the ball.

"When they called it back I was like 'Oh man'," Walford said. "But what could you do? That's football."

Walford let that play go. But the drop at the goalline late in the fourth quarter against Kansas State a week later -- that's eaten at him a little. UM (2-2) would have rallied to take the lead on the Wildcats had Walford held onto the slightly under thrown pass from Jacory Harris. Instead, the Canes tried unsuccessfully at running it in from 2-yards out on its next three plays and lost 28-24.

Last week against Bethune-Cookman, Walford hauled in an 11-yard pass from Harris, but promptly fumbled it away.

Frustration? Walford said he isn't letting it enter his system. Instead, he's facing his woes head on and taking it all as part of the growth process.

"I wouldn't say any of it is tough luck. I just have to execute," Walford said. "They're giving me the opportunity. I just got to step up and make plays.

"I was supposed to catch that ball [versus Kansas State]. It hit my hands, I dropped it. It was a tough catch. But when it comes down to it, I have to make that catch. I had a chance to help my team win that game and I didn't come through. The following week, I was going hard in practice, got extra work in on that same play to make sure I executed the next time my number was called.

"As for the fumble, when I caught it, as I was tucking it and started running with it, someone came and hit me and it just came out. I didn't even see where the defender was. It happens. The key is not letting it happen again."

The Hurricanes, averaging 29.25 points on offense per game (62nd out of 120 FBS schools), haven't necessarily needed a lot from their tight ends this season. But their production has been minimal. Through four games, Chase Ford (3 catches, 34 yards), Walford (3 catches, 19 yards) and Asante Cleveland (1 catch, 6 yards) have been virtually transparent. That's been pretty surprising considering UM coach Al Golden talked a lot in the preseason about how the tight ends were going to be more involved.

Golden said Tuesday, "it's not like we're dissatisfied with how they're playing... we just have to get more opportunities to get the tight ends involved."

Still, it's now been 15 games since a UM tight end scored a touchdown -- that's when Ford hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Harris with 14:52 to play at Ohio State on Sept. 11, 2010.

While the Canes hves been efficient in their red zone opportunities (UM has scored touchdowns on 8 of 12 trips), both losses can be attributed some to failures in the red zone. Aside from the Kansas State loss, UM had a chance against Maryland to score a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Canes settled for a field goal and 24-23 lead with 4:01 to play. Maryland came back down the field and hit the go-ahead field goal before icing the game on an interception return for a touchdown.

Could this be the week UM's tight ends finally break out and get in the end zone? Well last week, Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen had four catches for 75 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers' 23-3 win in Blacksburg.

After three rough weeks, Walford would certainly love to follow Allen's lead.

"As long as we're winning, that's all that matters to me," Walford said. "But it would be pretty sweet to get to get in that end zone again. And this time hopefully it counts."


> Al Golden said Walford has "worked really well on his hands, but he's an infant in terms of football. He has a large upside, and he's just starting his football intelligence and learning the game and everything. He's a guy we should be getting the ball to better."

But, Golden added: "He's a guy that should be doing it in practice like [Tommy] Streeter and Travis [Benjamin] are doing. Streeter and Travis' practice habits are markedly better than they were even at the start of the year. We need that from Clive so quarterbacks can trust him and carry that over to the game."

> Jacory Harris said Walford's blocking has improved and what he likes most about him is that "he's not someone that complains or anything. He just goes out there, does his job."

"And because of that, I'm sure something special is going to happen for him before the end of the year," Harris said.

> Golden has said multiple times this week he hasn't been happy with the Hurricanes' struggles on third and fourth down and short yardage situations.

"Unacceptable," Golden said of the struggles. "Any criticism there is more than fair. We have to do a better job there. We have to decide what we want our identity to be there. We've tried a multitude of things there. We just have to settle in. but clearly when it's one yard and the game is on the line we have to be able to get that via the run. That's going to be critical for us."

UM has been in 13 situations this season where they've needed one yard to either convert a third or fourth down or score -- the most infamous being in the loss at Kansas State. After beginning the season converting 5 of its first 7 attempts in those situations, UM has converted just once over it's last six tries, starting with the loss to the Wildcats.

"It's on all of us," Golden said Sunday. "... We have to look at the schemes from Jedd [Fisch] and the offensive staff, look at our execution, look at whose hands [we're putting the ball in] for those situations."

> Golden went on the Dan LeBatard Show on 790TheTicket Thursday and discussed the season-ending injury to defensive tackle Marcus Forston.

"Brutal," Golden said. "I feel bad for the young man. That's a position we've just been crushed at. Luther Robinson has been out so far for every game. Curtis Porter has been out for every game. Now Marcus is out. It's been brutal in there at defensive tackle. Again, I feel bad for the young man. It will be a three month recovery. He'll come back and be fine. Right now we need the next young man to step up and play better for us."

October 01, 2011

Gameday blog: UM vs. Bethune-Cookman

SUN LIFE STADIUM -- The Hurricanes (1-2) take on Bethune-Cookman (2-1) in the first meeting ever between in the in-state programs. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

Will Rodney Scott run wild on the Canes? > ABOUT THE WILDCATS: B-CC's offensive coordinator Rob Spence was a member of Al Golden's staff at Temple as his wide receivers coach in 2010. The Wildcats, picked to finish second in the MEAC after a 10-2 season a year ago, rank fifth in the FCS in scoring at 38.67 points per game on offense and are led by former Mississippi running back Rodney Scott. The 5-9, 200-pound junior has run for 231 yards on 32 carries to lead a Wildcats rushing attack that averaged 217.3 yards a game. Receiver Eddie Poole (6-3, 195) is a legitimate pass catching threat and leads the Wildcats with 16 receptions for 165 yards and three TDs. Defensively, Bethune-Cookman has created 11 turnovers in their first three games and ranks third in pass efficiency defense in the FCS. 

> WHAT TO WATCH FOR THE CANES: How UM handles the Wildcats read option, wide receiver screens and quick strike offense. UM ranks 99th in the nation in run defense and figures to once again have trouble defending the run -- even if it is B-CC. Offensively, running backs Lamar Miller (shoulder) and Mike James (shoulder) are expected to play, but could be limited after wearing non-contact jerseys for UM's first two practices this week. Look for Eduardo Clements, Darion Hall and Maurice Hagens to get some more work. UM coach Al Golden said tackle Seantrel Henderson, returning from back surgery, should get about 20 snaps this week.

> MY PICK: UM 34, Bethune-Cookman 22. The Hurricanes have serious issues on defense -- particularly at defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. A day like today would be a great opportunity to work on those issues and iron them out. But these Canes really aren't even good enough to do that with ease. I expect the Wildcats to make this game more interesting than you thought they would. 

September 18, 2011

ACC accepts Pitt, Syracuse as new members

Well, it's official. The ACC will be adding two former Canes' Big East rivals to the conference: Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

Pittsburgh-Syracuse Sunday morning the ACC announced that its council of presidents unanimously voted to accept the Panthers and Orange, a move that increases its membership to 14 and sends the Big East scrambling to replace two of its cornerstone programs.

The big questions now: When exactly will Syracuse and Pitt make the move? And is the ACC done expanding?

"We are constantly evaluating the competitive landscape to ensure the conference's viability for years to come, and this, I believe, has staying power," ACC commissioner John Swofford said on a conference call this morning.

"First of all, we are very comfortable with this 14. The only thing I would add to that is that we are not philosophically opposed to 16. But for now we are very pleased with this 14. We think it is just an excellent group."

Sunday's announcement is just another sign college athletics is likely headed toward building 12, 14, and 16-team super conferences -- with the Big 12 Conference and Big East being the two that get picked apart.

Last year, Colorado left the Big 12 for the Pac-12, Nebraska left for the Big Ten and now recently Texas A&M made its intentions known it will be joining the SEC. The board of regents at Oklahoma and Texas are supposed to be meeting Monday to discuss the possibility of the universities leaving the conference too.

It's been speculated Texas, a super power with its own TV network, could end up joining the ACC, the Pac-12 or just going independent. If Texas comes to the ACC, it could bring Texas Tech with it. There are also reports two more Big East teams -- Connecticut and Rutgers -- are also under consideration by the ACC.

While there have been reports the SEC is potentially interested in taking Florida State and Clemson from the ACC, Swofford confirmed Sunday 11 of 12 conference presidents unanimously approved raising the ACC's exit fee to $20 million (up from $12 to $14 million) for any member leaving the conference last Tuesday -- a strong move to keep ACC schools from leaving.

With Pittsburgh and Syracuse's additions Sunday, the ACC has now taken five teams from The Big East. In 2004, UM and Virginia Tech left the Big East for the ACC. A year later, Boston College followed. As for how long it will take for Pitt and Syracuse to actually start playing in the ACC, no one is really sure yet. The Big East's exit fee is $5 million and schools wanting to leave must provide a 27-month notice.

Swofford said adding Pitt and Syracuse schools allows the league to renegotiate its 12-year, $1.86 billion television contract that began this season, "and we're confident that will have a positive impact." Translation: More big TV bucks for the ACC and its schools. Also a new possibility: the ACC Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York. 

So what do you think of the additions? How does this help or hurt the Canes? And what should the ACC do next? Are you pumped about returning to the Carrier Dome or Heinz Field every few years?

Personally, I'm not. I feel this is huge for basketball and not as big a deal in football. Pittsburgh has nine national championships in football, but the last came in 1976. The Panthers have won just two Big East titles (2004, 2010) and have played in a BCS bowl game just once (2004). Since it's last trip to the Orange Bowl in 1998, Syracuse has had six losing seasons and been to just four bowl games.

Now, if the ACC can add Texas to the fold, it makes this an entirely different story -- and potentially makes the ACC the most powerful conference in college sports. But I don't see that happening. 

September 02, 2011

Golden expects Streeter to play Monday night at Maryland

CORAL GABLES -- Tommy Streeter, who had arguably the best training camp of any player at UM before coming down with an undisclosed injury earlier this week, is no longer wearing a yellow non-contact jersey and is expected to play Monday night in the season-opener at Maryland.

"It looks like he's through the woods," UM coach Al Golden said Friday morning before his team took the field at Greentree Practice Field. "We'll see how he responds today. He looked good yesterday. We're counting on him right now."

Streeter, who had three TD catches in the team's first scrimmage of fall camp, had two more in the final scrimmage and led all players with seven catches for 148 yards. But when the depth chart was released Tuesday, he was listed on the second team behind LaRon Byrd and alongside true freshman Rashawn Scott.

It's likely he'll play a bigger role in Monday's opener now that he is healthy.


> Golden said he'll have his team sleep in late Monday to "shorten the day up" before the 8 p.m. kickoff. "It's hard [having to wait all day], but you have to deal with it. It's part of the job. We have to get to the point where we're executing regardless of the circumstances."

> Golden said he'll learn later today if three players dealing with clearinghouse issues -- running back Kevin Grooms, linebacker Antonio Kinard and defensive lineman Corey King -- will get into school. I'm not counting on it

> The one special teams job still up for grabs has now been taken. Golden said junior Jake Wieclaw, also handing the field goal and extra points job, beat out freshman Matt Goudis for the kickoff specialist job. "They're both ready," Golden said. "But right now it looks like it will be Wieclaw."

> The battle for the left tackle job is still ongoing, but sixth-year senior Joel Figueroa is still ahead of redshirt freshman Malcolm Bunche. "They're going to continue to battle," Golden said. "But Fig is doing a really nice job. Again, Bunche is young, doesn't quite have the experience. But they're both doing a nice job."

> Sophomore linebacker Kelvin Cain didn't appear on UM's two-deep roster, but Golden said he's still showing a good attitude. "There's a lot of guys in that boat right now that maybe played or had a significant role at some point. But there's a lot more competition right now than in the spring," Golden said. "At least [Cain] has got a good attitude."

> With Travis Benjamin suspended for the opener along with four other players, it's opened the door on kickoff and punt returns for others to step up. Golden said Lamar Miller and Brandon McGee will handle the kickoffs and true freshman Phillip Dorsett will handle the punt returns.

Asked if he was a little nervous putting a true freshman back to return punts, Golden delivered a one word answer: "Yes."

"We're playing a lot of freshman under the lights in a big setting," Golden said. "But you got to make sure believe in them, have confidence in them, train them under all those circumstances. Ultimately, you have to cut the cord and go let them do it. He's gifted. He's got talent. He's returned punts for a long time. This may be his first time in college, but he's been doing it for a long time. I think he'll do very well."

> Asked if UM might feature just one tailback in Monday's game, Golden said Miller and Mike James will platoon. "If we get a hot hand, we'll leave one in," Golden said. "They kind of sub each other anyway. If someone gets a long run or a considerable amount of reps successively they'll rotate."

As for the team's third back, that hasn't been decided yet, though, sophomore Maurice Hagens is listed there on the depth chart. "Eduardo [Clements] is there as well," Golden said of the team's third back. "Mo is kind of an H-Back, fullback for us. But he's also a good one-back runner. Of course, Eduardo has had a really good camp too. Who we put in there third, I don't know yet."

> Asked if his new kicker and punter might be ready to deal with the pressure on Monday night, Golden said he does because he's already placed them under "extreme pressure" in practice. "Not just live situations, but the whole team standing around them as they kick or punt," Golden said. "We get after them pretty good. The idea there is to make the game easier for them and let them have fun."

> Golden said getting the butterflies out of the stomach of his freshmen shouldn't be difficult.

"It should seem normal to them," Golden said. "They've been in the rotation played with guys who have been in games. Hopefully those guys will mentor them. I've never been opposed to playing freshmen. I think they've earned this. I think they've come in in good condition. If they weren't ready, we wouldn't play them. They just have to go out there and do what they've been trained to do."

August 30, 2011

Golden won't release depth chart until UM hears from NCAA; others news & notes

CORAL GABLES -- Hurricanes football coach Al Golden said Tuesday he won't be releasing a depth chart until he here's back from the NCAA on the players ruled ineligible and seeking reinstatement.

Al Golden "I know everybody wants the depth chart, but it would be disingenuous for me and for us to release one here today and to have to adjust it later today or tomorrow morning," said Golden who told WQAM on Monday he expected to hear back fro the NCAA regarding his ineligible players by Wednesday.

"I've reached out to [Maryland coach] Randy [Edsall] personally, told them our situation, assured him what we're looking at as a program. From an ethical, sportsmanship basis, I wanted to make sure I'd reach out to him head coach to head coach and let him know we'll cooperate with him on what we know so we can be on the same page.

"What we don't want to do is release something prematurely and we find out from the NCAA we have to go back and release something else. I don't think that would be genuine. Clearly it's gone from releasing it based on where we were, to now when the NCAA comes back."

Where we are in terms of how many players could be suspended remains to be seen. When asked specifically about the eight players The Miami Herald, Associated Press and other outlets reported as seeking reinstatement, Golden said that number was "inaccurate. And I'm not going to comment on inaccurate reporting. I'm not going to do that. It's irresponsible."

UM could ultimately suspend all 15 student-athletes President Donna Shalala said had eligibility issues and that's likely why Golden tried to shoot down the reports of eight athletes seeking reinstatement. Either way, Golden said Tuesday anybody with eligibility issues isn't taking first team reps and that if they aren't cleared to return by the NCAA or UM by Thursday's deadline, they won't be available to play in the opener at Maryland next Monday night.

"If it's someone alleged, they're really not getting the reps," Golden said. "If they have been rendered ineligible, and we have not released any names from our end, if they've been rendered ineligible by the university, they can only be reinstated by the NCAA. So right now we're not counting on those guys. Is it difficult. Sure it's difficult. I'm not going to lie to you. Is it a distraction? Sure, it can be. But we have to maintain our focus.

"The bulk of the game planning goes in on a Tuesday and Wednesday practice so it's really important they're there for one of those at least."

Here's what else Golden was talking about Tuesday regarding his team:

- Asked about the situation at defensive tackle and junior college transfer Darius Smith, Golden said: "He's done a great job, has matured. He's doing a nice job for us right now. We're excited about Darius. Olsen Pierre has been in there as well. [Jalen] Grimble has played in there a little bit, too. And we also have some vets. Hopefully those guys will continue to make progress at that position."

- Golden on Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien, the ACC Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2010: "If you get good quarterback play you can get good play from your team. Danny does that. He has a strong arm in addition to being really bright. He can move in the pocket and re-set his feet and keep his eyes downfield. That's really hard to do for a young [player] and he does it naturally. We have the utmost respect for O'Brien."

- Golden on his team's cornerback play: "Well, I think Lee Chambers and Mike Williams have helped us out tremendously there. This is the healthiest Lee has been in his career. He's excited. He's always been a tough player, fast player. Now he has the skill set to compete at corner. I think he'll do so. Mike has been a pleasant surprise at corner. We needed experience because we lost four corners to the NFL; we're pleased with Mike's progress there. [Freshman Thomas] Finnie has done a nice job; JoJo [Nicolas] has done a nice job, has really improved his skill set. [Brandon] McGee is more mature now than he was at any point in the spring. I think we've improved that position. They're going to test us at 8:02 on Monday night and we'll get a better [feel] for where we are."

- On the play of senior Jordan Futch, who has moved to weakside linebacker: "He's an excitable guy. Sometimes Jordan has been his own enemy. If something doesn't go right that carries into second down, third down. What we're seeing from Jordan now is a little more poise, maturity. He's playing WILL but can also play MIKE. I'm excited for Jordan. Right now he's probably playing the most consistent football since I've been around. He's playing really consistently right now."

- On freshman defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who has run with the first team in camp: "The expectations are high for him. He's shown a maturity physically and mentally that he should be able to handle this grind, contribute for us. His work ethic is great, he's got a great motor. Those are the things you have to teach freshmen a lot of times, teach that and not the X's and O's. That's why you don't want to play with a lot of them. Hopefully he has that and now we're focusing on the system part with him. We're excited; it's a great opportunity for Anthony, and that's why he came to Miami."

- On how sixth-year senior Joel Figueroa has moved into the fight for the starting left tackle job: "Right now Fig and [Malcom] Bunche [are battling at left tackle]. With Joel, we have to make sure he's careful with his back, keeps his weight down. We're expecting big things from Fig. Fig is good, brings a sense of maturity. He's been through a bunch of coaches, a great deal of experiences. He has a maturity about him that's hard to duplicate in your locker room. It's Harland [Gunn] at left guard backed up by [Jared] Wheeler. At center it's [Tyler] Horn backed by [Shane] McDermott. Right guard - [Brandon] Linder backed by Feliciano. And the right tackle is Washington and Jermaine Johnson."

- Golden said he's hopeful senior transfer Blake Ayles will be available to play this season. "The others will see action for us in the game. Asante [Cleveland] looks to be healthy, Chase [Ford] is doing a nice job and Clive [Walford] and [John] Calhoun have done a nice job as well. We'll see all four of those tight ends. Anyone who has followed my career knows I like to use tight ends."

- Golden said Jake Wieclaw has won the kicking job for field goals and kickoffs and Dalton Botts has won the punting job. The kickoff job is still up for grabs. "Right now Botts, Wieclaw and [Matt] Goudis is who it is for kickoffs. For me it's about hang time - I don't want line drives to the goal line."

August 27, 2011

UM's Jacory Harris expects to play, but he's also ready to 'weather the storm'

CORAL GABLES -- With his future eligibility and those of seven teammates now in the hands of the NCAA, University of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris seemed like his usual calm, cool and collected self Saturday when he was asked about the Hurricanes season opener at Maryland Sept. 5.

"Do I expect to play?" Harris said. "Yeah."

Jacory Harris Harris, linebacker Sean Spence and six other unnamed football players who allegedly took impermissible gifts from convicted felon and former booster Nevin Shapiro hope to learn soon if that will become a reality. The Miami Herald first reported Thursday that eight players -- including Spence and Harris -- had been deemed ineligible by UM and were in the process of seeking reinstatement from the NCAA, a process UM coach Al Golden said Friday he hopes is expedited.

UM President Donna Shalala said earlier this week that UM was trying to determine the eligibility status of 15 student-athletes. She, nor anyone at UM has specified names or how many were football players. But in a large expose done by Yahoo!, who investigated Shapiro's claims for more than 11 months, 12 are football players (including seven starters on defense) and one is a basketball player, forward DeQuan Jones.

Harris, who ranks second all-time in UM history with 50 touchdown passes and set UM's all-time record with 39 career interceptions, didn't seem to be very worried about any of that Saturday during the team's 30-minute media session with reporters.

"I'm probably the happiest I've ever been -- even with everything that's going on," said Harris, who joked with teammates as they walked by during his interview.

"I just see the brighter side of things. I see a future where there's going to be a lot of success. That's why I'm not even worried about what's going to happen, if anything happens. Just leave it in God's hands. Whatever happens, happens. I just got to deal with it, fight through it.

"Just like these penguins we watched the other day where they weathered a storm for six months and the males had to watch the eggs. Then, when the storms finally subsided, the eggs hatched and they had their goal, which is to have their child. Our goal is to win the national championship. And through it all, we're going to fight, keep on fighting and make it at the end."

Before camp started and Yahoo! dropped its bomb, the biggest story at UM was the impending quarterback battle between Harris and sophomore Stephen Morris. We still don't know who won the starting job and probably won't until UM releases a depth chart on Tuesday. But in light of the situation with Harris, it's likely the NCAA will really decide.

Stephen Morris "Every day we went out there with the same mindset -- we both wanted the job," said Morris, who celebrated his 20th birthday Saturday. "We were both going 100 percent and we both knew that every throw we had counted. Everything we did mattered and every decision we made was magnified. It just helped us take our competition to another level."

So who do you think won? "I have no idea man," Morris said.

Harris said he's confident that no matter what happens Morris can lead the Hurricanes.

"Stephen will be ready no matter what," Harris said. " Stephen will be ready the whole year. That's my boy and I'm helping him out with whatever I can.

"He was a freshman last year, just out there having fun, just like I was my freshman year. Now, he's going to have it good because he has years to grow and years under the system where he'll be able to run the offense himself. And as long as he learns it and keeps executing the right way, the way Coach Fisch wants, he can do some tremendous things."

Fisch said both quarterbacks were impressive in fall camp. According to UM, both quarterbacks combined to go 77 of 109 for 954 yards, 11 TDs and one interception in two scrimmages. UM coach Al Golden referred to Harris as "nothing short of excellent" during camp. Harris said Saturday he combined to throw 19 touchdowns and four interceptions between the 20 practices and scrimmages during fall camp.

But it's likely going to be the Stephen Morris show -- at least early on.

"When it comes to Stephen, he's shown great leadership and he can make all the throws and most importantly that he can command the huddle," offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said.

"Stephen's played Maryland before. Stephen brought the team back to a victory, scoring with 35 seconds left last year. Jacory has played in a ton of big games. So these guys have all played in big time games and they'll be fun to watch -- if the quarterbacks, receivers and offensive line do what they're supposed to do."

August 22, 2011

UM President Donna Shalala releases video statement, says 15 current athletes have questions over eligibility (transcript included)

CORAL GABLES -- UM President Donna Shalala delivered a video address to students and the community Monday afternoon. We have the complete transcript and a few quick points from her 5-minute commentary on the ongoing NCAA investigation. 

> NCAA Investigators made it on campus Aug. 15 and conducted interviews with current student-athletes, coaches and staff.
> Shalala said 15 student-athletes currently have their eligibility under review and the hope is to move quickly, but thoroughly.
> UM retained outside counsel familiar with NCAA investigations.


"This past Friday was move-in day for thousands of freshmen at the University of Miami. I joined many new Canes as they lugged overflowing suit cases, moved into the residence halls and hugged their parents good-bye. So much optimism, excitement and pride. I thought of those moments over the weekend as I continued to work with our senior staff in the ongoing NCAA investigation.

"I think of those eager young students ready to embrace the opportunity for growing and learning at our university. That is what the University of Miami is about. The young men and women who come here to achieve their dreams. And there are thousands more on our campuses, hundreds of thousands of graduates, who define Miami not nearly as a place, but as an idea.

"The past eight days have been difficult for many members of our community. As I said Wednesday, I'm saddened and disappointed by the allegations leveled against some current and former members of the university community. However, I'm heartened by the kind of displays of support in recent days, phone calls, texts messages, emails and letters from so many of you.

"When our values are called into question as they have been this past week, we have only one option -- do what is right and have the confidence in tomorrow. We will not let others define us.

"The allegations leveled against current and former Miami student-athletes and coaches are serious, and we are treating them with the priority and urgency they warrant. I know there are many unanswered questions about the investigation, about the process and consequences. With NCAA investigators on campus over the past week and with so many unknowns, there's just not much we can say beyond our written official statements.

"The NCAA has instructed us not to comment on specific details of the investigation. It's frustrating for us, for me to be unable to speak more freely or to answer questions. However, we must protect the integrity of the investigation and have patience as the work proceeds.

"I am able to share with you some important points of information:

"I was notified that the NCAA would be on campus on Aug. 15 to investigate potential violations. I insisted on complete and honest cooperation by every member of the Miami athletic department including administrators, coaches, staff and student athletes.

"We retained outside counsel -- outside counsel which specializes in NCAA cases to assist the university in all aspects of the investigation.

"The NCAA enforcement staff in a joint investigation with the university conducted several campus interviews last week and we expect the investigation to continue.

"The Miami Athletic Compliance staff in a joint effort with the NCAA is now beginning the process of reviewing the eligibility of 15 current student-athletes. With the season fast approaching, I know our coaches, players and fans are eager to know the results. The process, however, must be deliberate and thorough to ensure its integrity.

"I'm proud of how our leaders, staff and coaches and student-athletes have handled themselves in the past week. We have been open and cooperative with investigators.

"I should also note the NCAA welcomed our request to conduct a joint investigation and [NCAA] President Mark Emmert commented publicly on Friday that we are being extremely cooperative. Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst has been remarkable in his leadership of our department through these very difficult days.

"The circumstances have also imposed a great deal on the shoulders of [football] coach Al Golden and [basketball coach] Jim Larranga, all of our coaches. We are fortunate there are no better leaders of young men and women. Their insistence in integrity in their programs will help us move forward.

"I ask all of our friends and supporters to continue to passionately support our student athletes who do the right thing and represent the university so wonderfully to the world. We cannot let the actions of some, define the many as we have so much to be proud of.

"I love the University of Miami. It is my home. My colleagues and I are committed to academic and athletic programs of the highest integrity. Like our new freshmen unpacking in their residence halls who are filled with promise, we will be stronger, we will be better. We will move through the process thoroughly. We will learn where there are lessons to be learned. We will move on with a commitment to the highest levels of professionalism and integrity in everything we do. Thank you."

August 19, 2011

Board of Trustees Chairman releases letter to community

A letter from University of Miami Board of Trustees Chairman Leonard Abess to the community:

For more than eight decades, our community has embraced the Miami Hurricanes through both celebrations and commiserations. This devotion is not limited to University of Miami students and alumni—the ranks of past and present fans swells to include thousands of adopted ’Canes, many of whom have never even set foot on UM’s Coral Gables campus. This is why it is understandable that recent news of potential NCAA violations committed by current and former University of Miami student-athletes and staff have aroused such strong emotions in our community and the greater “U” family.

Without a doubt these allegations are troubling and demand a thorough and honest evaluation of Hurricane Athletics. President Shalala has taken a strong position, insisting on full cooperation with the ongoing NCAA investigation. The process will be long, and in the ensuing months the Board of Trustees and the university administration will provide both leadership and unwavering support for our great institution, which we all care so deeply about.

While attention has been rightly focused on the allegations this week, during the same time, the University has also welcomed the finest ever incoming freshman class, and campus is in the midst of the wonderful excitement surrounding move-in day and the beginning of the academic year. We must not allow our current crisis in athletics to diminish the excellence and hard work of generations in the UM family.

It is especially important that the alleged misconduct not overshadow our current leadership and institutional values. Moving forward, I ask for your support in helping to ensure that the University of Miami and Hurricane Athletics come out stronger in our continued commitment to excellence in every endeavor.

Rest assured, ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the overall athletics department lies with the UM leadership, which includes President Shalala, the Board of Trustees, and the Athletics Director.

With everyone’s support, the University of Miami will continue to be a community leader and an invaluable resource to all of us.

August 13, 2011

Sunday's scrimmage will have game-day feel

CORAL GABLES -- After 10 practices in eight days, University of Miami football coach Al Golden said he's going to treat Sunday's scrimmage -- the first of fall camp -- as close to a game-day situation as possible.

Al Golden Not only will his assistants be up in lifts to simulate game-day operations in stadium booths, players will be wearing game-day uniforms and first and second team players will be getting the bulk of the snaps. About the only thing the scrimmage won't have: punts.

"We're hoping to get 50 plays for the 1's and 2's, another 12-15 for the 3's and 4's," Golden said Saturday morning before the first of two practices.

"We'd like to get everybody on film, give everybody an opportunity to compete. We'll have some of the 2's run with the 1's; we'll have some of the 3's run with the 2's -- wherever we think is a competitive situation. We'll put the ball in all kinds of different situations so we get everything on tape -- short yardage, goal line, backed up. There will be two-minute period, that type of thing."

Golden, who earlier this week said he wouldn't name a starting quarterback until after the team's second scrimmage on Aug. 22, said Sunday's practice game will count more toward winning starting jobs across the board than regular practices.

"Not that they should have anxiety, but it should feel like a test," Golden said. "We're trying to get them to perform, to free up and trust their technique and trust what they've learned and go out there and perform and execute. It should feel different when they prepare tonight. It should feel different when they come over in the morning. We put uniforms on them just to make sure they know it is different."

There will even be a crowd in attendance -- recruits and commitments, who along with family members will be special guests for the scrimmage. Golden said some coaches might not want to open scrimmages to outsiders, "but we want them to see who we are, how we coach, how our team reacts, all those things."

"It will be about as close as you can get to actually being here as a student-athlete," Golden said. "Because it's very real. It's not like we're over there talking to them every minute of the day. We're out there coaching, running the scrimmage and they're watching. They'll have a chance to meet some players, have a meal with the guys, get around our deans and professors and be around our student-athletes, which will be good."

> Golden said tight ends Chase Ford and Blake Ayles are the only players he expects to be held out of Sunday's scrimmage because of injury.

> Golden said freshman defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who was wearing a non-contact yellow jersey Saturday, should be okay to play in Sunday's scrimmage. Cornerback Brandon McGee, who has won a yellow jersey for two straight days, is likely questionable.

> Receiver LaRon Byrd, who was wearing a yellow jersey Friday, practiced normally Saturday.


> Golden said the thing that's been most impressive to him about this training camp is that the entire playbook has been installed on both offense and defense after just eight days.

"We had an eight-day aggressive install," Golden said. "You can't do that with a team that didn't prepare or study independently over the summer. We have most of it in, are actually scaling back for the scrimmage and then will go back and try to refine some things next week. It will be a limited package; we don't want a lot of mental errors, a lot of moving parts. We want them to go out and see who is improved."

> Although he won't say Dalton Botts has won the starting job at punter yet, it's clear the redshirt sophomore has distanced himself from the competition. Botts has been wearing a black jersey (worn by starters and leaders) since midweek. 

"I'm hoping someone will come up and really challenge him in the next 10 days," Golden said.

As for the kickoffs and placement kicks, Golden said, those "are too close to call right now."

> Golden hasn't allowed any freshmen to talk with reporters since camp opened, but that could change soon.

"It's not really that I'm not allowing them to talk. I'm trying to let them get in," Golden said. "This is a grind. Literally the last day they had summer school they started camp. I'm sure we'll sit down and give [media] access before we get going here. But this first week there was too much. Every minute they had they're either with a position coach or trying to learn the playbook."

Golden said he likes his freshmen class, "and all but one or two will be playing for us in some capacity. They're all in the mix."

> Running backs coach Terry Richardson doesn't have to worry about who his No. 1 and No. 2 options are. Lamar Miller and Mike James have clearly cemented themselves in those roles.

But the No. 3 job, which became open when Storm Johnson transferred to UCF this summer, remains an open competition between sophomore Eduardo Clements and redshirt freshman Darion Hall.

"I think it's going to come down to who is the better special teams guy," Richardson said. "They're both [Clements] and [Hall] getting the same amount of reps. So it'll come down to that."

Had incoming freshman Kevin Grooms not been held up by the NCAA Clearinghouse, one might only assume Grooms could have won the third-string job easily.

"Speed, quickness, playmaking ability," Richardson said when asked about what he likes about Grooms. "Being a young guy and just coming in he would have to grasp the offense. But he returned kicks, just scored so many different ways for his high school team.

"Right now, he's behind, has to get caught up if he comes in [this fall]. The longer it goes, he's behind and has to get up to speed."

> Offensive lineman Harland Gunn, defensive tackle Marcus Forston, quarterback Jacory Harris, cornerback Lee Chambers and linebacker Ramon Buchanan all served as player-coaches Saturday.

April 17, 2011

Spring Game Observations

After getting to spend a few wonderful weeks at home with my wife and our first child, I got the chance to escape the house -- and diaper duty -- for a few hours Saturday to catch the Canes Spring Game at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

Here are a few thoughts and observations (FYI, Saturday's game will be broadcast on CSS at 5 p.m. Sunday in case you weren't there):

Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris > No Canes assistant has a tougher job ahead of them this summer than offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. I hate to start with the stinky stuff, but it was painfully obvious Saturday that Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris still have a long way to go. Now it's true that the Canes were short on receivers (LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Asante Cleveland, Travis Benjamin weren't out there). But with a vanilla offense (Al Golden said there were just seven pass plays used) and an inexperienced secondary, Harris and Morris shouldn't have looked that bad. Both threw two interceptions each (Morris' pick to Sean Spence, which was returned for a TD, was horrendous). But I was more troubled by the poor choices they made with the football, holding onto it for too long at times and just not finding open receivers. Fisch not only has to find a way to get Morris and Harris to protect the football better, but also see the entire field and check down to their running backs and tight ends more often (he kept screaming for that throughout the game). Unless Harris and Morris get it right, 2011 could still end up looking and feeling a lot like last year -- regardless of how much UM improves in other spots.

> Lamar Miller appears ready to hit another gear. Remember when the Canes had Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore? Lamar Miller, Mike James and Storm Johnson could end up being just as potent a trifecta. All three continued to impress Saturday even though it was Miller who was Saturday's star with three touchdowns and 166 yards on just 10 carries. The question moving forward becomes how Fisch utilizes all three and splits carries and touches. Last season, Miller carried the ball more than 11 times only twice (he had 22 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown versus Maryland and 15 carries for 163 yards and one touchdown versus Virginia Tech). James hit double digits in carries three times (no more than 11). And Storm carried it only nine times all season (for 119 yards, most on a 71-yard TD run versus USF). Personally, I'd make Storm and Miller the primary ball carriers (both are more explosive than James) and use James (13 catches in '10) as the primary pass catcher out of the backfield and the specialist in short yardage situations. And, I would make sure to get the ball into the trios hands one way or the other 75 to 80 percent of the time on offense.

Jojo Nicolas > Moving JoJo Nicolas to cornerback was smart. At first I kind of balked at the idea of seeing Nicolas, a rather average safety, move to cornerback. But Al Golden and his staff obviously saw something most of us hadn't yet in the 6-1, 200-pound senior from Homestead. Nicolas made a couple nice plays in coverage Saturday including batting away a perfectly thrown pass by Harris to Tommy Streeter. Now, I'm not saying Nicolas is going to be able to come in and provide what Brandon Harris did last season. But he could prove to be just as effective as say Ryan Hill was. And that's something this young, inexperienced secondary could use. Brandon McGee, Thomas Finnie and walk-on Andrew Swasey (who appears headed for big things with this team one way or the other) all had picks Saturday. The talent is there, but it feels like the secondary still has a long way to go in terms of development.

> It's time for Tommy Streeter and Kendal Thompkins to really contribute. We heard all about the talents of the former Miami Northwestern receivers before they got to UM. Then, we heard about how great they looked in practice. We've seen glimpses here and there in a handful of games. But after three years, isn't time we stopped hearing and started seeing real results from these guys? Despite reportedly making strides all spring, Streeter had a rough afternoon Saturday. He didn't show enough of a fight for the football on a couple balls he could have had including one in the end zone Swasey (who is seven inches shorter than him) took away from him. Thompkins had a team-high seven catches for 81 yards and made a nice grab near the sideline on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Morris. But we've seen Thompkins do this before in games that don't count. It's time he does it when it matters, especially in the slot where the Canes need help.

> Clive Walford looks like he will be able to help out at tight end. UM's best tight end, Asante Cleveland, missed this spring due to injury. But that gave others a chance to shine. Sounds and feels like Walford was the only one who really took advantage. He had four catches for 48 yards Saturday and looked comfortable blocking. USC transfer Blake Ayles and senior Chase Ford were invisible. Walford said afterward he's got about 90 percent of the playbook down and definitely feels like he will contribute this coming season because "I feel comfortable with blocking." That's great news for the Canes who could use two solid options at tight end.


> Loved the big hits delivered by safety Ray Ray Armstrong Saturday including one in which he knocked the helmet clean off running back Darion Hall. Armstrong appears as though he's ready to turn the corner.

> I'm not as worried about the middle linebacker spot as I thought I was going to be with Colin McCarthy moving on. Kelvin Cain, Jordan Futch and Jimmy Gaines all appear as though they are headed in the right direction. My guess is Futch will probably earn the starting job in the fall with Cain pushing him hard for playing time. 

> Just wanted to give some kudos to Susan Miller Degnan for doing a great job with the blog while I was out. SMD is old school, but she's coming around to enjoying this blogging deal. I think we make a great team. By the way, she needs more Twitter followers. Jump on board @smillerdegnan


March 03, 2011

UM vet Tony Hernandez to serve as acting AD

CORAL GABLES -- The University of Miami announced Thursday morning it has appointed Tony Hernandez, who has been at the school for 13 years, as acting Athletic Director as the school searches for a successor to Kirby Hocutt.

Tony Hernandez Hernandez currently serves as Deputy Athletic Director. Hocutt left the program for the same job at Texas Tech last week after only 2 1/2 years in Coral Gables. UM has begun a national search for a replacement and a successor is expected to be announced by the beginning of the fall.

According to UM, applicants for the position should apply through the University of Miami employment website. To apply for this position visit and type in keyword 010547.

Hernandez joined the University of Miami Athletic Department in 1998 and has served in various capacities since that time. He began his career in Academic Services as a Graduate Assistant. He was hired full-time in 1999 as a Compliance Coordinator subsequently being promoted to Director of Compliance in 2002, Assistant AD for Compliance in 2004 and Associate AD for Compliance a year later.

In 2005, he also served as the Interim Associate AD for Development and has served as the Interim Associate AD for External Affairs on two separate occasions. During his term as Interim Associate AD for Development, the Hurricane Club exceeded its annual giving budgetary goal by nearly 9%.

Hernandez also serves on various committees or organizations including as President of the National Association of Athletic Compliance (NAAC), NCAA Amateurism Cabinet, Division 1-A Athletic Directors' Compliance Task Force, and the ACC Constitution & By-laws Committee. He has previously also served on various committees including the NCAA Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet and as Chair of the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Waivers Sub-Committee. He is a member of Iron Arrow, the highest honor attainable at the University of Miami, and served a term as president of that organization.

Hernandez earned a Law Degree and a Bachelor's of Business Administration in Finance, both from the University of Miami.

Prior to being named as acting Athletic Director Thursday, he has served as Senior Associate Athletic Director since February, 2007. As Deputy Athletic Director, Hernandez is the Chief Operating Officer for the Department and is responsible for day-to-day operations of many aspects of the Athletic Department. In addition, he directly supervises Compliance, Academic Services, Training Room, Strength and Conditioning, Equipment Room, Video Operations, and Women's Soccer.

> UM's struggling baseball team (4-4) could get a big lift before this weekend's tough series at Florida. According to UM spokesman Brian Harvey, outfielder Chris Pelaez, the team's second-leading hitter from a year ago, has been cleared to return this week and could be in the lineup Friday in Gainesville.

Pelaez, who injured his shoulder in the preseason, took swings on Tuesday for the first time in the batting cage and has made great strides. The Hurricanes will meet with the media at noon Thursday before boarding a bus for Gainesville.

February 25, 2011

AD Kirby Hocutt leaves for Texas Tech, says decision was tough

Kirby Hocutt has left his post as athletic director at the University of Miami for the same job at Texas Tech.

"I am deeply disappointed that after only two-and-a-half years of a very successful tenure as leader of our athletics programs, Kirby Hocutt has decided to accept the AD position at Texas Tech," UM president Donna Shalala said in a statement.

"We did everything we could to convince him to stay, but in the end it was an intensely personal decision. I thank Kirby for his integrity, leadership, and dedication to the University.”

The move comes less than three months after Hocutt fired Randy Shannon and hired Al Golden to coach the Hurricanes' football team.

Hocutt released a statement through UM at around 6 p.m. Friday evening.

"While I am very excited about the unique and special opportunity that is ahead at Texas Tech it was a very difficult decision to leave the University of Miami," Hocutt said in the statement. "While I am proud of the progress and advancement we have made in Coral Gables, there is never an easy time to leave and the job at the University of Miami was not complete.

"There are great things in the future for Miami Athletics. The leadership, confidence and support I received during my time at the U from President Shalala and the entire Board of Trustees, and especially Paul DiMare was superior. I could not have asked for anything more. Again, I am confident that the foundation has been set to return this proud program back to national prominence.

"While you can never control the timing in which opportunities present themselves there is no question this is the correct decision for me and my family. The opportunity to return home and be near family and friends is one that we are excited about."

February 04, 2011

Brissett to announce -- probably for UF -- soon

PALM BEACH GARDENS -- Al Golden said last month the thought of not having enough depth at quarterback scared him to death before going to sleep every night.

Jacoby Brissett before the decision on Friday night Barring a surprise, it looks like there will be a few more restless nights for the Hurricanes football coach.

U.S. Army All-American quarterback Jacoby Brissett will announce shortly if he's decided if he looks better in orange and blue or orange and green. UM, once thought to be the favorites in the Brissett sweepstakes, now looks like the underdog to Florida after a long day of rumors and unconfirmed reports on the internet.

The 6-5, 225-pound high school senior is expected to make his announcement at halftime of his basketball game here on Senior Night. The gym is near capacity.

The Hurricanes, who led all Football Bowl Subdivision schools in interceptions thrown last season, have senior Jacory Harris, senior Spencer Whipple and sophomore Stephen Morris on their current roster at quarterback.

As a senior at Dwyer, Brissett completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,473 yards, 32 touchdowns and only one interception. He rushed 63 times for 368 yards and seven touchdowns. As a basketball player this season, he is averaging 15.9 points per game for the Panthers (20-2).

Brissett was ranked the third best quarterback in the country by, ninth best by and 25th best by ESPN.

The fact he may opt to sign with the Gators is a bit surprising. Florida already signed Oviedo's Jeff Driskel, rated by numerous recruiting services as the number one quarterback in the country. But, the Gators did sign three Dwyer players last season -- tight end Gerald Christian, receiver Robert Clark and safety Matt Elam. Plus, Dwyer coach Jack Daniels is a Florida grad.

"I'm not saying he can't compete and do well at Florida, but Jeff Driskel is going to be the man there," said ESPN recruiting analyst Corey Long, who said Thursday he heard Brissett was headed to Florida.

"The kid had two chances to really play in my opinion -- at Miami or Wisconsin."

Before UM coach Randy Shannon was fired, the Hurricanes had a commitment from Miami Northwestern's Teddy Bridgewater, also considered one of the nation's premier quarterbacks. But Bridgewater de-committed and signed with Louisville in December. The Hurricanes have been looking for a replacement ever since.

Brissett, who remained uncommitted through the recruiting process until Friday, didn't begin getting recruited by UM until Golden took over as coach. He visited UM on the final available recruiting weekend before National Signing Day "and loved it" according to his mother Lisa Brown, who is a huge Hurricanes fan.

"He can make any throw," Daniels said last week. "He can lose people in the pocket. He's just such a winner. I'll never have a quarterback like him."

With or without Brissett, the Hurricanes could still end up with another quarterback. Former 2009 freshman All-American Tom Savage left Rutgers and has expressed interest in Miami. If Savage were to transfer to UM he would have to sit out the 2011 season per NCAA rules.

"He's a kid that can come in and play as game manager, but I don't think the kid is a great quarterback," said Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services. "He's not very mobile and will need a lot of guys around him to make plays. He struggled at Rutgers."

Even with a transfer or another pickup, the Hurricanes will most likely still sign at least two quarterbacks in their 2012 class. Long said he expects national recruiting coordinator Brennan Carroll to use his West Coast connections from his days at USC to land the Hurricanes a top-flight California quarterback.

Dade Christian's Bilal Marshall (6-3, 180) is considered the best 2012 quarterback in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. Marshall, who threw for 1,600 yards and ran for 1,100 yards last season, said Friday he grew up a Hurricanes fan. UM receivers coach George McDonald visited Marshall last week, but UM has yet to offer him according to Dade Christian coach Mike Sonneborn.

"I'm looking for a school that fits my personality, a program that likes to win," said Marshall, who already has scholarship offers from Wake Forest, Duke, Rutgers, Boston College and Kansas among a collection of nearly a dozen.

"But it's not always about what school was your favorite school was growing up. You have to look at the best interest in your future life."