Holding Boston College to 138 yards passing two weeks ago and shutting down the Gators earlier this season, University of Miami’s secondary unit deserves national recognition. Led by safety Maurice Sikes, the Hurricanes allow an average of only 131 yards per game.
“We’re having fun,” Sikes said. “And I think when you are having fun a lot of things take care of themselves. Being third in the nation in pass defense is pretty solid, and not only are we, as players, working hard for it, but I think it’s a tribute to our coach as well.”
Maurice Sikes led the team for the second straight game with 11 tackles against Boston College, including six solos and five assisted. He also forced a fumble and a deflected a pass.
“We have outstanding linebackers helping us, and the defensive line as well. It’s a whole group effort that gets the win. We come out to practice everyday and try to improve one thing; if you can do that, then every day you are just getting better as a whole,” Sikes said.
Born and raised in Miami, which seems to be the norm for several Hurricane players, Sikes chose Miami over Florida and Alabama. He explained how he did not like former UF head coach Steve Spurrier’s customs or attitude, which veered him away from choosing University of Florida. On the contrary, the reason for wanting to attend University of Alabama was because of his admiration towards the coach.
“The only reason I liked Alabama was because of their coach Mike DuBose. My number one interest was FSU when he was there, but he then went to Alabama. Obviously you can’t go to a school for one person. UM had everything I liked; academics, a good coach, and I also knew a few of the players that were coming here. It ended up being an easy choice.”
In his sophomore year, lurking in the shadow of Ed Reed, Sikes did not see much playing time. However, when he put on his game face, he excelled with Miami’s kickoff coverage unit as one of the most physical players on special teams.
“This is his moment in the sun, this is his opportunity,” said head coach Larry Coker. “He’s been behind Ed Reed, and now this is his time. This is his season.”
Three weeks ago against the Temple Owls, Sikes blocked a punt and put the spotlight on the special teams unit. He admitted that it is something he loves to do, and wanted to accomplish this year.
“Our special teams is great and I love being apart of that group. We practice blocking punts before practice, during practice and sometimes after practice. We take a lot of time practicing that because we feel that it could change the momentum of a game.”
The game against University of Florida proved to be a big game for him as well. At the end of the third quarter, Sikes intercepted an intended touchdown pass, and ran 97 yards to the ‘Canes end zone to put Miami up 27-16.
“It just happened to come in a big game, at the right possible time,” Sikes said. “It was a big deal to me because we won the game, and we got to showcase our talent a little more.”
Sikes’ interception could be compared to a similar play last year: Ed Reed’s long touchdown return off a tipped pass to preserve a victory for the Hurricanes over Boston College. Since he has taken Ed Reed’s position, they are often compared, and Sikes seems to have lived up to the expectations, and then some.
“I’ve been working hard since I have been here, I just haven’t had the opportunity to show it. You just have to wait your turn, and when it is your turn, you just got to play to the best of your ability.”
After the win against the Gators, Maurice Sikes shared Big East Honors of the Week with Todd Sievers and Willis McGahee. It was his first time receiving this honor.
“If everyone is doing well, then they usually pick someone and say that that’s the person who made them win. But it was really everyone. Big East Honor is a great honor though, and I accept it.”
Former UM players seem to keep their connection to their college years, even after graduating, by making special appearances at the games. Coming out to the BC game was Phillip Buchanon, Ed Reed, and James Lewis. Reed gave Sikes a pep talk about tackling before the game, and the other alumni conversed with the current ‘Canes as well. Sikes stated that the former players are highly accessible, all you have to do is call them up, ask for advice, and they will guide you in the right direction.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Sikes work hand in hand together and are both excelling this season. Sikes, with 25 tackles, is second on the team behind number one Vilma with 30 tackles.
“I think he’s a pro-player right now,” Sikes says about Vilma. “Just mentally, the guy gets up for the game and he knows what he has to do. He makes all the front calls and I make all the back calls. I am just happy to be his teammate, because he is an awesome guy and an awesome player.”
After a week off, Sikes and the ‘Canes welcome the University of Connecticut Huskies to the Orange Bowl for the first time tomorrow night. Never having seen the Huskies play in person, being that this is their first meeting with the ‘Canes, a lot of film has been studied. Many let downs have occurred in the nation this past weekend, and Miami is not about to overlook any team.
“We are just going to come out and perform well and hope we get another win,” says Sikes. “I feel that we haven’t even played to the best of our ability yet. But I strive for us to be number one in the nation and I just want another ring, period.”
You can reach Dana Strokovsky at Hoopg1rl6@aol.com.