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17 April 2011

National champions motivate today’s Canes

Coach Al Golden (far right) watches the spring game from the sideline at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday. Olivier Vernon (35), attempts to tackle Jacory Harris (12). An autograph signing was held before the game, which kicked off at noon. The Green team defeated the Orange team 30-17. Carissa Harris//The Miami Hurricane

As this year’s Miami Hurricanes played their final scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, thoughts of a new season, coach and set of expectations took a backseat to the Canes’ past success.

Members of the 2001 national championship team stood at midfield during halftime to be acknowledged for the 10th anniversary of what some consider to be the greatest Hurricane team of all time. But they were not they only alumni present- not by a long shot.

Michael Irvin, Bryant McKinnie, Bennie Blades, Ken Dorsey, Andre Johnson and Jon Beason were just six of the more than 100 former players in attendance for the game.

The sidelines were littered with impressively ringed fingers, multi-million dollar contracts and even the occasional Hall of Famer. And these men who once ruled the college football landscape together found themselves conversing across generations and cultures, sharing their war stories and family updates with people they may not have seen in decades.

“There’s nothing like it, man,” Beason said. “When they honored the 2001 team back when I played, I just wanted to be a part of that.”

But for some, it was also an opportunity to watch the current players develop into the positions the alumni once filled. Beason, the former Canes linebacker drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2007, watched as Sean Spence recorded nine tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown.

Dorsey, quarterback of the 2001 national championship team, was able to observe both Stephen Morris and Jacory Harris compete.

“It does motivate us because we had a meeting with all the great quarterbacks last night and they just told us their experiences here, the championships,” Harris said. “We just took in all those things and tried to learn from them.”

If the alumni representing all five national championship teams put any additional pressure on the current Canes, head coach Al Golden didn’t take notice.

“I think they have a lot of respect for those guys, and they did what we’re trying to do,” Golden said. “I don’t think they were playing any harder, they’ve been playing hard already.”

Blades, a member of the 1987 championship team and former first-round draft pick, was impressed by the size of players like JoJo Nicolas and Ray Ray Armstrong, but he was most concerned with the intangible factors.

“We all have one thing that we want to see from these new guys: heart,” Blades said. “That’s the one thing that you can’t coach. These new guys are bigger, stronger and faster, but the heart needs to be there too.”

Canes, no matter the generation, are linked by the orange and green.

Or in the words of Beason: “It’s a fraternity like no other.”

Austen Gregerson may be contacted at agregerson@themiamihurricane.com.