After two months of celebrating their 2001 National Championship, the 2002 season has officially arrived.
On Monday, the Miami Hurricanes kicked off spring practice at the Greentree Field on campus. While many of the key non-returning players were on hand to train for the upcoming NFL Draft, 49 returning lettermen and 16 non-scholarship players worked out in shorts. Head Coach Larry Coker was pleased with how the opening day went.
“The guys were anxious to get out here, and I’m glad to be back as well,” Coker said. “The players are expected to do well and they looked sharp.”
Several of the non-scholarship players made a name for themselves on Monday. Among them was Talib Humphrey, a fullback from nearby Southridge High, and tailback J.R. Mounts, who at 23 years old, recently joined the team after five years of minor league baseball.
However, out of the newcomers, most of the focus was directed at former University of Florida quarterback Brock Berlin. The junior transfer will sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules, but that didn’t stop Berlin from attempting to put on a good show, even in high wind gusts.
“Brock was mixed in with different players,” Coker said. “All in all, I think he did ok for his first day.”
While the newcomers received much of the attention on Monday, several of the veterans had an impressive workout during Tuesday’s practice. Particularly impressive was Jason Geathers, who made several catches in tight coverage, furthering his chances to become one of Ken Dorsey’s deep threats in 2002.
“Jason Geathers had a great day today, he really was exceptional, and I thought the whole offense practiced very well,” Coker said. “Defensively, the linebackers really stood out. But the offense was really efficient today and that really stood out.”
The only negative news was the announcement that two reserve players were forced to retire on Monday. Linebacker Ken Dangerfield’s career ended after a recurring ankle injury, and quarterback Troy Prasek had to retire after suffering from viral myocarditis, an inflammatory disease of the heart.
Meanwhile, the players, for the most part, were excited about getting back on to the field.
“I’m not usually eager to practice,” said center Brett Romberg. “However, today I was eager to see what kind of team we have.”
The Hurricanes biggest question mark this season may be their offensive line. Miami returns just one starter from an offensive line that was a major reason why the Hurricanes won the national championship. However, players such as Vernon Carey, a part-time starter last year, look to fill in the gaps quickly. Carey is also confident about the Hurricane’s chances to repeat as national champions.
“We’re not rebuilding,” Carey said. “We’re just reloading.”
The Hurricanes have already caught the attention of most media publications, as several of them, including CBS Sports Line.com, have Miami ranked No. 1 in their pre-season polls. However, the players are not concentrating on the polls, at least not this early.
“The polls don’t really matter until the end of the season,” Carey said. “However, they are giving us respect, and we have to live up to that respect.”
University of Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee announced Monday that the Hurricanes will play a home and home series with North Carolina. The ‘Canes will travel to Chapel Hill in 2006, while North Carolina will come to Miami in 2009. The Tar Heels enjoy a 4-3 advantage in the series, but the two teams have not faced off since 1963.