For years, the Miami Hurricanes have had a wide range of running backs, but in recent years, there has been a drop in elite playmakers. UM has not produced a 1,000 yard rusher in a single season since 2002 when Willis McGahee bulldozed through defenses, tallying over 1,700 yards on the ground.
This season, the Hurricanes running back core is the deepest and most talented since head coach Randy Shannon’s takeover.
The running backs are led by junior Graig Cooper, whose personal goal is to rush for 1,000 yards, and senior Javarris James, who has been plagued by injuries since his phenomenal freshman campaign.
“I love the depth, the talent we have right now,” running backs coach Tommie Robinson said. “They have good work ethic and the kids are focused.”
As a sophomore, Cooper was a versatile player rushing for 841 yards and catching 29 passes for 113 yards. He crossed the goal line six times – four times rushing, one receiving and one on a punt return. “Coop” broke the century mark three times last year and had a career-high 24 carries for 131 yards in an overtime win over Virginia.
Cooper also has led the team in rushing each of the last two years, averaging 5.5 yards per carry as a freshman and 4.9 yards last season.
“We are ready to go this season,” Cooper said. “We all are ready to go out there and show what we got.”
James, on other hand, began his Canes career resembling his cousin Edgerrin James. James was a freshman All-American after carrying the ball 175 times for 802 yards, the second-most ever by a true freshman.
But then James caught the injury bug. Last season he missed four games and started just once, finishing with 268 yards on 68 carries to go with four touchdowns. James has slimmed down this off-season, dropping 16 pounds.
“This is my last year, and I’m kind of forgotten about,” James said. “I needed that. I’m humbled. You’ll see this season.”
After Cooper and James, next in line is redshirt sophomore Lee Chambers. Chambers played in five games last season and tallied 18 carries for 119 yards. The bulk of his production came in the Emerald Bowl as he had nine carries for 60 yards.
“I’ve come a long way,” Chambers said. “Listening to all the older guys and just staying prepared, that’s the main thing.”
With James losing weight, junior Damien Berry will be the power back. Berry is coming off a great spring when he was awarded the Spring Game MVP. He converted to running back after playing safety in 2007.
Look for two freshmen to step in and receive playing time throughout the season – Mike James and Lamar Miller.
M. James arrived early in the spring and made an immediate impact. Multiple times Shannon praised him about his work ethic and his uncanny ability to find the open hole.
Miller was a local star and was rated the nation’s No. 7 running back prospect according to Scout.com. The Dade County native has impressed coaches with his long runs and returns since arriving on campus.
“A lot of great running backs played out here,” Miller said. “For myself, I feel excited at the University of Miami. I just want to win games, get the University of Miami back to how we used to be.”
The running back group is looking forward to the start of something special.
“You can quote me on this one,” Javarris said. “We’ve got the best running back group in the nation, hands down.”