Following a year in which Miami suffered both the worst loss (58-0 to Clemson) and the most exciting last-second victories in school history (The Return), the future is understandably uncertain yet remains bright. With the recent start of spring practice on Tuesday, all eyes are on new Head Coach Mark Richt, who is responsible for shaping the next decade of Hurricanes football.
The announcement that Richt would take over as new head football coach on Dec. 4, 2015 invigorated a team and fan base that was in need of sparks. Richt attended the University of Miami from 1978-82 and played quarterback under legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger. Three decades later, the University of Miami is counting on him to draw from his personal experience under Schnellenberger to guide the next in line of great Miami quarterbacks and to bring the football program back to national prominence.
Richt has the luxury of taking over a team with one of the top quarterbacks in the country in sophomore Brad Kaaya. In addition to Kaaya, Miami is returning its entire backfield from last season. Sophomore Joseph Yearby became the ninth Hurricane to rush for 1,000 yards in a season while starting in all 13 games. Mark Walton will continue to share the load after leading the team with nine total touchdowns as a true freshman. The Hurricanes will also have redshirt sophomore running back Gus Edwards, who missed all of last season with a foot injury.
Junior receiver Stacy Coley, who would have led the team in every receiving category were it not for injuries early in the season, has decided to return for his senior year as well. The uncertainty lies within the trenches, an area the Canes must improve this year if they hope to establish the run and keep Kaaya on his feet.
New Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz has a much more solidified line, although there are unproven defenders behind it. He hopes to create penetration into the backfield and disrupt plays before they develop. Implementing the 4-3 scheme with four down linemen and three linebackers, the Miami native hopes to return the intensity and aggression of the famous Miami defenses he grew up watching in the 1980s. Diaz hopes to focus on efficiency, specifically reducing penalties, an area in which Miami needs improvement after leading the country in penalty yards per game (84.2) last season.
On the first day of spring practice, just over two months removed from the Sun Bowl loss to Washington State, it’s hard to disagree with Kaaya when he says, “I feel like the excitement level is pretty high right now.”