Going into this year’s football season, there are some names that just resonate on campus: junior quarterback Brad Kaaya, senior defensive back Corn Elder, junior running back Joseph Yearby and sophomore running back Mark Walton, for starters. This season, these Hurricanes are expected to continue, if not exceed, their high levels of performance. But, like every year, there are going to be new guys who will come on to the scene and become stars in 2016. Here are three players that are likely to have breakout seasons this year.
The 5-foot-9 junior wide receiver did not receive a ton of playing time last year. A combination of an injury early in the season and receivers in front of him in the depth chart limited his numbers. In 2015, he was mainly utilized as a punt returner. That should all change this year. With former receivers Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters gone, Berrios is likely going to be one of the top two wideout targets for quarterback Brad Kaaya.
One of Berrios’s best assets is his versatility. He is a player that can line up in the slot and on the outside. After mainly playing in the slot his first two seasons, Berrios showed what he could from the outside during the annual spring game last April. He caught eight balls for 127 yards and a touchdown, showing off not only his speed and craftiness, but also his established connection with his quarterback.
Between the opportunity in front of him, his talent, and a second year of experience under his belt, Berrios is bound to have a big season.
When asked what the ceiling is for the team’s offense this season, Berrios sounded confident.
“I don’t think there is one,” Berrios said. “I think if we do the right things, if we execute, I don’t see a ceiling.”
When people talk about freak athletes on this Miami football team, redshirt sophomore tight end David Njoku usually comes up somewhere in the discussion. Running the 40-yard dash in just 4.49 seconds, the 6-foot-4 245-pound player is a force to be reckoned with on the field.
Coming off an injury last season, he finished with 21 catches for 362 yards and a touchdown, as well as an average of 17.2 yards per catch. Expect all those numbers to go up this season. Between having another summer to get better, a pro-style offense run by Head Coach Mark Richt and more experience with his quarterback, Njoku will be utilized even more this year.
Fellow tight end Stan Dobard says the biggest difference now is that Njoku has added more to his game.
“He does a lot of things well, and now he’s becoming one of the great blockers too, not just a pass-catcher so he’s coming all around,” Dobard said. “He’s a complete tight end now, so he’s going to be a star.”
Due to his improved blocking ability, Njoku can now be on the field for every down if needed, giving him a great chance to have a huge season.
After losing defensive players Al-Quadin Muhammad and Jermaine Grace, Miami is left with only three guys on defense returning from last year’s bowl game: Corn Elder, Rayshawn Jenkins and Chad Thomas. Thomas is the only one of those three who plays in the front seven. The junior defensive lineman is going to be surrounded by those with less experience than him, making him one of the de facto leaders on defense.
Thomas has an abundance of talent, that has never been doubted. A five-star recruit out of Booker T. Washington High School in Miami, Thomas has still not met expectations his first two years at UM. However, according to coaches, he has been putting in the work to reach his potential.
“[Thomas] is leading every drill,” Miami Defensive Line Coach Craig Kuligowski said. “You don’t have to question [him]ever.”
Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz talked about how important it is that Thomas leads this young defense.
“We need them to lead with their play,” Diaz said. “If Chad fires off the ball and plays a hundred miles an hour that is the best leadership he can give us right now and then everything else will come after that.”
Kuligowski continued to rave about Thomas, talking about his speed, ability to change direction and strength. Between his athletic ability, hard work put in on certain elements of his game and experience, one can only expect Thomas to finally have that big season.
“I just gotta perform,” Thomas said. “I gotta do my part. All the coaches are doing their part.”