The Hurricanes were exhausted.
Their offense struggled, their defense fell out of sync, status of star running back Mark Walton’s injured ankle teetered in limbo and the Canes trailed the Toledo Rockets by six points at halftime.
Those are some pretty tough odds to overcome, especially for a team recovering from a 10-day hiatus without an actual game in three weeks.
But difficult situations never discouraged the Canes, or the city of Miami as a whole.
As Hurricane Irma approached South Florida, the Miami community shifted into preparation mode – either evacuating north or preparing their homes for the storm.
Miami football did the same.
“Some kids did stay in South Florida,” Head Coach Mark Richt said. “Some went all over the place – whether it was home or maybe their family went to see other family up north somewhere. There was one that went to Puerto Rico, one or two went to California and Mississippi … They were all over the place.”
Thankfully, the storm turned west a couple days before it was projected to hit South Florida directly. However, the population still experienced gusts of over 150 mph – strong enough to knock down trees and wipe out electricity, leaving millions in the state without power for days.
Miami’s football team lost much of its own power. Regardless of whether players chose to stay or leave, the team went 10 days without training – no practice, no conditioning drills and, for most players, no weight room. Finding food presented its own issue.
“When you’re going to try to get food at a restaurant … that was the biggest problem when the power went out,” Richt said. “Or even trying to navigate the trees on the road to try to get to somewhere. Some of the guys, quite frankly, didn’t have a whole lot to eat for a day or two.”
The Hurricanes didn’t get to participate in an actual practice until Sept. 16 in Orlando, Fla. – where the team chose to travel to have a better training situation and prepare for Toledo since the UM campus was closed.
In the first half of the game Sept. 23 at Hard Rock Stadium, the Canes were clearly feeling the effects of the break.
But in the second half, everything changed. UM came roaring back.
Passes were on target, the defense played better coverage, Walton returned to the game after trainers taped up his injured ankle and the comeback energized the fans. Miami scored 28 unanswered points and triumphed 52-30 against Toledo.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Richt said. “It has been an emotional rollercoaster for a lot of us. There are so many things you have to be thinking through and planning and making decisions on and just figuring out a way. Our administration was awesome helping us do everything we felt we needed to do to keep our players safe and keep our staff safe, and then to try to regroup and start thinking about football again in Orlando.”
It hasn’t been easy for the rest of Miami either. But in one game, the Hurricanes embodied the strength of the entire community – staying strong in the face of a challenge and having the resilience to get back up and fight.
“It was a great triumph for the whole university,” said sophomore linebacker Shaq Quarterman, one of the most vocal leaders on the team. “You have to think about the people that put the plays into motion. We had to have the higher-ups be okay with us skipping the Arkansas State game. The fact that they had that compassion for our families – not knowing or meeting our families, but they had the compassion to let that happen – we had to come back and do what we were supposed to do. Just being able to endure all of that as a family – because that’s what our team is, it’s a family – so being able to go through all of that and come out with a W, it’s monumental.”
That’s right, a family. The players, the coaching staff, the trainers – they treat each other like family, and they went through the ups and downs of the game, and Hurricane Irma, together.
Before classes resumed at the University of Miami, before the students and faculty got a chance to resume the normal routine, there was a football game to be played. Fans from all around, including UM students, came to show their support for a team that encompasses many of the same values as they do.
“For South Florida, you always see the community come together and people come out of their homes and help each other with cleanup,” Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz said. “That’s what you want to see on Saturday. We want Saturday to be an opportunity where everybody in the community can get together and have a great tailgate and get in the stadium and create a great atmosphere and help our guys along. I’ll be honest with you, I think we are probably going to need it. We’re probably going to need a great atmosphere to help our guys through and to get us going until we kind of get our sea legs back and get our season kind of kicked off.”
They needed a great atmosphere, and they got it – as well as the victory.
“We’re the Miami Hurricanes,” senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. “We wear that on our chests and we wear that U on the side of our helmets. It means a lot to have Miami behind us, and we want to be behind Miami as well.”