Raised in Montgomery, Ala., one might imagine Ladarius Gunter grew up a huge fan of the Auburn Tigers or the Alabama Crimson Tide.
But the 6-2, 196-pound cornerback, who spent two years at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas before signing with the University of Miami last December, really didnt like either team.
My favorite player was Sean Taylor, said Gunter, who was wearing a coveted black jersey worn by the starters on Thursday morning at Greentree Practice Field.
The first game I really paid attention to on TV was Miami versus Florida State. I saw Sean Taylor crushing people, and I was just like, Wow. I fell in love with his style of play.
If Gunter can provide just a little of what the late Taylor did for the Hurricanes over the next three weeks of camp, odds are the junior will keep the starting job at boundary corner for the season opener Sept. 1 at Boston College.
But if Gunter gets injured or lags just a little in practice, defensive coordinator Mark DOnofrio and coach Al Golden have made it clear throughout the first week of camp that anyone can go from the head of the pack to the back in a flash. Gunter is an example.
Ill tell you what: Ladarius started off really poorly; I mean, really poorly. So much so that by day three, he was third-team, Golden said before Thursdays practice. But he didnt give up; he just kept studying, kept preparing, had a great attitude. I think anybody around the program would say the last three practices hes been really, really good. So hopefully hell continue; hell develop some consistency.
Aside from his own play, what helped Gunter earn the black jersey Monday the same day freshman Tracy Howard took the black jersey away from senior Brandon McGee at field corner was an ankle injury to Thomas Finnie. The sophomore returned to practice Thursday, but Gunter was still ahead of him on the depth chart and still wearing black. DOnofrio spelled out the reason for that pretty clearly Thursday, saying Finnie and McGee (who missed one day because of a stomach virus) need to be careful about how many days they miss.
You dont want to go out of the huddle because you dont know who is coming in, DOnofrio said. [The new arrivals] really love football and work hard [at] it. I know its a cliché, but we have to kick them out of the building. Theyre not just punching the clock.
DOnofrio said thats part of the reason why McGee isnt wearing black anymore.
I just need Brandon to be consistent, DOnofrio said. I need Brandons effort every day to match his talent. Hes a senior and needs to perform at that level. I cant come out here and have a pep rally every day and strike up the band. Youve got to be responsible for you. I cant try to light a fire under you every day. Youve got to be responsible for that fire. Hes done some good things, hes gotten better, but the challenge is to be the same guy every day.
McGee, the only cornerback on the roster with a collegiate start under his belt, hardly seemed worried when asked about the battle for the black jerseys.
Its just a grind. Its camp. Things change weekly. Im not new to this, McGee said. I missed a day of practice because I was having some issues with my health, and now Im bouncing back, feeling better. I just keep making strides from here. Its going to take care of itself.
• DOnofrio said that Curtis Porter, Darius Smith, Olsen Pierre and Luther Robinson have separated themselves at defensive tackle, but he is still looking for someone to emerge from a group that includes Jalen Grimble, DeQuan Ivery, Jacoby Briscoe and Earl Moore. I need some more depth to come from that group, DOnofrio said. We got to be able to have six to count on.
DOnofrio said the position battle at defensive end is less clear, noting that only Anthony Chickillo and Shayon Green appear to be clear-cut contributors.
• Golden is confident that junior strongside linebacker Jimmy Gaines, who has missed all of camp with a foot injury, will return Friday. But Golden said Gaines wouldnt play in Sundays scrimmage and will be transitioned into his spot next week.
• Golden said Stephen Morris and Ryan Williams will get first-team snaps in Sundays scrimmage, but he was noncommittal about when he and his staff would announce who has won the starting quarterback job. Golden said in the past it would be the day after the first scrimmage or after the second one on Aug. 19.