Miami running back Mike James was a true freshman on Labor Day in 2009 when he walked off the bus at Florida State for his first game as a member of the Hurricanes.
James saw a mass of fans screaming at him and took off his headphones.
“It was my first time, and I thought maybe they were saying good luck,” he recalled this week.
“It wasn’t anything close to that.”
On Saturday, James and his fellow UM veterans will be the ones doing the reassuring when Miami opens the season at Boston College with 34 true freshmen — at least “14 or 15” expected to play, according to UM coach Al Golden.
Not only will a significant portion of this new crop of Hurricanes — with the redshirts, the roster includes 42 freshmen — be debuting in a hostile environment, but also they will be doing it in a game that counts toward the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
“We’re going to learn a lot about whether these guys can hold it together and play with poise and trust their technique,” Golden said. “A lot of that can erode with nerves and anxiety. Just go out and have fun. We’re not putting any undo pressure on them.
“ I think what’s profound is how the older guys are reaching out to these guys and trying to bring them along.”
This team is so young — 64 are either freshmen or sophomores — that even the sophomores are considered leaders.
“They ask us questions,” said sophomore defensive end Anthony Chickillo, one of the veterans looked up to by the youngsters.
“They’re excited. I just told them, ‘This is another game. It’s just a bigger stage. You’ve been playing football your whole life, so go out there and do what you’ve been doing your whole life.’ ”
The Hurricanes are coming off a dismal 6-6 season that ended with a loss to this very same Boston College, which finished 4-8 last season and no longer has all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly — who returned one of Jacory Harris’ four interceptions that day for a touchdown.
There also will be no Harris on Saturday. Taking the graduated senior’s place as the new face of the Hurricanes’ offense: junior Stephen Morris, who has started five games the past two years and returns for the first time since back surgery in the offseason.
“Stephen is a very big-league quarterback,” BC coach Frank Spaziani said. “ I’m sure he’s going to be well-schooled.”
Morris has thrown for 1,523 yards and seven touchdowns in his career. Though he has 11 interceptions, nine of them were as a true freshman.
“I matured a lot over the past year,” he said. “There are a lot of things I learned, a lot of things that came up that I had to overcome as a person and as a football player. In terms of leadership, I’m making sure everybody is focused and ready for this game.
“ I’ve been waiting two years to get this opportunity, and now that it’s here I really want to grasp it and run with it. Everyone has one goal right now, and that’s to beat Boston College.”
Morris’ counterpart on the Eagles is 6-3, 213-pound junior Chase Rettig, who threw only 17 passes last season against the Canes, but completed 13 of them for 196 yards and two touchdowns. However, Rettig will be missing some of his top targets Saturday.
BC all banged up
The Eagles are in bad shape injury-wise. They will be without tight end Chris Pantale (broken foot), who overpowered the Hurricanes’ secondary last season with four catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns. They also will be missing 2011 top receiver Bobby Swigert and cornerback Al Louis-Jean (foot).
The status of running back Rolandan Finch, also ailing, is uncertain. Finch ran for 96 yards on 26 carries against Miami in last year’s finale.
The Hurricanes had only two players listed as out: defensive tackle Curtis Porter, recovering from an appendectomy; and linebacker Raphael Kirby (leg).
As much as Miami tries to downplay the effect of first-time players Saturday, the upperclassmen and coaches know from experience there will be growing pains.
“I don’t think they know necessarily how physical the game is,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said when asked about the learning curve for freshmen. “It’s different when you play your own teammates vs. the first time you’re in pads and you’re playing Boston College and it’s a road game and there are fans involved and a lot more physicality. That first corner that gets in the wide receiver’s face and jams him, it’s going to be a little different feeling.
“It’ll be interesting to see.”
Miami Herald sportswriter R.J. Rico contributed to this report.