The 2001 Miami team, considered by many to be the best group of college football players ever assembled, was honored Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium in celebration of its 15th anniversary season.
Former coach Larry Coker was there, as well as running backs coach Don Soldinger and defensive line coach Greg Mark.
Some of the players on hand for the weekend: Jeremy Shockey; Bryant McKinnie; Phil Buchanan; Jarrett Payton; Joaquin Gonzalez; Roscoe Parrish; Sherko Haji-Rasouli; Vernon Carey; Martin Bibla; and Jerome McDougle.
“It was like a lovefest for me,’’ Coker said. “I really appreciate everything everyone has done over the years, the legacy they’ve left. It was a magical season. The Canes want to get back to national prominence, and I think they will.”
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Said former tailback Payton, 35, who hung out with his running backs coach Soldinger: “This is surreal. To think 15 years have passed. … It seems like yesterday. Being part of that 2001 team was just something truly special.”
Gonzalez, the right tackle for that title team, was named the honorary captain by coach Mark Richt and gave the pep talk to the current team on Friday night before the reunion dinner.
“You can see the difference now in this program and the players’ attitudes a mile away,’’ Gonzalez said before the game.
UM had several players walk off the field injured Saturday: weak-side starting linebacker Michael Pinckney, twice; defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins (limped off); defensive end Demetrius Jackson (limped off, right leg); linebacker Zach McCloud (hand); and Sheldrick Redwine (limped off, left leg). Defensive end Chad Thomas, his right hand already broken against Florida State and wrapped in a club, left the game injured at 9:16 of the third quarter with an undisclosed ailment, and tailback Mark Walton was assisted off with 10:28 left in the game and rain pouring down.
KAAYA MOVES UP
Quarterback Brad Kaaya surpassed 1992 Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta for fourth on the all-time UM career passing yardage list. A junior, Kaaya completed 16 of 31 passes for 224 yards and has 7,809 career yards.
Ken Dorsey (1999-2002) is the all-time leader with 9,565 yards. Behind Dorsey is Jacory Harris (2008-2011), with 8,826. Stephen Morris (2010-2013) has 7,896. Torretta threw for 7,690 yards from 1989 to 1992.
“There are a lot of people who have passed me since I left,’’ Torretta said. “It is what it is. I started a lot of games. I don’t care how many records Miami breaks. I just want them to win.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ By halftime, tight end David Njoku had caught four passes for a single-game career high of 82 yards. Tailback Mark Walton led the Canes with 60 yards on 14 carries at that point.
▪ Kicker Michael Badgley, who had what would have been the game-tying extra-point attempt against Florida State blocked last week in the fourth quarter, had a 35-yard field-goal attempt blocked Saturday in the first quarter. But Badgley later hit a 46-yard field goal in the second quarter. At that point he was 14 of 14 in field goals from 40-49 yards. … Senior punter Justin Vogel finished the first half with two punts for 101 yards.
▪ Eight of the nine members of the UM Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017 inductees were introduced at the end of the first quarter.
Attending were baseball’s Ryan Braun and Dan Davies; basketball’s Steve Edwards and current women’s coach Katie Meier; football’s James Jackson, Shockey and Darryl Williams; and volleyball’s Valeria Tipiana.
Former tennis great Audra Cohen, coaching Oklahoma, was unable to attend.
▪ Former Southern University receiver Devon Gales, who was paralyzed from the waist down last September after a collision with Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan, was a guest of former Georgia coach Richt’s and the Miami program.
“Gales was embraced with open arms by the Georgia Bulldog community after the incident,’’ NCAA.com wrote in a story this week.
Gales, whose family is from Baton Rouge, did his rehab at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
“I’m able to feel a lot more in my foot and legs,’’ he told Atlanta’s WSBTV last month, adding that he can now sit up and move his hips.
“We learn something from everyone who passes through our lives,’’ he tweeted earlier this year. “Some lessons are painful, some are painless, but all are priceless. #learn.”