Though it’s always the right time to be thankful, the 2016 season — four-game October losing streak notwithstanding — has been gratifying for the Miami Hurricane seniors who endured rocky times last year in the midst of a coaching turnover and NCAA probation.
With the regular-season finale Saturday against Duke (4-7, 1-6 Atlantic Coast Conference), the team the Hurricanes (7-4, 4-3) shocked last season with a game-winning, eight-lateral kickoff return for a touchdown as time expired, UM seniors are preparing for their final home game with gratitude.
About two hours before a group of players distributed Thanksgiving meals to those in need Tuesday at Miami’s New Providence Missionary Baptist Church, Hurricanes seniors acknowledged their appreciation for a season now heading in the right direction.
“I know I’m going to miss it a lot,’’ said Stan Dobard, who came to UM as a tight end, is leaving it as a defensive end and said he’s wishing an NFL team “takes a shot’’ with him at D-end because he “really loves’’ that position. Regardless, he said he’ll perform at both at UM’s Pro Day.
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“It’s going to be tough,’’ Dobard said about leaving. “Just to have these guys around is like having a different family. I’m so thankful to have played with these guys. It’s been a nice learning experience.’’
Receiver Stacy Coley said it was “most definitely’’ worth coming back for his senior season “for one finishing the school year with my education and just having another year with my teammates.
“I’m graduating in business in the spring. It means a lot to me, my family and my mom especially.’’
Coley finished 2015 with 689 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 47 receptions in 11 games. This season, with two games to go, he has caught 49 passes for 585 yards and eight touchdowns.
Alex Gall, starter at center the past two games in place of the injured Nick Linder, said his career has “gone by fast’’ and that he’s thankful for his “supportive family’’ and “for a great group of offensive linemen and coaches.”
“The coaches that we’ve got here are unbelievable. It was only for a year but I got really lucky to have them.’’
Head coach Mark Richt conceded Tuesday that he wasn’t especially thankful for the day’s somewhat lackluster practice. “It wasn’t great,’’ Richt said. “It was pretty good. I don’t like pretty good.’’
What he is thankful for, however, are his seniors, who will celebrate the holiday with family members, teammates or coaches.
“You get a new coach, you can have an attitude about it or resist this or resist that,’’ Richt said. “I really never felt that from the seniors. I felt that they were part of the group that was trying to make the best of it and get excited about it and for the most part, did. And I am thankful for that, and that ... they’re going to be a part of this family for good, just as I am. We’re going to help take care of them in the future, too.’’
Cornerback Corn Elder, who scored last year’s miracle touchdown at Duke, told Hurricane Hotline on Monday that the coaching staff asked him to be great when he decided to return for his senior season, “and I knew I had to have my best year yet.’’
That, he has, raising his draft status considerably with a tremendous season that just keeps improving each game. “Senior year — you always want to make your mark,’’ said Elder, who has 63 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception, forced fumble and recovery, and 11 pass breakups. “I feel like I’ve gotten way better this year. I’ve matured a lot. This was the best decision.”
Fifth-year senior safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who told the Miami Herald last week that he is “most thankful’’ for his 8-month-old son Ace, said on Hurricane Hotline that some of the best moments of his life happened playing football at UM. “I wish I had more time,’’ Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ backfield partner, hard-hitting senior Jamal Carter, has blossomed this season with 66 tackles. Carter said he’s thankful for his family, in particular his 3-year-old son Jamal Jr., and grateful to have the new coaching staff teach him so much.
“Just so thankful to be here at the University of Miami,’’ said Carter, who grew up in Naranja and came to UM out of Miami Southridge. “Just putting on for our city. All the legends that came through here, they set a high standard and we’re just trying to uphold that same standard.
“Where I come from, a lot of people didn’t make it out, so I appreciate everything.’’