A collective gasp likely struck the Miami Hurricanes football program last Thursday when All-American receiver Ahmmon Richards leaped to catch an Evan Shirreffs pass and smacked his head coming down.
“The ball was kind of high, but I went up and tried to make a play,’’ the 6-1, 190-pound sophomore explained on Wednesday. “I Caught it. Just hit the ground and just fell awkwardly. Just hit my head. Just a little dizzy.’’
Richards, who tested negative for a concussion, said he “was fine.’’
“I practiced the day after. It was just a little hit.’’
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The Hurricanes’ coaching staff exhaled, though this season Miami has a lot more breathing room than last – and a lot more talent.
“We believe we can be the best receiving corps in the nation, by far,’’ said Lawrence Cager, a 6-5, 218-pound redshirt sophomore who was a four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American when he signed with UM in 2015 – but tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee during seven-on-sevens in July 2016.
“The challenge to be great is what is fueling everybody,’’ Cager said late last week. “Just working hard. Everybody is competing their butts off.”
Not only is Cager back, but despite losing Stacy Coley (754 receiving yards and nine touchdowns) to the Minnesota Vikings, the Hurricanes have gained four impressive freshman pass-catchers in 2017. Three of them – 5-10, 175-pound Jeff Thomas of East St. Louis, 5-9, 160-pound Mike Harley of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, and 5-10, 200-pound DeeJay Dallas of Brunswick, Ga. – were considered among the best players in the nation when they signed with UM.
Thomas and Harley are speedsters to the extreme, with Thomas rated the sixth best receiver in the nation by 247Sports. He was the fastest player at The Opening and he starred in the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game with 148 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
“That cat can move, now,’’ UM offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said of Thomas, who is expected to return punts along with Dallas and usual returner Braxton Berrios. “He’s got some juice in space. Really excited about some of the stuff he does with the ball in his hands.’’
Harley, a U.S. Army All-American, caught three touchdown passes in the Class 7A state championship game.
“It’s just been a transition from high school to college,’’ Harley said Tuesday in a UM-produced video. “But I attended St. Thomas so it kind of had me two steps ahead from any other high school in the nation. Weight room has been tough, field room has been tough… [I’m] mentally learning the plays...behind Ahmmon and the older guys. We’re just getting the flow down and taking it slowly day by day.’
“I’m a speedster, so I’m maintaining my speed and gaining more weight and I’ll just go on the field and do what I do.”
The fourth freshman, Evidence Njoku – the 6-6 younger brother of former tight end David Njoku – is on crutches after hyper-extending his left knee.
“They’ve shown incredible flashes,’’ senior Braxton Berrios said Wednesday of Harley and Thomas. “They’ll help us this year. There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind. But it’s just getting them consistent...”
Berrios, named to the preseason watch list for the Hornung Award that goes to college football’s most versatile player, is primed to have a larger role and make a significant impact this season after catching 12 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns in 2016.
“Yes, I’m excited,’’ Berrios said. “I have been ready. I’m tired of lip service to be honest. I don’t want to have to explain.’’
And that’s not even mentioning redshirt juniors Dayall Harris and Darrell Langham, and sophomore Dionte Mullins, each of whom should get ample opportunities.
It’s almost hard to believe that in March of 2016, coach Mark Richt lamented the lack of “flat-out speed.’’
“I don’t think we have enough to strike the fear in anybody,’’ Richt said back then.
That should change soon enough.