Standout Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert of Coral Springs had just undergone another foot surgery in March, this time to repair a ruptured ligament.
The honorable mention All-Big Ten lineman finally made the painful decision he had previously avoided after multiple foot surgeries: Let his body heal, graduate from Wisconsin and retire from college football.
Defensive tackle Justin Renfrow of Morrisville, Pa., had earned his degree from the University of Virginia — winner of its past three games against Miami.
But unlike the 6-4, 256-pound Gilbert, Renfrow — 6-6 and 310 pounds — was healthy, played sparingly and wanted one last shot to make a difference.
Never miss a local story.
The Hurricanes have given them both new lives in football.
An NCAA rule allows college graduates with one year left of football eligibility to transfer without sitting out the customary year. Gilbert and Renfrow are now fifth-year seniors.
The healing has gone better than Gilbert ever expected, and though he said he is not 100 percent, he played 20 to 25 snaps in Friday’s scrimmage after stepping onto the UM practice field with Renfrow for the first time Tuesday.
He even was credited with a [noncontact] sack in Sunday’s full-pads session.
“They’ve done a really amazing job,” Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said Sunday of Gilbert and Renfrow, noting that he included junior college defensive end transfer Ufomba Kamalu in his praise.
“They started on Tuesday ... at the toughest part of camp where we’re in the middle of two-a-days. We’re having designed practices that are really physical. And to be honest with you, they missed the whole [defensive] install.
“… Bringing in the new group is going to give us that layer of depth that competes with the [first-teamers] but also puts the guys who were the twos on notice right now.”
When Gilbert, 21, left the Badgers on April 5, he wrote a lengthy, heartfelt statement explaining his decision and thanking fans for “all the support throughout the years.” Wisconsin posted the statement on its website.
He was asked Sunday if fans were now angry.
“Some,” he said. “Some just feel like I lied. But having surgery, when you go under … ruptured and torn — it’s a lot to come back from.
“… Unless you’re the one there and have that pressure, that feeling of not playing again, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
A Wisconsin coaching change from Bret Bielema to Gary Anderson did play a part, but only a small one in Gilbert’s decision to seek out a new school, the Oakland Park Northeast High alum said, and he “reached out” to UM defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.
Franklin and UM coach Al Golden gratefully obliged.
“It feels pretty good to come back home,” said Gilbert, who had 42 tackles, 9 1/2 tackles-for-loss and four sacks in 14 games (13 starts) in 2012. “Being around my family and having a support system is priceless, something that I really didn’t get in Wisconsin. I wasn’t able to appreciate having my parents right there.”
Renfrow, who had 11 tackles last season, was recruited in high school by Golden, then the coach at Temple. D’Onofrio said he “was in good shape and finished really well” during Friday’s scrimmage, playing “30-plus” snaps.
“I’m a guy that can help the pass rush, definitely a guy that brings more mobility to the D-line — especially at the nose position,” he said, acknowledging he wants “to make amends” for his lack of playing time at Virginia. “The biggest thing I’ve learned here is it’s about the team. I’m just trying to fill my role and be the best teammate I can be.”
UM safety Kacy Rodgers said the new transfers are “a joy to be around. They’re some funny guys. Cool guys, too. They came here to help us win, and that’s exactly what we need.
“We’re a family here. Getting adjusted shouldn’t be too hard for them.”
Renfrow insisted it won’t be “weird” facing his former team Nov. 23 at Sun Life Stadium, and that the Hurricanes should finally be able to notch that victory.
“It’s on my birthday,” Renfrow said, “so I definitely want to make it happen.”