Phillip Dorsett and Artie Burns know right where their medals will hang if they earn any this weekend at the Atlantic Coast Conference Track and Field Championships in Clemson, S.C.
“Coach wished me luck and said, ‘If you win any medals I want you to hang them in the football meeting rooms,’ ” Dorsett said of Miami Hurricanes football coach Al Golden. “That would make me feel great. I’ve always been the type of guy to hang up my medals somewhere special.”
Chances are some medals will be hanging sometime during the first week of spring football, which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday and is open to the public.
But first, the football speedsters will concentrate on the sport they say they cherish equally: track and field.
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Burns, a freshman, broke the 38-year-old American junior record Feb. 15 with his 7.68-second finish in the 60-meter hurdles at Albuquerque, N.M. — equated to a 7.70 because of the altitude. It is the fifth-fastest NCAA time this season.
“I don’t have a No. 1 sport,” said Burns, 18, a 6-0, 193-pound cornerback on the football team. “I love both. I never put one before the other.”
Dorsett, a 5-10, 185-pound rising senior and wide receiver who is easily the fastest Hurricane with a 4.29-second 40-yard dash in football and 6.80 best in the 60-meter sprint that ranks fourth in UM history, thinks likewise.
“The shape I’m in when I’m in track shape is light years past a lot of people in football,” Dorsett said. “But I’ve been in love with both my whole life.”
The two are part of a long, decorated history of Canes football standouts who also ran track or competed in field events with the Hurricanes. They include Randal Hill, Andre Johnson, Horace Copeland, Brandon Harris and the school-record holders of the 400-meter relay: Cory Nelms, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Travis Benjamin and Brandon McGee.
“Obviously the things we do in track are going to help Artie and Phillip get faster,” said UM track and field and cross-country director Amy Deem, who coached the 2012 women’s Olympic track and field team in London to 14 medals, including six gold. “There’s a mental toughness in football that can be a positive in track, and the confidence gained being out there alone carries back to football. But the biggest thing is speed development.
“Artie and Phillip are both great athletes and tremendous leaders, and both come from really strong track and field backgrounds.”
Dorsett, who graduated from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High, is the more versatile of the two. He runs several indoor and outdoor events and is a gifted long-jumper, an event in which he hopes to do well enough this weekend to qualify for the nationals.
But Burns is the Hurricane aiming for the 2016 Olympics — and beyond. “He has the potential to go as far as he wants in track and field — and football,” Deem said. “He’s blessed.”
Burns, who graduated from Miami Northwestern, had the fastest 110- and 300-meter hurdles times in the nation during his junior season at Northwestern. He won several state titles in the hurdle events, and has transitioned impressively to the NCAA, which uses 42-inch hurdles instead of the 39-inch ones used at the prep level.
This season, Burns and Dorsett are joined by freshman Josh Johnson, a walk-on football receiver and track athlete from Jacksonville who is at UM on a full academic scholarship.
Fellow track star Walter Tucker, a two-time Florida Class 2A state champion in the 110-meter hurdles for Plantation American Heritage, is a UM fullback who is concentrating on football for now before he does both sports.
Burns, who said he was last timed in football in the 40 in 4.4 seconds, said he “couldn’t believe” he set an American record recently. He often talks to his mother, Dana Smith — a fellow former track star at Miami Northwestern — about one day having to make a decision between track and football. He already has qualified for the NCAA National Indoor Championships (March 14-15) on the same track in Albuquerque, N.M., and is No. 2 all-time at UM in the 60-meter hurdles behind Devon Hill (7.55), now a Hurricanes volunteer assistant coach.
Imagine what he can do in the next three years.
“I love the idea of him doing them both because one gives him confidence in the other,” Burns’ mother said. “If something bad happens in football, in track he bounces back alive. I don’t know what I’d rather him do. It’s so nerve-racking I don’t even want to think about it.”
Burns’ first coach and mentor, Jesse Holt of the Northwest Express Track Club, said he knew Burns was gifted from the moment he began coaching him as a young child.
“Track is in his blood,” said Holt, who also coached former world champion hurdler and Olympic medalist Bershawn Jackson, another mentor for Burns. “Artie is a football player because he has the size and the speed. He’s going to do wonderful things in football and I think he’s going to retire his mother and get her that nice home.
“I always say, ‘If you stay in track you get a chance to see the world. If you stay in football you get a chance to get your mother that home.’ He wants to do both.”
All three UM track athletes will miss the opening weekend of spring football, and Burns — and possibly Dorsett, if he qualifies — will miss football next week leading up to the nationals.
Then, they return to spring football until the spring game April 12. After that, it’s back to the outdoor track season.
“I’m definitely excited for football,” said Dorsett, who missed five games last season with a partially torn medial collateral ligament of his left knee and pulled his left quadriceps just before the bowl game — related to the original knee injury Oct. 17 at North Carolina. He said he’s healed and ready to go.
Dorsett has played in 32 games and has caught 85 passes for 1,262 yards and seven touchdowns. Burns played in 11 games this season, with one interception and 17 tackles. He also blocked a field-goal attempt that was returned for a touchdown at UNC.
“I feel like I have a lot of football left to play and haven’t reached my ceiling yet,” Dorsett said. “But first I’ll finish with track. I’m in such good shape that when I’m done here, I’ll be ready for football.”
Said Burns: “I’m ready for both.”