They’re three young pups.
Yet to the University of Miami, they’re not just the future, but the present.
The true freshman trio of quarterback Brad Kaaya, receiver Braxton Berrios and left guard Nick Linder started together for the first time Saturday at Georgia Tech. And what they did on the culmination of the opening series was like the climax of a concerto — the defense biting on a post-pattern run by Malcolm Lewis as Kaaya lofted a perfectly timed pass to a sprinting Berrios in the end zone, while Linder, in his first start, helped keep Kaaya clean.
“Brad threw a beautiful ball,” said Berrios, who turned 19 on Monday. “It really couldn’t have been placed anywhere else. It was a gorgeous play, really.
“They just bit like we thought they would and that was that.”
Said Kaaya, who turned 19 in August: “Braxton, he’s been lights out all season. That play we had worked at least 20 times in practice that week so I felt pretty confident about it, him down the sideline. He was wide open.”
And this, from Linder, 18, affectionately dubbed “Baby Linder” because his older brother, Brandon, played for UM and is now the starting right guard as a rookie for the Jacksonville Jaguars: “It was a surreal feeling. We marched down the field in I forget how many plays. But to get that first score was awesome.”
It was the fifth consecutive game that the Hurricanes, led by Kaaya, scored on their opening possession, this time a six-play, 75-yard drive that took 2:53 off the clock.
They’re not the only talented true freshmen contributing this season, but Kaaya, Berrios and, now, Linder, are the only three starting on either offense or defense.
Berrios, with three starts in six games, has 17 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns.
Kaaya, with six starts, has completed 109 of 176 passes for 1,520 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is one of 17 quarterbacks nationally and one of two true freshmen to throw for more than 1,500 yards and at least 10 touchdowns.
UM followers undoubtedly hope his nine interceptions, including three on UM’s last offensive plays at Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech, are part of the growing pains of a newcomer to college football.
“Obviously, Brad, he’s been in a lot of big-time environments and he’s performing better and better each week,” UM coach Al Golden said Tuesday. “I think he knows we have to get the interceptions taken care of in terms of our turnover ratio.”
Golden said he didn’t expect to have three true freshmen in those positions in July, when all three were on campus taking courses and preparing for fall camp.
Berrios is coming off a torn ACL sustained in January, and Kaaya and Linder didn’t arrive until May.
“Braxton is an incredible, savvy player,” Golden said. “He’s smart. He’s hardworking. He’s all about production, and he’s producing.”
Linder played the entire game Saturday.
“Nick Linder? What can you say? He was ready for his opportunity,” Golden said. “I kept watching that matchup. … He held up. He played with a lot of poise.”
Kaaya said Linder’s intelligence has helped keep the line flowing without injured right tackles Taylor Gadbois and Kc McDermott. McDermott also is a true freshman, but is not expected back anytime soon.
Golden said he hopes Gadbois can return by the Virginia Tech game on Oct.23.
“Talking to Nick is like talking to a senior,” Kaaya said. “He knows all of his calls. For us, it was an away game, so we run off silent count. Not only did he have to look back at me for the snap call, he also had to tap [center] Shane [McDermott] to let him know he was ready, and also make his guard calls.”
Shane McDermott, who has known Linder for several years, thinks of him as another little brother, and said he talked to Brandon on Monday night.
“He’s very proud of his brother,” Shane McDermott said. “He said he was just so happy that Nick did a great job and was blowing people off the line. Brandon was just the happiest brother alive.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Manny Navarro contributed to this report.