Inspiration has flowed readily for the Miami Hurricanes the past few weeks.
Accompanied by 8-year-old Make-A-Wish recipient Carter Hucks, now in a hospital awaiting a bone marrow transplant, the Canes defeated Cincinnati at home three weeks ago.
Then they traveled to chilly Blacksburg, Va. to dominate Virginia Tech on national television a week ago Thursday – the impish Carter wearing a Canes winter cap and No. 8 jersey of favorite player Duke Johnson as the youngster was hoisted onto the shoulders of the Hurricanes to end warmups.
With the regular-season entering its final month, the importance of each game serves as reason enough for the Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) to keep battling for relevance in the Coastal Division race of the ACC. But Saturday’s homecoming game (12:30 p.m., CBS-4) against Coastal opponent North Carolina (4-4, 2-2) adds yet another motivational touch.
Former Canes quarterback great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly will serve as honorary captain, and fellow greats Russell Maryland and the late Jerome Brown will be added to UM’s Ring of Honor.
“For real?” said UM offensive lineman Jon Feliciano early this week when he was told that Kelly, who has battled cancer and is now fighting a staph infection in his bones, was the honorary captain and would be at the game. “Wow. That’s news to me, and it’s awesome.
“Hopefully I’m the captain this week so I can shake his hand and talk to him before the game.’’
Running back Gus Edwards, from Staten Island, N.Y., said “the old-time guys are a big part of the reason I’m here now, because of the history they’ve brought and all the championships they won. Without those championships I probably would have never heard about Miami.
“Jim Kelly played for the Bills and I’m from New York so I know about him. It would be a great honor to take a picture with him.’’
Receiver Phillip Dorsett was asked if homecoming meant anything to him. “Nah,’’ Dorsett said with a laugh. “We just want to play.’’
Dorsett was then asked if the return of Kelly meant anything.
“That definitely means a lot,’’ Dorsett said. “He was a big-time player here and in the league. And especially with what he’s going through, we definitely want to go out and get a W for him.’’
Kelly is scheduled to be on the field for the coin toss and immediately starting at halftime, when he and his family will be honored and Kelly will address the crowd.
Fans are urged to wear all green in a “Kelly Tough’’ themed homecoming.
Brown, who died in a car accident in 1992, and Maryland will become the 17th and 18th members of the UM Ring of Honor, and will be honored during the first quarter of the game.
Defensive tackle Brown was a consensus first-team All-American in 1986 and finalist for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award.
Maryland, also a consensus All-American, became the first UM player to win the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in 1990. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and earned three Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys.
Ring of Honor or not, Jim Kelly or not, homecoming or not, the Hurricanes need to defeat the Tar Heels to keep improving and give themselves a chance to win the Coastal. UM is tied with Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Virginia and UNC with two losses in the division.
The Tar Heels have a suspect defense, allowing 41.3 points a game and 512.4 yards a game. That should be somewhat reassuring to the Hurricanes, who have their own challenges on the other side of the ball. Though Miami’s running game with Duke Johnson has been superb of late, and its passing game working with freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, the Hurricanes were dealt a huge blow when they lost left tackle Ereck Flowers this week to a knee injury.
Flowers, former starting right tackle Taylor Gadbois and true freshman right-tackle backup Kc McDermott all underwent knee surgeries on Wednesday morning at UM Hospital.
Gadbois and McDermott are out for the season. It is still unknown if Flowers, who injured his meniscus, will return.
O-line injuries previously forced former starting left guard Feliciano to shift to right tackle. But now Feliciano will slip into Flowers’ spot at left tackle, making way for inexperienced true freshman Trevor Darling to start at right tackle.
Be assured that the Tar Heels have had ample time to try to take advantage of UM’s weakened line.
But where North Carolina threatens to do most of its damage is on offense. Behind talented, duel-threat quarterback Marquise Williams, the Tar Heels are 19th nationally in scoring, averaging 37.4 points a game, and 21st in passing offense with 296.9 aerial yards a game.
Williams has 2,035 yards and 17 touchdowns passing, with seven interceptions. He has 497 yards and five touchdowns rushing. He even has a receiving touchdown.
“Tremendous skill,” UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said.
“They run a fast-paced offense and when they’re clicking, they’re clicking,’’ added defensive end Anthony Chickillo.
UM coach Al Golden said he doesn’t care how the Tar Heels are ranked defensively. He just knows they play a strong schedule and defeated Georgia Tech and Virginia in Charlottesville their past two games.
“Heck of a job by them coming into our game,’’ Golden said. “That’s all I’m worried about.”