Two University of Miami football players on Tuesday used the word “freak” — or a version thereof — to describe tight end David Njoku, an especially endearing term to young men who play the game.
Hurricanes fans better hope that this freak sticks around another season or two, as he will be eligible to enter the NFL Draft after this season, when he’ll be a redshirt sophomore.
Njoku — the sixth child of five girls and four boys born to Nigerian parents — caught 21 passes for 362 yards last season for a team-leading 17.2-yards-per-catch average. He played in all 13 games, dazzling with his leaping ability and penchant for acrobatic catches.
The national high-jump champion as a high school senior in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, Njoku caught his lone touchdown pass of 2015 in UM’s victory against Virginia. In that game, he became only the fourth Hurricane tight end in the past 20 years to record a reception of at least 58 yards.
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Now, with a supporting tight-end cast that includes talented big men such as Chris Herndon (a hybrid who also plays fullback and H-back), Njoku, down to 9 percent body fat on his 6-4, 245-pound frame, is poised for what could be a breakout season.
“He’s a freak,” 6-4, 252-pound senior tight end Standish Dobard said of Njoku. “He does a lot of things well, and now he’s becoming one of the great blockers, too, not just a pass-catcher. He’s a complete tight end now, so he’s going to be a star.”
“A freakish athlete,” added cornerback Adrian Colbert. “His size, his speed, and just his ability to catch anything that comes his way.”
Does your future and what could be next motivate you? — Njoku was asked Tuesday after preseason camp session No. 6 in full pads.
“I mean, yeah,” said Njoku, added he runs about 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash. “It’s very exciting. But I’m just focused on winning championships here first. We’ll worry about that later.”
One big reason for Njoku to stay another season, even if he has a stellar year, is that his younger brother Evidence — a 6-4, 195-pound receiver — has verbally committed to the Class of 2017.
As for Herndon, a powerful, 6-4, 251-pound junior from Norcross, Georgia, he ranked just behind Njoku last season with 18 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown. Herndon grabbed six catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game, dragging defenders behind him as he churned down the field.
“I feel like we can be a special attack for our offense,” Herndon said. “We have the fast, explosive receivers and maybe on sneak plays or just certain plays our tight end group can bring a lot. Even with blocking, we bring a lot of power and strength to the run game.”
Said Dobard: “It’s going to be a tight-end heavy offense.”
In addition to Njoku, Herndon, Dobard and 6-3, 230-pound redshirt freshman Malik Curry, the Hurricanes have bolstered their tight-end group with 6-4, 245-pound freshman Jovani Haskins and 6-3, 230-pound freshman Michael Irvin II.
“He’s a little thicker than he should be,” Herndon said of Irvin, “but as time goes on his body will mature and slim down. …He has great hands. One of the best on the team.”
Michael Pinckney, UM’s freshman first-team weak-side linebacker out of Jacksonville Raines High, went to the hospital Tuesday after the first of two practice sessions to get his ailing hamstring examined, a source told the Miami Herald.
UM expects Pinckney to be OK and finish preseason camp. The doctor’s visit was for “precautionary reasons,” the source said.
Pinckney returned for the second practice session, closed to the media, and rode an exercise bike, as he did Tuesday morning.
▪ For the first time this season, the offense beat the defense in practice Tuesday morning. “We fought hard at the end,” running back Gus Edwards said.
▪ The Hurricanes will have their first scrimmage of camp Wednesday morning at Greentree Field. It is closed.