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Miami Hurricanes’ McGee, James stand firm amid firestorm

Between being hit from every direction with questions about their now NCAA-embroiled coach and how they will survive the loss of their top receivers, top running back, starting quarterback, three offensive linemen, top linebacker and veteran safety, University of Miami football players Brandon McGee and Mike James could have gotten a bit feisty Sunday afternoon at the ACC Football Kickoff.

But they did nothing of the sort.

Both young men seemed to have a grand time in dealing with the reporters who enveloped them, maintaining their composure with smiles and laughter and, as expected, fierce loyalty for UM coach Al Golden and optimism for the 2012 season.

“We really don’t pay much attention to a lot of other people’s expectations,” said McGee, a senior cornerback in a secondary that appears considerably inexperienced, especially without the services of recently dismissed safety Ray-Ray Armstrong. “Our expectations come from within the team. … We definitely think we’re better than a 6-6 [in 2011] team, and we hold ourselves to that standard.

“We have a lot of great safeties. … The young guys, all of them are coming together and moving forward. It’s like when a deaf person loses their hearing, their sight becomes better. That’s the approach we’re taking. When you lack in one place you just make up for it in another.”

The running back James flashed his trademark smile and, like McGee, touted his teammates and depicted Golden as a man of impeccable morals. Both said they really weren’t sure what the latest Yahoo! Sports accusations were about. They were then told that Yahoo! released a story last week saying an unnamed source alleged that Golden had direct knowledge of NCAA recruiting improprieties among current and former athletic department staff members.

Golden, scheduled to meet with reporters Monday, adamantly defended his integrity late last week by releasing a written statement denying those claims. On Sunday, with Golden steering clear of the media at the Grandover Resort, his players did all the talking.

“He’s a man of his word … an awesome man,” James said.

“I believe in Coach Golden wholeheartedly,” McGee agreed. “His word is his bond. He stands by his word, and I stand by him. There’s never a moment where I’m going to question whether Coach Golden had any wrongdoing. He makes ethical decisions, and I believe in him.”

Added McGee: “If Coach Golden was to give up, we’d give up as well. We just keep persevering. We’re not worried about anything outside the Hecht [Athletic Center] except games on our schedule, football and school.”

Both players spoke of the depth created by a huge signing class and how that class will produce stars.

McGee praised all of his fellow defensive backs and said five-star cornerback Tracy Howard “picks my brain all the time. He’ll be like, ‘Hey, what if I did this or what if I did that?’ He’s always looking to get better. It brings me back to reality. He’s so excited that it makes me excited. It pushes me.”

James described five-star tailback Randy “Duke” Johnson as “phenomenal.

“He works hard and does everything Coach Golden wants him to do. … Hey, he had to do something to get talked about, right? When you do great things people should talk about you. You deserve it.

“We’re a young team. We know that. It’s nothing to shy away from. These guys are prepared to play.”

James made it seem as though junior Stephen Morris has the edge over redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams in the battle at quarterback. Williams is a former Miramar High quarterback who transferred from Memphis before last season. Morris sat out the spring after undergoing back surgery. Golden has said both quarterbacks will compete during the fall for the starting job.

“Coach [Jedd] Fisch, [UM’s offensive coordinator], has put Stephen in the best predicament to win games and control the offense,” James said. “Stephen has a very amazing arm. I’m sure we’re going to utilize that to the best of our ability.”

A reporter asked James to describe the attribute in Morris that resulted in his “really taking over.”

Replied James: “Him assuming the leadership. Him understanding he’s going to be the quarterback and what a quarterback has to do to control his offense, control his team, control the game. He has taken all the steps to do that.”