Al Golden seemed stressed Thursday morning before his Miami Hurricanes took the field for practice. After nearly two weeks of a steady grind, his players had fallen into a fall-camp slump — “the proverbial wall,’’ Golden called it — and the coach was not pleased.
“They’ve got to fight through it,’’ he said. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel right now. We’ve got a long way to go. … This is the hardest part. This is where teams can get divided with that self-preservation mode. … We’re trying to fight that. We don’t want to just survive this portion of camp. We want to thrive, unite and rise above it.’’
With only two players donning first-team black jerseys Thursday — punter Dalton Botts and defensive end Shayon Green — Golden had little to praise. But his eyes finally brightened when a reporter mentioned fullback Maurice Hagens, wearing the orange jersey that first-team players on offense are given.
“Tremendous,’’ is how Golden described Hagens’ improvement from last season. “I just said to him [Wednesday] night in the hallway the same thing. He’s had a great camp. He’s catching the ball well out of the backfield, he’s blocking well and his mistakes are minimal.’’
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Coming out of Tampa Bay Tech High School, where he was a three-star prospect, Hagens was the undisputed star of the 9-2 team his senior season. He amassed more than 1,300 yards on the ground and scored 18 touchdowns that year.
But unlike Tampa Bay Tech, Miami does not run the offense through its fullback. Even though Hagens, a junior, was the primary fullback last season, he had only seven carries for 21 yards and six catches for 57 yards. He has never scored a touchdown.
The days of getting more than 17 carries a game might be long gone for the 5-11, 238-pound Hagens, but he said it doesn’t bother him.
“Oh, no, [the lack of carries] doesn’t disappoint me at all,” Hagens said. “I know my role and what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to go and make blocks, so I’m not going to be a selfish player and just want the ball every play. I’m going in there and whatever role my coach has given me, that’s what I’m executing.”
Golden said he was unsure if his fullback would get more touches, but that he “certainly’’ will play more after sharing the position last season with the departed John Calhoun.
Tailbacks Mike James and Eduardo Clements were openly appreciative of their teammate.
“That’s the best fullback I could have in front of me,’’ Clements said. “The guy does everything we ask him to — catch the ball, block. He doesn’t get that many plays in practice because of the one-back. But he makes the best of all his opportunities.”
Added James: “He’s our unsung hero.’’
Hagens also was pursued by UConn, USF and Tennessee, but he said he chose Miami because of its physical style.
“I knew that if I was going to go somewhere and play fullback, then this would be a good spot,” he said. “Physicality is one thing they really harp on.”
Hagens said he “cherishes” each carry and eagerly awaits his first touchdown. But what drives him is laying down a good block.
“My favorite thing is just hitting people because that’s all I pretty much do,” he said. “That’s what gets the job done.”
Golden only wishes some of the others around camp would share in Hagens’ fervor. Some players, he said, were exhibiting “selfishness,’’ and the coaches — who Golden pointed out had been away from their families for weeks — were getting tired of the “negativity.’’
“Everybody’s going through it,’’ the coach said. “We’ve got to get that selfishness out of our locker room.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Susan Miller Degnan contributed to this report.