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Hurricanes’ A.J. Highsmith eager to follow in father’s footsteps, play with intensity

The tweets came quickly Wednesday, as Miami safety A.J. Highsmith prepared for his second career start, this time against the vaunted spread option of Georgia Tech, a 14-point favorite Saturday in Atlanta.

“I hope these young Hurricanes hate the world They are salivating over the presumed demise of our programRise up against all!’’

And “My Hurricanes gotta approach the rest of the season as if it’s life and death because it is!! The world of CF wants ur [carcass]..”

And “I hope Miami vs GT turns it into a street fight!! Rocky vs that Russian! ‘He’s not human because he won’t quit’”

Highsmith smiled when he heard about the tweets, all from his father, former UM great Alonzo Highsmith.

“It’s just the mentality we have to have. It is about Xs and Os, but it’s also a mindset and a pride thing,” A.J. said, referring to another tweet: “Forget about the X&O’s my Hurricanes better become street fighters and protect [their] own!!”

Said A.J.: “You have to be able to fight no matter who you play, what’s going on, where you are – home or away — or what type of game you’re in. You never want to be the one getting beat up. We always want to be the ones attacking people.”

Highsmith, a junior, will start in place of senior Vaughn Telemaque, who hurt his knee nearly two weeks ago at Kansas State and is not completely healed. Coach Al Golden indicated Wednesday that Highsmith earned the start through his leadership and play.

“A.J. had a good week last week,” Golden said. “You’re walking through the hallways at 6:30 this morning and A.J. is coming out of the meeting room. He studies, he doesn’t have many [mental errors], he’s what we need back there. We need someone that’s confident and loud and he was that last week.

“He’s got to continue to make the plays when they come. I’m very pleased with his development and approach and I think he’s starting to see how that approach is leading to success.’’

Highsmith said he played nearly 60 plays Saturday, and had 27 — the most he had ever had to that point — the week before at Kansas State.

“It was a lot different for me, but it was a lot of fun,” he said, agreeing that the cerebral part of the game is one of his strengths. “Coming from my background growing up, and just having played quarterback — the amount of time I put in to prepare for games each week; I take pride in that.

“I communicated well and had a lot of guys lined up. I would like to make a few more plays on the ball, but I definitely did my job.”

Highsmith, who has three tackles this season, played last year against Georgia Tech, but mostly on special teams.

“They’re the best at what they do,” he said, “getting the ball into the hands of their athletes on the perimeter. It definitely does cause a lot of confusion. You have to keep your eyes on your key and be very disciplined both physically and with your eyes. One wrong look and the ball will run right by you and you won’t even know it.

“It always seems like they know exactly who messes up when the time is right.”

When asked what the most important element was for defensive backs preparing for Georgia Tech, Golden said, “Eye discipline. Just keep your eyes on the luggage. It’s like going to the airport. Keep your eyes on your luggage all the time. Don’t get nosy.”

Telemaque had five tackles against the Yellow Jackets last year. He praised fellow starting safety Deon Bush, a freshman, as well as Highsmith, saying “A.J. is really smart. He comes from a generation of football.”

But Telemaque said he’s “definitely getting out there and getting playing time” Saturday. “I’m fairly close,” he said. “I’m going to try to exceed levels from where I was before I got hurt. That’s the toughest thing about getting hurt so early in the season. You’re trying to progress every game, regardless of the situation.

“You get an injury and you feel like you have to keep on going. The adrenaline makes you go.”

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