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Five Miami Hurricanes who left early for NFL have varying success, but retain optimism

Sometimes Brandon Washington misses his friends and family in Miami, but mostly, he said, he’s content.

“You get a little lonely at times, but you have to be mentally tough,” said the former Miami Hurricane offensive lineman, now on the practice squad for the St. Louis Rams.

Marcus Forston, another Miamian who played at UM, is on the New England Patriots’ practice squad as a defensive tackle. He lives alone in a two-bedroom apartment in Foxborough, Mass., has developed a close relationship with star teammate and former Cane Vince Wilfork, and said he has no regrets about entering the NFL Draft after his redshirt junior season.

“The year went pretty fast, and it’s been a tremendous experience,” said Forston, who played about eight snaps for the Patriots in one early season game before being relegated to the practice squad. “It was never my intention to stay at UM for five years. I got my college degree, and that was the most important thing to me.

“I’m still a Hurricane. I was born a Hurricane. No matter what, I still love that school.”

Former Cane Tommy Streeter, a rookie receiver for the Baltimore Ravens and fellow Miamian, broke his left foot during the last exhibition game at Jacksonville. He was placed on injured reserve and has yet to play a snap in a real NFL game.

“As a dad, I wanted him to come back for another year,” Tommy Streeter Sr. said. “I just feel like he had more things left on the field. But I wasn’t disappointed, because he did what I asked him to do. He went to college and got his degree.”

And local favorites Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon?

Both are ecstatic to be Miami Dolphins, after being Miami Hurricanes, in their hometown.

Big decision

The five former Hurricanes shocked their coach and created a stir one year ago when they left UM as underclassmen to declare early for the NFL Draft — all five signing with agent Drew Rosenhaus. And though only Miller and Vernon have played in more than one game during the regular season, the others believe their best days are ahead.

“I’m very happy,” Washington said. “All I ever wanted was an opportunity, and I’m not too far from that opportunity. Now that I’m in the league, I see how it works. It’s a numbers game. I could be a play away from someone being injured and me becoming active. I’m just waiting for my moment, and getting better every day.”

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2013 draft is Jan. 15. UM’s two players believed most likely to contemplate leaving are offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson and defensive tackle Curtis Porter. But both, according to a UM source, told Hurricanes coach Al Golden they’re returning.

That doesn’t preclude them from changing their minds. Henderson petitioned the NFL to request his projected draft status from the NFL Draft advisory board.

“I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but we’re here for them,” said Golden, who assists his players with the process. “We’ll help in any way we can — talking to general managers, talking to the NFL Players Association, a myriad of ways to make sure they make an informed decision that’s in their best interest.”

Last year, most of the players declared even before they had received a reply from the NFL Draft advisory board, which projects the round — or range of rounds — in which a player will likely be drafted. It’s an educated opinion, nothing more, from a group of NFL scouts and officials who review player information and videos.

Golden was asked if he learned anything from last year regarding how to handle situations involving underclassmen contemplating the leap.

“I think our current players learned,” he replied. “I didn’t learn anything. I knew exactly what was going on. I think they know that some guys left for 20 cents on the dollar.”

After the move

Washington was drafted 200th overall by the Eagles — the 30th pick in the sixth round — and didn’t make the team. Forston wasn’t drafted, earned his way onto the Patriots roster as an undrafted free agent, then was released after three games and subsequently named to the Patriots’ practice squad.

Streeter was taken 198th overall by the Ravens and signed a four-year, $2.19 million contract, with a signing bonus of $94,500.

Olivier Vernon, a defensive end, was the 72nd overall pick (third round) and signed a four-year contract reportedly worth $2.84 million, with a $638,000 signing bonus.

Miller, a running back, went 97th overall (fourth round) and signed a four-year contract reportedly worth $2.58 million, with a $486,000 signing bonus.

“I had talked to my mom and dad and pretty much had made up my mind to turn pro by about Week 10 last season,” said Miller, who rents a townhouse by himself near the Dolphins training facility in Davie. Miller had played sparingly in 11 games, but in Sunday’s win against Buffalo, he ran 10 times for 73 yards.

“If I would have stayed at UM, I probably would had had another good year, but I still believe I made the right decision. I’m living my dream.”

When asked if he might have made more money in the long run by finishing his UM career and earning his diploma, he replied: “I’m playing in the NFL. Most people don’t get that opportunity.”

Vernon, a defensive end, has had a fruitful season, in one game recovering a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown, and then blocking a field goal to subsequently earn AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

“It’s been fun,” he said, “especially with the guys on this team. The veterans are really cool and make you feel comfortable.”

Learning, helping

Vernon is 33 credits shy of earning a degree in criminology. He said balancing academics and athletics is tougher than most think. “I’m not saying athletes can’t do it,” he said, “but you know when you want to focus on something you love a lot — I mean, football is something I love — and that was my choice.”

Vernon, as well as Forston, acknowledged that it also was tough adjusting to their third defensive line coach in three years, as well as second head coach.

“Coach Golden had his new rules, and I was used to coach [Randy] Shannon’s ways,” Vernon said. “New coaches are going to implement all their rules and try to weed everybody out on a team that’s not following the program.”

Practice squad players — there are eight per NFL team — earn a minimum of $5,700 per week, though some teams pay more. Over 20 weeks, say, that would amount to a $114,000 salary.

“The main thing that really affected my decision to enter the draft was I wanted to help out my mom,” said Forston, whose mother, Pearline Simmons, is a school bus attendant in Miami-Dade County. “I just want my family to be happy and not worry about bills.”

Pearline Simmons said she is spending Christmas with Marcus in Foxborough.

“He’s happy,” said Simmons, who moved from Liberty City to Miami Gardens. “It’s nice and quiet up there in Foxborough.”

Simmons said she believes her son will prevail, no matter where he goes from here.

“He graduated with a degree in criminology last year, and I was proud as a mama could be,” she said. “He said, ‘In case I don’t make it in the NFL, I have something to fall back on.’ I told him, ‘Have faith and believe, because you’re going to make it.’ ”

Looking forward

All five players keep in contact with each other. Washington, who said he needs 18 more credits to earn his degree in criminology, said he tries not to look back at his decision to leave early. Last spring he told that “if I knew I was going to be drafted that low, I would have stayed in school.”

Today, he is only looking forward.

“I have great faith in God,” Washington said. “I prayed a lot about it, weighed the pros and cons, and made my decision. I know God gave me the ability and strength and health to play football. I wanted to go to the big leagues.

“There’s no doubt if I keep my faith, I’ll be back on top and be the lineman I was in college.”

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