Corn Elder’s Miami moment is already duly noted in college football lore: an eight-lateral, game-winning kickoff return for the ages at Duke in 2015.
Stacy Coley’s: the last of his three first-half touchdowns in a 33-degree chill at Pittsburgh in 2013 — an artful, 73-yard end-around that left several defenders groping for air before he lay on his back in the end zone catching his breath.
Cornerback Elder and receiver Coley, both seniors, will play their final collegiate game against No. 14 West Virginia (10-2) on Wednesday in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Most of the Hurricanes (8-4) were car-pooling to Orlando early in the day, some trying to get in a trip to a theme park before Friday night’s team meeting at the Rosen Plaza Hotel.
Before Elder and Coley embark on what they expect to be NFL careers, they intend to help UM achieve that elusive bowl victory. UM’s last victory in a bowl came in 2006 against Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl.
“We ended the season on a high note,’’ Elder said on Friday in a WQAM-560 radio interview. “Everybody the past week in practice has been full go, a lot of swag out there, a lot of enjoyment. This team is definitely ready to make a statement in this game.’’
Elder finished his final regular season with 69 tackles, 4 1/2 tackles for loss, three sacks, one interception, 12 pass breakups and a forced fumble and recovery.
“It’s been a fun four years,’’ Elder said earlier this week. “I’m just hoping we can end it off with a victory.’’
Elder was one of the most heralded high school athletes in Tennessee when he graduated from the Ensworth School in 2013, winning three consecutive state football championships and three state basketball titles.
Coley, Broward County’s top 2012 high school player who graduated from Oakland Park’s Northeast High and was rated by ESPN as the nation’s fourth-best wideout, has played (and sometimes not played) through various injuries. But this season, despite knee pain, he plowed through the games regardless because he said his team needed him.
Now he says he’s “100-percent healthy.’’
His priority, Coley said, is to win the Russell Athletic Bowl and “end the streak’’ of bowl losses. His final regular-season numbers: 703 receiving yards and nine touchdowns with a team-high 58 catches.
“I’m glad I came back for another year with my brothers,’’ said Coley, citing his toughness and ability to play through injuries this season as leadership qualities. “I feel like I improved, especially with the tough catches that I made and just getting up afterward and not falling down and staying down.”
Earlier this month, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Coley was his eighth-highest-rated receiver of draft-eligible players and that he expects Coley to be chosen anywhere from the third through fifth rounds.
Kiper projected Elder to go on Day 3 of the draft — Rounds 4-7.
UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was asked how confident he felt that players such as Elder weren’t going to be ignored in the draft.
“That’s so hard to say,’’ Diaz said. “Just from my history, these guys get poked and prodded and critiqued and pro days and combines and the All-Star games. There’s so much to it.
“Really, it’s all about finding the team that wants you. That’s really more important than where you get taken. All you need is one out of 32 to love you and put you in a position to succeed.”
UM head coach Mark Richt said the fact that Coley and Elder will have completed their college education is “huge.”
“Both of those guys, from what I saw in spring to what I saw by the end of the season, improved greatly. I’m sure the NFL sees the same thing,’’ Richt said.