Daryl Jones, a 2001 Miami Hurricanes spark plug of a receiver who lined up opposite Andre Johnson in the Rose Bowl, put on his larger-than-life national title ring before he visited practice Saturday so that maybe a player or two might catch a glimpse of the hardware and be motivated.
Jones said he watched receiver Braxton Berrios “catch a deep ball for a touchdown,’’ freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry “beat the DB and throw a really nice curl route to a young guy – either No. 3 [Mike Harley] or 4 [Jeff Thomas],’’ and tailback Mark Walton “looking strong in full pads.’’
Then he joined at least 130 former UM football players and their families at the first gathering of the “U Network’’ – “the Canes community helping football alumni transition for life after the game,’’ as a giant screen promoted in the Donna E. Shalala Student Center.
“I really do appreciate what Coach Richt is doing with this networking opportunity,’’ said Jones, 38, who brought his wife Kamica and two of his seven children. “I think it’s huge to keep up with each other. We have shared experiences, shared understanding about our school.
“We love the U.”
The U Network is designed to help former players find work – and each other – after their playing days are over. It is an offshoot of the Paul Oliver Network at Georgia, where Richt left after 15 seasons to begin coaching last year at UM.
The Paul Oliver Network was formed at UGA in the aftermath of Bulldog Oliver’s post-NFL 2013 suicide.
“It’s about coming together as a family,’’ Richt said in a ballroom just moments into his introduction, the sound of babies crying and children in the background. “It’s also about reunion. It’s about knowing that you’ve got teammates that love you still from your day and from other days.”
Several businesses set up booths along opposite walls of the room for players to seek information or exchange their own.
“We’re here to offer them an opportunity for another career if they’re looking to do something outside of football,’’ said Joe Fernandez Jr., representing the plumbing industry.
Mark Drobiarz, a loyal Hurricanes donor who owns ABC Bartending School in Miami and Miami Beach, said he would waive the school fee for any former UM player.
“If they’re a football alumni from the university of Miami and they want to get in the bar business or start working as a bartender, I will train them for free,’’ Drobiarz said. “I love the idea of putting the football alumni together and helping them network. If they need an opportunity, if they need a job, if they’re looking to cultivate new work, we should be here for them.”
Former Miami running back Javarris James, nephew of UM great Edgerrin James, traveled to Coral Gables from Naples on Saturday with his fiancé Princess and two young children to support Richt and see some former teammates.
“I just graduated from UM with my MBA,’’ said James, a general manager at an LA Fitness. “I love this program. I love that coach Richt is bringing all the alumni back together. That’s what we’re about at UM.’’
Jones, a full-time pastor at the Rock Fellowship Church in Miami, said it’s important for the old-time players to support the team and come to practices if they’re able.
“I remember Michael Irvin being down here running routes with us,’’ Jones said. “That was huge. It’s part of the fraternity. It’s part of the motivation. I wore my ring today so hopefully somebody would get a glimpse and get hungry.
“It worked for me.’’
Richt said he is very pleased with the quarterbacks and “their determination not to be reckless with the football...We’ve had some picks, but it hasn’t been a guy just throwing the ball into harm’s way. It’s been mostly defenders making good plays or maybe getting hit as you throw or a guy jumping a route.’’
▪ Receiver Ahmmon Richards, who hit his head Thursday but does not have a concussion, was back at practice.