Miami Hurricanes sophomore cornerback Malek Young gets sick to his stomach and vomits before – or during – every game, then proceeds to attach himself like wallpaper to his receiver.
Freshman Trajan Bandy? He’s “a throwback’’ to those old-school Canes days, when players like his position coach, Mike Rumph, used to pummel anyone not in orange and green.
And junior Michael “turnover chain’’ Jackson has a case of interceptionitis – and it’s contagious.
While UM’s vaunted defensive front seven got all the love nationally in the preseason, and senior starter Dee Delaney continues to rehab his brace-covered right knee, three other cornerbacks are impressing at a position for which there were meager, if any, expectations when the season began.
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“I put a big question mark on the board in camp,’’ cornerbacks coach Rumph said Wednesday. “Every day they saw that question mark.
“I said, ‘We’re the question mark.’’’
The question of whether the mostly young, inexperienced defensive backs could do their jobs respectably in spite of two cornerbacks and two safeties from last year’s squad now playing in the NFL, has been answered with an emphatic, “Yes.’’
But that isn’t to say they’re not learning and growing with each game.
“Obviously we’re not a finished product,’’ defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said Wednesday, as the No. 8 Canes (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) continued preparing for their noon kickoff Saturday at North Carolina (1-7, 0-5). “We tell them, ‘There is a standard that we play with here. You take the field with a U on the side of your helmet, it is your responsibility to uphold your standard…
“’No one cares if you’re a freshman. We don’t get sympathy…if you’re a first-year starter.’’
The Hurricanes are ranked 28th nationally of 127 FBS teams in passes intercepted (eight) and in passing yards allowed (188.7 per game).
The Tar Heels are 119th in “passes had intercepted.’’
Jackson, a thick, physical 6-1, 200-pounder who has started four of his six games, has 15 tackles, three breakups and three interceptions – two of them in the first half last Saturday against Syracuse.
After the first of his two picks, Jackson joyously had the gold “turnover chain’’ draped around his neck, then jumped on the team bench as the ESPN cameras closed in on national TV and his fellow defenders swarmed him.
“The jewelry is always in the back of your mind,’’ Jackson said. “It’s just fun because that’s the one time the spotlight is on you and you just take advantage of it.’’
Jackson called the picks “contagious’’ because “once one player gets an interception the whole defense is like, ‘Let me get one!’ – even the D-linemen.”
Said Rumph: “The best thing I can say about the corners is they play together and they play for each other. That’s the most important ingredient for a championship-type of team. We’re all about each other having success.’’
Young, out of Coconut Creek High, has been having success since 2016, when he played in 12 games and started the last three. Despite his 5-9, 180-pound physique, he smothers receivers and already has six pass breakups, a pick and three tackles for loss.
“He’s a fearless competitor,’’ Rumph said. “He has tremendous ball skills, but the main thing is Malek plays very confident. He kind of feels like he’s one of the top corners when he gets out there.’’
Rumph said Young has “great feet’’ and is an adept tackler. “Now I’m not out there thinking, ‘Is Malek going to knock the ball out?’ I want Malek to pick the ball off.’’
Despite that confidence, Young gets nauseated when he hits the field. “I threw up last game twice,’’ he said. “I don’t know why. I don’t feel nervous.’’
Rumph said Young vomited on safety coach Ephraim Banda’s shoe before the Notre Dame game last year in South Bend, Indiana. “He’ll be like, ‘Don’t worry. It’s just what I do.’’’
Bandy, a former Miami Columbus consensus four-star prospect, is gradually getting more playing time and made his first start against Syracuse. He had two key breakups.
“At first it was overwhelming,’’ Bandy said of transitioning to the play calls, the speed of the college game and learning to play his assignment and not just go after the ball. “I was pretty much a little selfish. I had to start letting other guys make plays.
“In high school I was always the guy flying around the field and making a lot of plays. Once I got here that kind of changed.’’
Rumph said Bandy reminds him of the late Sean Taylor and “all those guys [that] no matter where they’re at, they’ll stop everything to play football.’’
The coach also praised junior-college transfer Jhavonte Dean, who had to relearn the position Miami’s way and will gradually get more playing time. “He’s a diamond,’’ Rumph said. “He’s 6-2, has tremendously long arms like myself and is probably the second or third fastest on the team behind Ahmmon Richards.
“I can’t wait for him to be who he can be.’’