The Miami Hurricanes said good-bye to nine scholarship seniors after Saturday night’s Capital One Orange Bowl, a group coach Mark Richt said made its biggest impact by buying into him and the new coaching staff when he took over the program from Al Golden two years ago.
The group includes leading receiver Braxton Berrios, defensive end Trent Harris (team’s leader in sacks), former five-star recruit and defensive end Chad Thomas, who made his 33rd career start Saturday, left tackle Kc McDermott, who started his 34th consecutive game, left guard Trevor Darling, who made his 40th career start, and kicker Michael Badgley, an All-ACC First Team selection who became UM’s all-time leader in field goals this season.
The others: Cornerback Dee Delaney, defensive tackle Anthony Moten, and injured tight end Christopher Herndon.
“It means a lot to us and our senior class that we started at 6-7, and we’re leaving here at hopefully 11-2,” Berrios said two days before the game. “I think that is a tremendous change, and each year we’ve gotten better. We went from 6-7, 8-5 to 9-4 to hopefully 11-2. Like I told our guys at the banquet, I believe that makes us one of the most successful senior classes in the last decade and a half because every year we’ve gotten better.”
Richt said the leadership shown by the seniors is what he will remember most about this group.
“I told the seniors [this] year and the upperclassmen last year, if you buy in, that’s the greatest chance we have of having success,” Richt said Friday. “Are we perfect [as coaches]? Do we have all the answers? No. But if we say this is how we’re going to do it, if everybody buys in and you get some leadership from within the ranks, meaning within the players, if it’s not a team that the coaches always have to motivate, you can only go so far. Teams that go far are the teams that have the motivation from within. Guys that hopefully don’t have to be kicked in the rear at all, but sometimes guys step up and motivate, and when players start doing it and players know the standard and they hold everybody to the standard, without the coaches having to do it, it’s great.”
Richt said there were many examples of that with this senior class including one instance earlier in the season when Thomas reminded him he had forgotten to make the team run sprints at the end of practice.
“I guess it was a Sunday night practice, I called everybody up at the end, and normally we get on the line and run some wind sprints, and I don’t know, how it left my brain, but [it did],” Richt said. “Most guys would be like ‘Hey, we’re not running today.’ He’s like, ‘Coach, we forgot to run,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ that’s right, so we hooked up and we ran. Not one guy said ‘boo’ because Chad was the one, or one of them anyway [who said something]. So, I think just the buy-in [helped]. And then they saw a level of success that they hadn’t seen during the time that they were here, and I think that was a blessing to them.”
Thomas and McDermott will play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 20 in St. Petersburg.
Berrios, Badgley, and Herndon received invites for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. on Jan. 27. Herndon will not play after having knee surgery.
Wisconsin’s roster features three players who graduated from local high schools — and all of them are defensive backs from Broward County.
Senior Derrick Tindal is a 34-game starter in his career with the Badgers and a Boyd Anderson grad. The others are freshman Dontye Carriere-Williams, the team’s No. 3 cornerback out St. Thomas Aquinas, and Faion Hicks, a Pembroke Pines Flanagan grad who is being redshirted.
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said there’s a reason Wisconsin has come into South Florida to recruit players for its secondary.
“Obviously it’s a spread game. Guys got to be able to run and make plays in space,” Leonhard said. “South Florida has been known for that for years. We’ve had so many guys that have come up to Wisconsin and really been leaders for us. With the mindset they have, the athletic ability they have, we’ve had a lot of guys go up there and have success and play early in their careers.”
Tindal played his last game for Wisconsin Saturday. But Leonhard expects big things in the future from Carriere-Williams and Hicks.
“Donte was a freshman All-Big Ten and Faion has a bright future,” Leonhard said. “Donte proved this year that he’s ready. Next year he’s going to have to step up to have a bigger role. I’m excited for who he is a player and the approach he takes. Faion’s a guy that we had to redshirt this year, some injury issues we had to clean up. But he’s extremely talented and very competitive and I’m excited about the things he can do. He can fly around man and is really athletic.”