He met her in the seventh grade at Miami’s Horace Mann Middle School, a lifelong best friend Miami Hurricanes running back Eduardo Clements said he would speak to on a daily basis, including when he went through the scariest times of his life wearing a neck brace and wondering if he would ever play football again.
Now, like other young friends whom he has lost through tragedy, Clements wears her T-shirt, a reminder of how hard it is to escape Miami’s inner city and why he needs to keep pushing forward his senior season and graduate with a degree in liberal arts in December.
“Where I’m from people don’t live that long, they live longer on the shirts that we put them on,” Clements posted on his Twitter account on May 25, days after he said his friend Jasmine Richards was gunned down by her boyfriend.
“I wear this shirt for her every day now before practice and under my uniform,” Clements said this week before practice. “She was somebody I grew up with, somebody like my sister, talked to her every day. Just to know somebody can take her life away is kind of hard. It reminded me that every day is not promised.”
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Once a prized four-star recruit out of Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, Clements (5-9, 182 pounds) is no longer chasing NFL dreams or setting lofty goals for himself. He knows exactly where he stands at the University of Miami — a backup to star running back Duke Johnson, somebody he says is just happy to be back out on the field.
“My whole thing is just to finish healthy,” said Clements, who in 31 games in three seasons at Miami has run for 184 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries and caught 17 passes for 183 yards while also registering 13 tackles on special teams.
“I really don’t have any goals right now. It seems like every time I come up with goals they don’t happen. So basically, my goal is to do whatever the team wants and help them accomplish team goals this year. Whatever I can do to help, those are my goals.”
Nicknamed “OT” for Overtown, Clements is beloved by his teammates and coach Al Golden. When Clements scored a touchdown in last Sunday’s closed scrimmage, his teammates lifted him up in celebration.
“He’s not the biggest running back in the world, but he’s definitely one of the toughest and a great dude,” center Shane McDermott said.
“We’re very happy for Eduardo. We remember last year when he was scared maybe he would never be able to play again. Neck injuries are always one of the scariest injuries. I’m very happy for him. He’s playing top-notch football right now. He’s fearless when he’s running the ball. So it’s good to see he’s back to where he was before.”
Last October, Clements was afraid he would never play again after he said he was blindsided on UM’s kickoff return team by Florida State fullback Lonnie Pryor late in Miami’s 33-20 loss to the Seminoles.
“I came to the sideline, and me and [receiver] Herb Waters joked about it. I was like Herb, ‘I can’t feel my hands,’” Clements said. “It lasted that way the rest of the game.”
Trainers thought Clements had a stinger, but eventually a CAT scan revealed two herniated disks in his neck. Before that though, Clements said he nearly went back out for practice the following week, before smartly opting to sit out.
“The doctor told me, ‘It’s a good thing you didn’t practice because if you would have gotten hit again you would have been paralyzed,’ ” Clements said. “At night I couldn’t sleep on my back or nothing. My Mom helped me most of the time. I slept sitting up on the couch. It was terrible.”
The only time Clements said he would take the brace off was when he showered. When he was finally cleared to return to football in June, Clements said he weighed 205 pounds and was out of shape. In the two months since, UM conditioning coach Andrew Swasey has helped Clements shed 10 pounds.
Although he was nervous on the eve of fall camp, Clements said, “taking that first hit helped me feel like I was back to the same me.”
Now Clements said he doesn’t even think about his neck or worry about it anymore. “The doctors told me I’m 100 percent,” he said. “So I believe I’m 100 percent.”
Golden is happy to have Clements back. Depth at running back is a concern. Aside from Johnson and Clements, sophomore Dallas Crawford, redshirt freshman Danny Dillard and true freshman Gus Edwards are the only scholarship running backs Miami has in camp. Edwards is now sitting out while NCAA Clearinghouse issues are resolved.
“I grabbed Eduardo [Tuesday] and told him, ‘I’m really proud of you man,’ ” Golden said. “He really had a good scrimmage [Sunday]. He’s got to continue on his conditioning and work on his twitch and his quickness and continue to feel comfortable. But good start for him.”
So what’s in store for Clements after this season? Perhaps a new a career on the same football field.
“Me and Coach Golden joked about it a lot, but if I wasn’t going to come back this year and play, he told me I could be a GA [coaching graduate assistant],” Clements said. “Everybody laughs at me about it. Duke, Dallas, but they know what type of I guy I am. I just love football. Coaching would be a dream.”