Pete Victorero sprinted across the artificial turf football field at the University of Miami, in his grasp a little white dog that bobbed up and down with every stride.
Victorero found his friends and hoisted the shaggy-haired dog.
“My dawg signed my dog!’’ he shouted breathlessly, pointing to the 7-year-old Maltese’s green 00 Hurricanes jersey with #52 Denzel Perryman scrawled above the U.
Perryman, UM’s star middle linebacker, apparently was impressed with Casper the dog.
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“He said, ‘This is a first! Someone get a picture of this!’” gushed Victorero, a 37-year-old Miramar freight broker. “What an awesome day.”
CanesFest — whether dog, human or Sebastian the Ibis — proved to be an overwhelming success Saturday at the UM campus in Coral Gables.
Thousands of fans happily endured another broiling South Florida summer day as they celebrated the start of football season by attending the fanfest that encompassed the area in and around the recently opened Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence.
“Miami has finally figured it out,” said UM fanatic Lazaro Arribas, better known as Cutler Ridge Laz. “They put the fans back on the field, just like in the Orange Bowl.”
Greentree Field, where the Canes practice, was turned into a carnival of sorts. Green-and-orange inflatables and interactive games for young and old were spread throughout the premises. Several UM sports teams set up stations where fans could test their skills or work on drills.
The football players, always the hit of CanesFest, sat at long tables under an immense tent, signing posters for the fans that waited and waited in lines that snaked endlessly. But no one seemed frustrated. The players happily engaged in conversation, asked the youngsters questions, high-fived the little ones and appeared genuinely pleased at the attention.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Keelan Richer, 23, a lifelong fan and season-ticket holder who came with his good friend Jake Pluskota. “Miami always says it’s a big family, so when we get to do things like this it makes us feel we’re in with the family.”
Over at the baseball station, All-American closer Bryan Garcia was with teammates watching children take turns throwing and being gauged by a radar gun. “We got one kid who threw 63 miles an hour,” Garcia said. “It’s awesome to see people show their support for baseball. We have high hopes for football, too.”
Inside the Schwartz Center, fans were given tours of the new locker room and training room and posed for pictures with former UM quarterback Gino Torretta and his Heisman Trophy. They also met with other former Canes such as 2001 national champion offensive linemen Joaquin Gonzalez and Sherko Haji-Rasouli.
“I was part of the old crew, which kind of [stinks],” Gonzalez, 34, said, laughing, as his children Vicente, 7, and Sophia, 6, clutched posters with their dad’s autograph. “Now I have kids, and can watch them enjoy themselves while they walk around the halls and see a couple of pictures up. It makes me feel old at times, but this place also makes me feel young.
“While I’m in the building, I still feel like I could go out there and maybe have like a 13, 14-play drive in me.”
Around the bend, more lines snaked toward the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Football Locker Room, and the neighboring UM Sports Hall of Fame registered a one-day, record-high of 1,250 visitors.
“It’s hot, but it’s worth it,” said Scott Tabor, 34, who came with his wife, Stacey.
“My dad owned an office supply store back in the day and he had donated the furniture for the offices in the [adjacent] Hecht Athletic Center,” said Stacey, who earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at UM. “They were definitely in for a redo.”
UM athletic director Blake James stood in the middle of it all tweeting out photos and beaming.
“It’s great to be here,” James said. “We’ve done so much with the facilities over the last few years. It was a great opportunity to have an open house and kick off the school year.
“We have wonderful young men and women that represent our program and it gives people a first-hand chance to get in touch with them.”