They have been feted and adored for years by football fans from coast to coast.
But legends Frank Gore and Devin Hester on Thursday night agreed that the honor bestowed upon them at Jungle Island in Miami was among their greatest achievements.
With about 400 of those fans giving them a rousing homecoming welcome, running back great Gore (2001-2004) and special-teams phenom Hester (2003-2005) were inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame.
To make the occasion more special: Their coach, Larry Coker, was inducted with them. He was to be presented his “gold’’ UMSHOF jacket by former UM offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, former tight end Kellen Winslow II and former quarterback and recently named FIU assistant athletic director Ken Dorsey.
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“It just means a lot,'' said Coker, the last Hurricanes coach to win a national championship in 2001. “To be part of it and be back here is just amazing."
Gore, who recently signed a one-year contract to play with the Miami Dolphins and is the NFL's fifth-leading rusher of all time, had former UM running backs coach Don Soldinger and UM great Chuck Foreman as presenters. He backed up fellow UM Sports Hall of Fame member Clinton Portis during the '01 championship season, gaining 562 yards on 62 carries for a 9.1-yard-per-carry average.
"Man, everything is going in the right direction,'' Gore said. "Last week I get the key to the city, now I'm getting inducted to a school that had a bunch of great players. Now I get to play back in Miami in front of my college friends and my kids and my coaches from Pop Warner and my [Coral Gables] High School. It's a blessing.''
Gore was thrilled to be inducted with Coker. "I was in his first class,'' he said. "Coker was a great coach, a great guy, and we played hard for him."
Gore, who chatted for a while with current coach Mark Richt, mentioned having watched his cousin, UM freshman cornerback Gilbert Frierson, make an interception in the recent spring game. "My little cousin had a good scrimmage. To be an early-year freshman, to do what he's doing, he has a shot to be big-time on that campus. I'm happy he made the decision to come to Miami.
"When I saw my little cousin get the interception, chills went through my body.''
Hester, a three-way player at UM and the greatest return specialist in NFL history with 14 punt returns for touchdowns and 20 special teams touchdowns, is retired from the NFL but still keeps up with his Canes.
"It's an honor to be amongst all these legends,'' Hester said. "This is a program [in which] it's tough to make the Hall of Fame. To be a part of this forever is something that I'm going to cherish.''
The three football inductees were not the only exceptional athletes to be honored Thursday. The others:
▪ John Salmons (basketball 1998-2002), a former NBA first-rounder who played 13 seasons after starting 107 consecutive games for UM, the school’s second-longest streak. He is the only player in Miami history to surpass 1,000 career points, 600 rebounds, 400 assists and 150 steals.
▪ Dominique Darden (track and field 2003-2006), a 15-time All-American who, among her many accomplishments, went on to win the 400 meters in the 2009 USA Indoor Championships.
▪ Chanivia Broussard (basketball 2000-2003), a two-time All-Big East selection whose 1,482 career points is good for seventh all-time at UM.
▪ Britney Butcher (soccer 2001-2004), who left Miami as the school’s career leader in points scored (73), goals scored (29), shots on goal (192) and game-winning goals (7) and is now second overall in those categories.
▪ Tina Miller Lloyd (golf 2001-2005), who competed four years on the boys team at Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame High and earned first-team All-Miami-Dade all four years. As a UM freshman, she had six top 10 finishes in eight events.
Yonder Alonso (baseball 2006-2008), a Cleveland Indian, could not attend the banquet. He was officially presented with his induction plaque and jacket at the First Pitch Banquet in February.