The expectations mount daily for the Miami Hurricanes.
But Saturday, when fall football camp returns to Greentree Field, so too will University of Miami star receiver Ahmmon Richards, making those glowing projections a little more attainable.
The Canes need him.
After a season of debilitating injuries and knee surgery that significantly affected his playing time, Richards, 6-1 and 205 pounds, says he’s back in tip-top shape and ready to continue what he started in 2016 as a freshman All-American and UM record holder.
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On Thursday, the Amway Coaches Poll ranked the Hurricanes its No. 8 preseason team, adding to the accolades in several magazines and by various college football analysts. Richards, whose 934 receiving yards in 2016 broke Michael Irvin’s 31-year-old single-season freshman record, knows that a fabulous start is just that — a start, even if it’s 10 games’ worth.
What will define this year’s team? Richards was asked.
He answered with a question.
“Can we finish?”
After starting 10-0, the Canes lost their last three games of 2017, including the Atlantic Coast Conference title game to Clemson and the Capital One Orange Bowl to Wisconsin. It’s not hard to realize what will drive them as they begin training camp and prepare for the season opener against traditional Southeastern Conference power LSU, which went 9-4 in 2017 and was ranked No. 24 for the preseason on Thursday.
“I don’t think there are a lot of doubters, but then again, there’s still that feeling of losing three games in a row that’s just going to sit with us until we do something about it,’’ Richards said recently at the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I think that’s what we needed this off-season to get better.
“I mean, we finished big games last year, but we didn’t do so later on in the year. Can we hang? Can we go 12-0 and keep that [going]? Can we not fold in the end?”
Richards, a junior, said his own misfortunes ultimately helped strengthen not only his body but everything about his game and how he approaches it. He had a severe left hamstring injury pretty much the entire season, which in turn contributed to his left meniscus tear on Nov. 29 while practicing for then-No. 1 Clemson.
He also had a high right-ankle sprain before the knee injury.
The result on paper: 24 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns in eight games, a nice haul for most receivers, but not Richards.
“It was just one thing after another,’’ he said. “It sucked.’’
Now, he leads a receiving corps that is loaded with talent, from the wiry, fast little guys such as sophomores Mike Harley and Jeff Thomas, to the 6-5, 220-pound veteran Lawrence Cager, to freshmen phenoms Brian Hightower and Mark Pope, among others.
“Especially with the young guys we brought in, we have a lot more depth this year,’’ Richards said. “They’re all mature [and] know they can contribute early.’’
But if Richards stays healthy, UM coach Mark Richt said, he “can’t imagine him doing anything less than he did his freshman year, which was phenomenal ... I can easily see him get over 1,000 yards and who knows how many touchdowns.’’
“When he is on,’’ added offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, “good luck covering him.’’
Richards said he hasn’t felt this good since freshman year. “Running full speed, 100 percent, cutting,’’ he said. “The day after surgery I kind of would sit in my room thinking, ‘Dang, there are so many things I feel like I could have done better, whether it was stretch more, hydrate more, take care of my body more, and I wouldn’t be in this situation.
“I realize I took a lot of things for granted that I’m not now.’’
Richards was asked his philosophy on underclassmen turning pro, should he have that decision later this season.
“Personally, I think there are statistics that show people who get their degree and stay four years have a better playing career in the NFL,’’ he said, “a longer career than guys who leave early. I mean, that’s because some guys aren’t ready for the NFL because they’re still young...and end up not doing [as well] as the hype predicts.
“I think staying is a great opportunity. You can’t go wrong really.’’
And what about regarding his own future?
“I”m just focused on the season,’’ Richards said. “I’m just focused on getting back and playing a healthy year and contributing to winning games for this team.
“...Clearly last year we didn’t do enough in the offseason and during the season to finish the way we wanted to. That’s motivation for us. Do little things, whether it’s one extra rep in the weight room. That could make the difference.
“We’re doing everything possible to make sure we don’t have that feeling we did last year.’’