On the opening day of the 2018 Miami Hurricanes fall fooball camp, a leaner, maybe even meaner middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman refused to even contemplate that this could signal the beginning of “the last run’’ he and fellow junior starters Zach McCloud and Michael Pinckney might have together as Hurricanes.
Not when that “natty championship’’ he has dreamed about since his freshman season is still out of reach.
Not when the Canes exploded out of the 2017 starting gate 10-0 and ranked as high as No. 2 in the College Football Playoff standings, then lost their last three games and what certainly would have been a spot in the playoffs.
“Never. Not now. I don’t think about the end of the season,’’ Quarterman, considered one of the nation’s finest linebackers, said in heat approaching 90 degrees Saturday and humidity that felt even worse at Greentree Field.
“Coach Diaz likes to say,’’ Quarterman noted of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, adding, “I don’t know if he likes me saying it, but, ‘You don’t worry about the guy with the gun when there’s a guy with a knife right in front of you.’
“I’m focused on LSU, playing them in Dallas. That’s what I’m focused on right now.”
The Canes meet LSU (9-4 last season) in the season opener Sept. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Quarterman, now 233 pounds, down 12 from last season, was a freshman All-American who two seasons later as a Butkus Award and Bednarik Award candidate, has 164 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, six sacks, five pass breakups and a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
He said his teammates’ conditioning levels are “way past” what they were at the same time last year. “That’s always good to see the first day.
“They put the ‘vet’ tag on me,’’ he said, conjuring an opposite image of him and Pinckney and McCloud during their earliest days at UM, when they became the first trio of freshmen Canes to ever start together at linebacker. “I’ve grown a lot since I was that 255-[pound] chunky boy.
“I remember what it was like being a young guy and really not having the older guys we have now. When you have the right guys ahead of the young guys to lead them, that’s how you build dynasties and that’s what we’re doing right now.’’
Quarterman said he “had to’’ lose the weight to “be more precise, be able to run longer, be able to endure a whole game. It’s about full effort every play, and if I could do that I’ll be a bad boy.’’
Quarterman, as well as receiver Ahmmon Richards, who returned to practice for the first time since knee surgery toward the end of the season, said the lofty preseason rankings — the latest being No. 8 in the Amway Coaches Poll — meant little.
“We don’t care about the rankings — at all,’’ Quarterman said. “It’s the standard, that’s the only thing we live by. We fell short of the standard last year but we’re going to keep working toward it. Every year we get better and better.’’
Like his teammates, Quarterman was distraught after UM’s loss to Wisconsin in the 2017 season-ending Capital One Orange Bowl.
He said the Hurricanes “all sat down and watched “the TV copies, the film copies, end zone views, everything’’ from the last three losses. “I think I watched those three games more than any other games of our past season. The Clemson game I watched at least four times. The Wisconsin game, Pittsburgh game.
“We didn’t have the depth we have now,’’ he added. “We were really beaten up by the end of the season.”
All-American safety Jaquan Johnson said the losses have made the Canes hungrier. “We want to finish,’’ Johnson said Saturday. “We preach that all the time.”
▪ Four scholarship quarterbacks competed Saturday, with redshirt senior starter Malik Rosier leading the way, followed by redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry, redshirt freshman Cade Weldon and true freshman Jarren Williams.
▪ There appeared to be no injured players on the sideline, though at least one newcomer, Illinois graduate transfer Tito Odenigbo, walked gingerly off the field several minutes before the others and sat down in a giant ice tub. Odenigbo is a 6-3, 300-pound defensive tackle.
▪ At least five previously injured players returned to practice: receiver Richards, who didn’t wear a knee brace Saturday after surgery late last season and said at times he was “gassed’’ a bit getting used to practicing again; linebacker McCloud (wrist); defensive end Demetrius Jackson (knee); receiver Evidence Njoku (knee); and linebacker Charles Perry.