The Miami Hurricanes had just wrapped up their first scrimmage of fall camp at an empty Hard Rock Stadium as cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph approached Al Blades Jr.
“Was it too big for you?” Rumph asked the freshman.
Even with no crowd in sight, the experience of playing under the lights for the first time in college is enough to rattle even the most talented newcomers.
Not Al Blades Jr.
“I don’t care about crowds,” Blades told his coach. “I don’t care about bands. All I care about is football.
“It’s not too big for me.”
Football — more specifically, Miami Hurricanes football — is in his blood.
And on Sept. 2, Blades Jr. will get his first chance to carry on the family name in the No. 8 Hurricanes’ marquee season opener against No. 25 LSU.
He’ll run out of the tunnel at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with his teammates with up to 100,000 roaring fans screaming and bellowing and cheering.
On this big stage, he’ll make his debut as a Miami Hurricane.
“I’ve been looking forward to this all my life,” he said. “Now that I’m here, I’m just driven on being the best me that I can be no matter where it takes me.”
Right now, that’s taking him to the football field just like his dad and uncles before him.
His father, the late Al Blades Sr., played at UM from 1996-2000 and was named first-team All-Big East during his time in college. His uncles Bennie and Brian starred for the Canes in the 1980s. Bennie won the Jim Thorpe Award in both 1987 and 1988 and played 10 years in the NFL. Brian played receiver for Miami, was drafted in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks and spent 11 years in the league.
And while his dad died in a car crash when he was 3, Blades Jr. still shows many of the same football traits that brought his father to UM all those years ago. He’s tough-minded. He’s competitive. He makes his presence known wherever he plays.
“You see the genetics,” Rumph said. “He didn’t spend a lot of time with his dad, but it’s instilled in his heart. I’m glad we recruited him.”
Blades Jr. will see the field a lot, too.
With Malek Young suffering a career ending neck injury in the Orange Bowl last season and former starter Dee Delaney graduated, the cornerback room is in flux behind seniors Michael Jackson and Jhavonte Dean and sophomore Trajan Bandy.
Expect Blades Jr., a former four-star prospect out of St. Thomas Aquinas, to help fill that void.
“He has a competitive spirit that belongs to the Blades family,” said Hurricanes coach Mark Richt, a UM alum himself. “The family name is being honored.”
As a legacy player, it would be natural for a player like Blades Jr. to have heightened expectations right away.
But does that mean Richt treats them any different than any other player on the roster?
“I try not to,” Richt said. “I don’t want them to feel set apart one way or another because of our relationship. I want them to earn everything they get. I’ll blast them like I’ll blast everyone else if they need it. But it is a good feeling to have former players’ sons on their team because it’s a vote of confidence that they believe in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
After a month of fall camp, Blades Jr. has Richt’s vote of confidence.
“That does touch home,” Blades Jr. said. “That does show me that I’m at least doing something right. I really take it humbly.”
And the freshman doesn’t plan to slow down just yet. The journey has barely even started.
“I have to put my head down and know it’s not the finish. It’s just the start,” Blades Jr. said. “For him to say that early in the process, we’re not going to remember what he said two years from now. For me, it’s about being consistent and keeping it going.”
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