University of Miami

What to expect from Miami’s 16 scholarship true freshmen in season opener vs. Florida

‘I just want to work on getting stronger, so I can be better myself.’ Couch said.

Miami Hurricanes defensive back Te'Cory Couch talks to the media after practice at the University of Miami Greentree Practice Field in Coral Gables on Thursday, August 8, 2019.
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Miami Hurricanes defensive back Te'Cory Couch talks to the media after practice at the University of Miami Greentree Practice Field in Coral Gables on Thursday, August 8, 2019.

The Miami Hurricanes open the season Saturday against the Florida Gators and 16 true freshmen on scholarship could all make their collegiate debut at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.

A significant chunk of those 16 have a realistic shot to play at Camping World Stadium and even more are in line to suit up later in 2019. Let’s take a player-by-player look at the freshmen vying for playing time this season:

Quarterbacks

Peyton Matocha: The former three-star prospect from St. Thomas in Houston is buried on the depth chart behind fellow quarterbacks Jarren Williams, N’Kosi Perry and Tate Martell. He’ll redshirt this season and will only play in an emergency situation.

Wide receivers/tight ends

Jeremiah Payton: The Under Armour All-American from Neptune Beach Fletcher has consistently impressed the coaching staff since he arrived in Coral Gables in January. While he might not start Saturday, Payton is one of the top seven wide receivers on the roster and should be in the rotation.

Larry Hodges: The tight end from Tampa Jesuit said Aug. 8 he “thinks there’s a good possibility” he’ll get on the field against Florida, although it’s tough to see him getting too significant of playing time in 2019 with fellow tight ends Brevin Jordan, Will Mallory and Michael Irvin II all ahead of him on the depth chart. Hodges, who was a four-star prospect in the ESPN.com rankings, is a natural backup for Jordan because of their similar skill sets.

Offensive line

Jakai Clark: A former three-star center in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, Clark has mostly worked with the second-team offense in training camp. Unless there’s an injury to Corey Gaynor, the freshman from Grayson in Loganville, Georgia, is probably in line to redshirt, especially after fellow offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson learned center in the spring.

Zion Nelson: The former three-star tackle is the biggest surprise of the freshman class. The Hurricanes flipped Nelson from the Appalachian State Mountaineers shortly before the early signing period and by the end of spring practice he had taken over as Miami’s starting left tackle. While there’s no official depth chart yet, it would be a surprise if the offensive lineman from Sumter, South Carolina, isn’t at left tackle Saturday.

Adam ElGammal: Opposite Nelson, Kai-Leon Herbert and John Campbell have both gotten first-team work at right tackle, and fellow offensive lineman Zalon’tae Hillery also played some in the spring. ElGammal, who was a three-star tackle, is in line to redshirt.

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Defensive line

Jahfari Harvey: Defensive line coach Todd Stroud wants to go five deep at defensive end and Harvey, a former four-star defensive end from Vero Beach, is firmly part of his rotation along with defensive linemen Jonathan Garvin, Trevon Hill, Scott Patchan and Gregory Rousseau.

Cameron Williams: Williams, who was a four-star defensive end in the Rivals.com rankings, will be a casualty of Miami’s defensive end depth. Unless there’s an injury, the freshman from Chaminade-Madonna will probably redshirt as he bulks up.

Jared Harrison-Hunte: The Hurricanes’ three freshman defensive tackles all know it’s not easy to get on the field right away at their position. Stroud wants to go five deep at defensive tackle, though, which means, at least while fellow defensive lineman Nesta Jade Silvera is injured, some of the freshmen will have to play. Harrison-Hunte, who was a teammate of ElGammal’s at Christ the King in New York, could be an option against the Gators.

“We’re preparing for just the Florida game,” Harrison-Hunte said Tuesday, “we just don’t know yet if we’re going to get on the field.”

Jason Blissett: The former four-star prospect from Poly Prep Country Day in Brooklyn is the most highly touted of Miami’s three freshman defensive tackles. Although Harrison-Hunte and Jalar Holley both have better size, Blissett’s athleticism could make him a daunting pass rusher and Stroud said he likes his fifth defensive tackles to be pass-rush specialists.

“At our position, it’s hard to get on the field,” Blissett said Tuesday. “If our name gets called, we’re more than ready for it. That’s how we look at it.”

Jalar Holley: Silvera’s injury opened up an opportunity on the depth chart for the three freshmen. Defensive linemen Pat Bethel, Jonathan Ford, Chigozie Nnoruka and Jordan Miller will make up the top four, but until Silvera returns Stroud will give all the freshmen a chance, including the former three-star prospect from Buford, Georgia. NCAA rules allow players to play in four games and still use the season as a redshirt year. It works out perfectly for Stroud, who could have each freshman play four games and get through the regular season without them overlapping.

Linebackers

Sam Brooks Jr.: The former three-star outside linebacker from Northwestern has worked as linebacker Shaquille Quarterman’s backup throughout training camp. Brooks might have to play this season after injuries to linebackers Waynmon Steed, Bradley Jennings and Patrick Joyner, but Miami could also try to make do by using Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud to fill two linebacker spots while the Hurricanes expand their usage of strikers.

“If I do get on the field, I just want to set the tone for my guys,” Brooks said. “I want Shaq to believe me 100 percent that I’ve got his back.”

Avery Huff: The former four-star outside linebacker from St. Thomas Aquinas was a late arrival to training camp, which could keep him from seeing the field too much early on. Still, Miami might need him eventually considering the injuries at his position.

Secondary

Keontra Smith: Derrick Smith’s transfer has opened up an opportunity for the freshman, who participated in the All-American Bowl in January. The former four-star prospect said fellow safeties Amari Carter and Gurvan Hall have been named starters, which leaves Robert Knowles, Bubba Bolden and Smith as the reserves. Since Bolden was a late arrival to training camp, Miami might need to rely on Smith early.

“At any given time, if somebody goes down or he needs to replace somebody,” Smith said, “we’ll all be ready.”

Te’Cory Couch: The Under Armour All-American was high school teammates with Williams and Keontra Smith, and he’s the former Lion in line for most playing time in 2019. The former four-star cornerback has spent training camp as Bandy’s backup in the slot for the Hurricanes’ nickel packages.

“I’ve been getting a good amount of workload playing nickel and corner,” Couch said. “I’ve been doing good at both.”

Christian Williams: With Nigel Bethel Jr.’s transfer, Williams has an opportunity to seize some playing time. The Under Armour All-American from Daphne, Alabama, has worked as an outside cornerback behind Bandy, Blades and Ivey, so he should be able to get on the field.

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