University of Miami

From Miami’s Baby Canes trying to play like grown men to grown men leaving a legacy

They came to the Miami Hurricanes in 2016 as young, exuberant, early-enrollees who might have believed they knew it all — as 17- and 18-year-olds often do.

And though that “natty championship’’ they envisioned never came, linebackers Michael Pinckney and Shaquille Quarterman will run through the smoke at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday — Senior Day — as grown men who know quite a lot after bypassing the NFL Draft to return for their senior seasons.

“Time flies , man,’’ Pinckney said Wednesday ahead of his final home game against Atlantic Coast Conference foe Louisville (5-3, 3-2). “You think you’ve got all the time in the world and then one day you wake up and you’re a junior, then you’re a senior, then senior night comes and before you know it I’ll be gone and it’ll be the next group.

“Just cherish the moment and know that time is not on your side and you’ve got to handle that — handle your business.’’

Except for the Pitt game two weeks ago when Pinckney was injured and one game last year, Miami’s dynamic linebacker duo has started every game together since they were true freshmen.

Quarterman, an All-ACC first-teamer in 2018, has never missed a start for UM (5-4, 3-3), lining up after kickoff for all 48 games of his career for the second longest streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision — behind Louisiana Tech’s Ethan Reed.

“Mike told y’all he’s not going to cry?’’ Quarterman said Wednesday when asked what it would be like for him Saturday, and that Pinckney said he wasn’t the emotional type. “I definitely probably will. Yeah, without a doubt.

“I’ve been focused on preparing. Moments like that, I don’t think about. You can’t ever be prepared for something like that. Taking the next step after committing four years of your life to something very precious to you... I have a feeling of how it’s going to go down.”

When asked if he could share “any good stories about Quarterman and Pinckney,’’ UM coach Manny Diaz, who has been with the pair since he arrived in 2016 as the Canes defensive coordinator, smiled. It’s no secret that both linebackers, as well as fellow veteran Zach McCloud, who will use this season to redshirt so he can return in 2020, are each dear to Diaz’s heart.

“One of the funny stories,’’ Diaz said, “and I can’t remember if I’ve shared this, is we actually, maybe last year during training camp, just for fun put on the FAMU game — their first game ever, and they were laughing hysterically.

“They were like, ‘Coach, we had no idea what we were doing out there. We were literally just running around like chickens with their heads cut off.’

“So, that was fun to see how they’ve developed over time. And to be with those guys every step of the way — not even just as freshmen, really as mid-year enrollees, the second half of their 12th-grade year — and to see them mature, to see them go through the different ups and downs of a four-year career, it’s been unlike any other relationship I’ve ever had in my coaching career.”

Quarterman, 6-1 and 240 pounds, came to Miami as a consensus four-star prospect from Orange Park Oakleaf High School. He leads the Hurricanes with 72 tackles this season and has 321 career tackles, with 13 total sacks, 41 1/2 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Pinckney, 6-1 and 230, was a consensus three-star prospect out of Jacksonville Raines High. He’s fourth on the team this season with 42 tackles and has 245 for his career. He also has 12 1/2 career sacks, 37 tackles for loss and three interceptions.

Both players are expected to get drafted and feel they made the right decision to return. Quarterman believes the younger Hurricanes have learned, through example, the benefits of staying the extra year.

“I definitely do,’’ Quarterman said. “I just hope they step back and consider all options. I know that in this day in college football, it’s such a good thing, it seems, to leave early when in all actuality that’s not always the best case for everybody. I just want them to understand that there is a lot of good in coming back and graduating and raising your draft stock, as well as raising the draft stock of the team. The team will always be as good as the senior class.

“If you get guys coming back, you not only have that senior class that you want, you also have the big brother program going on continuously. Guys leaving their junior year that would be potential seniors, you lose those and it does affect the program.”

Quarterman’s goal as his career concludes?

“I want to finish as strong as possible,’’ he said. “I don’t want to look at the stats after the game. I want to look at the film and know that I left it all out there. For the last couple of games, that’s all I’ve been trying to do — not saving at all, putting it on the line for my teammates.

“Off the field, I’m ready to graduate. I can’t wait to do that. My parents all excited, ready to drive down here, all that good stuff. I just want to finish off strong on and off the field and be labeled as one of the household ‘Canes.”

Pinckney said he’d like to be remembered for being a Hurricane who contributed to being part of the change. “You know, turning this program around and putting it in the direction it needs to go. I think we’re doing a good job of that right now.’’

Diaz said he’s just happy that Saturday won’t be the last time together for Quarterman and Pinckney, as the Canes still have three more games, not including a bowl for which they still need another victory to qualify.

“Thank God I don’t have to worry about that for four more games or whatever it is,’’ Diaz said, “but those will be big personalities who walk out of our locker room.”

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Diaz said starting tight end Brevin Jordan, who has an undisclosed injury, will be a game-time decision against Louisville.

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Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.