University of Miami early-enrollee linebackers Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud are Baby Canes who play like grown men.
That, in so many words, is what coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Manny Diaz told reporters after Tuesday’s 10th spring practice session. And in case fans don’t know already, Richt and Diaz have not spared criticism of their new team if they believe it’s warranted.
“They’re all mature beyond their years,’’ Diaz said, when asked his impression of the three, who were in high school just a few months ago. “They’ve come in and have not been daunted by being on the field with guys three or four years older than them, when you can imagine they should all be in English 12 right now reading The Great Gatsby or something.
“They were all very well coached in high school. You can see that because of some fundamentals that they’ve come in with that have really helped them in the transition.
“…They’re all physically what you want at linebacker. They can all run, hit; They all show really good toughness. It is a major blessing for our program not only that they’re here but that they enrolled early so they can get these 15 days and be a factor for us in the fall.’’
The 6-1, 239-pound Quarterman, who graduated early from Orange Park Oakleaf High, is the first-team middle linebacker, followed by 6-4, 236-pound redshirt freshman Jamie Gordinier, 6-3, 228-pound redshirt sophomore Terry McCray and 6-1, 224-pound redshirt sophomore Mike Smith.
Michael Pinckney, 6-0 and 213 pounds, is from Jacksonville Raines, and is first-team weak-side. Behind Pinckney are 6-2, 245-pound junior Juwon Young and Smith.
Zach McCloud, 6-2 and 215 pounds, is out of Lantana Santaluces and playing third-team – sometimes second-team – strong-side. The strong-side starter is 6-1, 221-pound senior Jermaine Grace, followed by 6-1, 220-pound sophomore Charles Perry. Behind McCloud is walk-on sophomore Eddie Dunn.
Richt said Tuesday that the “top two plays in the scrimmage” were made by Quarterman and Pinckney.
Quarterman, the coach said, “was the one that caused the fumble that was a scoop-and-score. It was textbook the way he approached, great football position. He struck the runner and his hat was right on the ball, popped the ball out.
“Then later in the scrimmage, they had an all-out blitz on, and Pinckney, he’s on the blitz, and then we throw the screen and then he turns and runs like a madman and he clips the heels of the back who would have easily got a first down and maybe even a touchdown. It was like third-and-eight, third-and-nine and that thing is about to go a long, long way, if not a touchdown, and because of his effort he clips him just in time to keep him short of the first down, force a punt.
“Maybe a play like that can win the game. There were other things that happened that were good, but it’s nice to see those kids come in and make that kind of impact right away.’’
When told that Diaz said to Fox Sports recently that some of his players look like they’re good enough to be at Miami and some don’t, Quarterman said, “Actually, I like it. I think it’s getting back to the process of the old U, when there was straight competition. All he’s doing is weeding everybody out. Because you know this sport is not for everyone and this college definitely isn’t for everyone.’’
Quarterman, a consensus four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American who had 101 tackles this past season, said Diaz was “very tough, but it’s all out of love. We all really appreciate that.’’
McCloud chose UM over schools such as Auburn, Alabama, Florida and Florida State. He told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that he had previous nerve damage in his right shoulder but is practicing full-contact and competed in the scrimmage. “Every morning I come in and do different exercises to get the strength back and it has been coming back pretty fast.’’
Of his new, tough coaches, McCloud, like Quarterman, approved.
“They’re always on us about something,’’ he said. “nobody can be stagnant. You always have to grow.’’