University of Miami

On day of giving, Hurricanes express gratitude for Richt’s $1 million pledge

University of Miami Hurricanes punter Justin Vogel, left, and QB Brad Kaaya share high fives with fifth-graders at Frances S. Tucker Elementary School in Coconut Grove on Thurs., May 26, 2016. UM football players visited several classrooms and talked with students about the importance of a good education. Then they played football, basketball and kickball with students on a court and a field at the school, 3500 Douglas Rd. in Coconut Grove.
University of Miami Hurricanes punter Justin Vogel, left, and QB Brad Kaaya share high fives with fifth-graders at Frances S. Tucker Elementary School in Coconut Grove on Thurs., May 26, 2016. UM football players visited several classrooms and talked with students about the importance of a good education. Then they played football, basketball and kickball with students on a court and a field at the school, 3500 Douglas Rd. in Coconut Grove. mhalper@miamiherald.com

Miami left guard KC McDermott was so flabbergasted when he saw the news Wednesday about his football coach pledging $1 million toward construction of an indoor football practice facility that he immediately fired off a text message.

“Thank you, Coach,’’ McDermott said he wrote to Hurricanes coach Mark Richt. “It means so much to me that you would even consider doing that.’’

The simple reply from Richt, according to McDermott: “No problem. I’m here for you guys.’’

McDermott was one of several Hurricanes who were shocked – and elated – to learn that their coach, who just arrived in December, was committed enough to donate so much of his own money toward the project.

On Thursday, more than 30 Hurricanes participated in a community service event at Frances S. Tucker Elementary in Coconut Grove. And after they scattered among classrooms to answer questions and explain why school was so important, they dispersed outside to toss footballs with the children, play hoops and kickball – and express their gratitude to their coach.

“I was driving with [right guard] Danny Isidora and saw the news,’’ offensive tackle Sunny Odogwu said. “I was like, ‘Bro, we’re going to give it all we’ve got, bro. That’s outstanding! That’s unbelievable! That’s unheard of! He’s amazing.’

“A coach that cares so much about the kids, about the community, about the school, it’s unreal. I’m going to personally go up and say, ‘Coach, we appreciate you and we’re going to give it all we’ve got, bro – for you. Thank you.’’

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Receiver Braxton Berrios said he had to reread the news a few times.

“It’s absolutely incredible that he is willing to go to those lengths just to get this rolling.’’

Quarterback Brad Kaaya described Richt’s pledge as “spectacular.’’

“I actually went to his office to thank him yesterday… I just went up there and said, ‘Hey coach, I just heard the news. That’s awesome.’’’

Richt’s reply: “No one was supposed to know about that.’’

Said Kaaya: “That fact right there alone – he doesn’t really care who gets the credit… He just wants it to happen and just has our best interest at heart. I appreciate it and the team certainly does, too.

“An indoor facility is something that we’ve needed for years and I think it’s going to help us and impact how we play.’’

Added McDermott: “I know he’s here to stay and he is going to do whatever he can to make sure that we don’t have any excuses during the year not to win.’’

Kaaya said he had a great time interacting with the youngsters, who asked him and punter Justin Vogel questions such as, “Do you get along with your teammates?’’

“Yeah, for the most part,’’ Kaaya answered. “Of course, everywhere teammates sometimes have arguments. But you have to get over it. Everyone comes from different backgrounds. You just have to agree with each other and get over your differences.’’

And this: “Do you get mad, like at the offensive line, if you get sacked?’’

Kaaya: “Uhhh. No. You just have to move past it. If something bad happens, you have to keep moving and keep playing. You can’t really dwell on one thing or else you’re just not going to play good.’’

Tucker physical education teacher Alexis Reyes said he was thrilled that so many Hurricanes took part in the event. The university’s athletes have been involved with the school for years, he said, including in a pen-pal program.

Reyes surprised the students with the Hurricanes’ arrival, not telling them until they arrived at school Thursday and saw green and orange balloons and their teachers dressed in UM colors.

“They were so excited,’’ Reyes said.

Even if they didn’t always know exactly who they were seeing.

When asked how he felt about seeing Kaaya, Octavius Veargis, 9, said, “Happy! He’s a good receiver. He can catch.’’

▪  Running back Mark Walton, who was suspended indefinitely from the team after being arrested April 23 on charges of driving under the influence and driving while license suspended/with knowledge, attended the event but was not permitted to speak to the media.

UM wouldn’t comment on his current status, but Walton has been back at least a week or more participating fully in team activities. UM likely is waiting for Walton’s legal issues to be resolved before making a statement.

Miami Hurricanes' running back Mark Walton shows his stuff on the basketball court at Frances S. Tucker Elementary in Coconut Grove during a community service event on Thurs., May 26, 2016

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