One week before the season opener, the University of Miami dismissed arguably its two best defensive football players from the team because they violated NCAA rules.
In the fallout from a highly publicized luxury-car rental case, defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and strong-side linebacker Jermaine Grace were kicked off the team Saturday, the school announced in the following press release:
“The University of Miami announced today that redshirt junior Al-Quadin Muhammad and senior Jermaine Grace have been permanently dismissed from the Hurricanes football program for violating NCAA rules. The University will, however, continue their financial aid through graduation. The decision was made in consultation with outside counsel and after discussions with the NCAA enforcement staff. As no staff members or boosters were involved in the violations, the program will not be subject to sanctions and, at this time, the University deems this matter closed.”
The case, according to multiple sources, involved a luxury car-rental company called South Beach Exotic Rentals. UM’s investigation focused on whether players received heavily discounted luxury cars in exchange for some future stake in their careers.
The University of Miami is still on NCAA probation related to former booster Nevin Shapiro. That probation is set to end the third week of October.
Senior wide receiver Stacy Coley, one of UM’s top offensive players, also has been investigated in the case. UM is not planning to suspend or discipline him unless new information surfaces.
Another UM player, linebacker Juwon Young, already was kicked off the team by UM in relation to the car-rental case. Young left the school and enrolled at Marshall.
A source familiar with the case said the fact that Muhammad and Grace were not forthcoming to UM about the situation contributed to their dismissal.
Grace, who graduated from Miramar High, led the team with 79 tackles last year (two sacks and six tackles for loss) and is the only upper-class linebacker that was slated to start. He finishes his three-season UM career with 147 tackles, five sacks, 12 1/2 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and six pass breakups.
His departure means that it’s likely the entire linebacking corps of starters will have never played a college game. Of the five contending to start, three are fresh out of high school, one redshirted last season and one is a sophomore who was fighting for a starting spot but was trailing by a bit in the competition.
True freshman Shaquille Quarterman, out of Orange Park Oakleaf High, is a lock to start at middle linebacker. Contending to replace Grace are true freshman Zach McCloud out of Lantana Santaluces and sophomore Charles Perry of Royal Palm Beach High. Battling to start at weak-side are true freshman Michael Pinckney of Jacksonville Raines and redshirt freshman Jamie Gordinier out of Redbank Catholic.
Muhammad, a 6-4, 250-pounder from Irvington, N.J., was UM’s sack leader last season with five, and also had 54 tackles and a team-leading 8.5 tackles for loss in 2015. He ends his career with 62 tackles, 10 1/2 tackles for loss, seven sacks and a forced fumble in two seasons. There are three other experienced defensive ends: junior Chad Thomas, who played opposite Muhammad; and backups Trent Harris, a junior, and redshirt-sophomore Demetrius Jackson. Both backups have had strong camps and are key defensive components, but freshmen Pat Bethel or Joseph Jackson will likely have to be inserted into the rotation.
Muhammad had been suspended numerous times in his UM career and missed the entire 2014 season after being suspended by the university — which included his academic classes — for his involvement in a fight after the spring game.
It is still unknown if Muhammad and Grace will stay in school at UM.
Grace, Muhammad and Young were the top three leading tacklers from last season.
UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz told the Miami Herald before the season that “In the spring, [Muhammad] impressed us with his work ethic. I think the question with him is, how good do you really want to be? What [defensive line] coach [Craig] Kuligowski is doing a great job of with him is really trying to push him to take his game to another level, where it’s the down after down consistency and doing it on the biggest stage where you’re not a guy that can flash glimpses, which gets you noticed. But can you take over a game? That’s a high standard, but if your aspirations are to really be that guy than that’s what you really have to do.”
Diaz said this about Grace, among the fastest players on defense:
“Jermaine, he’s valuable to us because he’s really the only guy in the linebacker room that has game experience and you can tell that just going through spring practice. He had that sort of veteran sense about him... This is his last go-around and he’s a guy I can talk to and help keep a pulse of what’s going on defensively. We think because of his skill-set and athleticism that he can be a guy that can move out to the wide side of the field and be that guy that is so important in this day and age of college football, who is fast and can cover guys out in space but also physical enough to play the run and tackle – the quick screens out there.”
The Hurricanes open their season at 6 p.m. Saturday against FAMU at Hard Rock Stadium.
UM sportswriter Barry Jackson and correspondent Peter Ariz contributed to this report.