When UM coach Mark Richt summoned quarterback Malik Rosier into his office last year, a few months after getting the job, and told him, in no uncertain terms, "You won’t play for me" because of bad on-field habits and poor mechanics, Rosier had a choice: Transfer or convince his coach he can change.
Rosier chose option two.
"My response was doubting because you never want to hear the coach tell you that you will never play for him," Rosier said in a private moment after practice Wednesday. "But I also took it as motivation. I took it as a goal to strive to be the starting quarterback. That's why I stayed at Miami.”
"He still gave me reps. He told me I could still win [the backup job behind Brad Kaaya at the time]. But if I kept playing the way I was playing, I would never play for him. I had to change my mentality and how I broke plays down and my whole demeanor had to change. I played with a chip on my shoulder the entire spring and fall."
Let’s be honest: Rosier - who said he never seriously considered transferring - has exceeded what modest expectations Hurricanes coaches and fans had. He’s now 6-0 all time as a starter, including 5-0 this year for a team ranked seventh in the country.
He orchestrated epic game-winning drives in the final minutes against Florida State and Georgia Tech.
He’s 42nd in passer rating among 130 starting quarterbacks (at 146, compared with Kaaya’s 150 last season). He’s 34th in yards per attempt and tied for 24th in touchdown passes with 12 (compared with three interceptions) despite playing fewer games than most other quarterbacks because of the effect of Hurricane Irma.
He’s only 74th in completion percentage at 59.1, which speaks to his streakiness, with struggles coming often earlier in games.
Most significantly, he’s proven to be a winner, the job clearly not too big for him. And if this continues, the junior will not merely be a one-year stopgap until N’Kosi Perry is ready, but potentially a two-year starter here.
Center Tyler Gauthier said Rosier shows a calmness in the huddle with the team down late and teammates now believe in him even more.
"When you see someone who goes into a game with a minute-30 or 2:15 or whatever left, that can lead you all the way down — 75, 80, 90 yards — that’s incredible to see," Gauthier said.
Richt admitted this season: "There were moments where I told him, ‘You won’t play for me.’ "But he, to his credit, has done a great job of turning that around and changing my mind because I was like, ‘I doubt this guy can play’ He rose to that level of concentration, of focus, of being good with your footwork, being good with your reads and progressions, being disciplined in how you play the game and not just making up your own stuff. If something goes bad, don’t turn a bad play into a catastrophe. And he took all that to heart. It was a big difference from what he was doing to what he became."
The improvement, Richt said, has come in "just being on balance when he throws and ball placement most of the time."
Rosier said he’s no longer fighting the urge to make something out of plays that break down. "The first year, I had to think about it, throw it away or spike it. Now it's just reaction."
What most impresses coordinator Thomas Brown is "his overall poise. Being even-keeled. [But] he's got to find ways to start faster."
Toward that end, Richt this week said he tried "to create more adversity in practice. Give me tempo of a game. That’s what I need and that’s what I think will help."
Rosier, who has struggled the past two first halves, said coaches have come up with a solution: "The big thing we've been trying to do is get short completions to get it going. A lot of that starts with me. I've got to throw accurate balls to receivers. He’s been on me - push the tempo, push the tempo."
In the meantime, Rosier is getting lots of love in class.
"I walk around and I get random ‘Thank you so much,'" Rosier said. "I had one guy try to give me [a cupcake]. He was like, ‘Oh, I can finally graduate happy as a senior from the last two weeks.’ I was like, ‘I can’t, I might get in trouble.'" A lot of it has been from the teachers. The teachers have been very proud. One teacher said ‘I almost had a heart attack'" after the FSU game.
Does he have the ‘it’ factor, I asked Richt?
"I think the more you perform well, the more you inspire your teammates, Richt said. "He’s maybe moving in that direction right now," Richt said.
• The sophomore starting linebackers have had interesting seasons. All have struggled during pockets of some games (like the first quarter against Georgia Tech) but played very well at other times.
“They’re all better," defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said of sophomores Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud. "They’re all going to get better. They can all be a lot better. And they all know that. There’s not an issue where they feel like they’ve arrived."