One of the interesting subplots of this Hurricanes season will be watching the evolution of a bunch of second-year Canes, with defensive end Gregory Rousseau (who missed most of last season with an ankle injury), safety Gurvan Hall, cornerbacks DJ Ivey and Al Blades Jr., receiver Brian Hightower and five-star 2018 additions receiver Mark Pope and running back Lorenzo Lingard among the potential breakout players.
Two other sophomore Canes who belong in that group — running back Cam’Ron Harris and defensive tackle Nesta Silvera — spoke optimistically Wednesday about what lies ahead for them after encouraging spring performances.
Harris — who changed his name from Cam’Ron Davis earlier this offseason — impressed everyone in a two-game stretch last November, rushing six times for 48 yards against Georgia Tech (an 8.0 average) and seven times for 77 yards against Virginia Tech (an 11.0 average).
Before those games, he had not received a rushing attempt since the FIU game in September and had only six carries all season.
After those Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech games, he closed the season quietly, with eight carries for 15 yards against Pittsburgh and one carry for -1 yard in the Pinstripe Bowl against Wisconsin.
But Harris — who finished with 28 carries for 166 yards (5.9 per carry) — is not conceding the starting running back job to DeeJay Dallas.
“Once I get my [chance], I’m going to shine,” he said. “I promise you that. Whoever gets the starting spot deserves it.”
Harris, a four-star prospect, entered UM as Rivals.com’s sixth-best running back and 82nd-best overall prospect nationally in the 2018 recruiting class out of Carol City High, but was overshadowed slightly by Lingard, rated the second-best running back and 13th-best overall prospect out of University High in Orange City.
Did he feel overlooked?
“I didn’t feel overlooked [but], I was always overlooked since high school,” Harris said. “I don’t care about five-star, four-star. Me and [Lingard] came here to work, to push each other.”
According to multiple UM officials, Silvera started spring ball slowly but then took a major step forward during the final three weeks and exited spring a vastly improved player. He opened the spring game with a tackle for loss.
“Got my body right, I got my mind right,” he said. “Overall, coming along [but], I have a long way to go. Working with [strength and conditioning] coach [David] Feeley every day is a grind. It’s going to pay off in the end. When coach Feeley came in [in early January], I was 323. Now I’m 302. I feel better on the field and move better.”
Just don’t ask him about replacing Gerald Willis.
“Personal motivation to be like somebody else? Never that,” Silvera said. “I want to be me and achieve my own goals. I feel great about our room. Our room is very strong right now, even stronger than last year.”
Silvera had 13 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, in seven games last season. Out of Plantation American Heritage, he entered UM as Rivals’ No. 9 defensive tackle and 121st-best player in the 2018 class.
Never this century have the Canes signed fewer players from Miami-Dade and Broward counties than the 2019 recruiting class. Coach Manny Diaz has taken steps to change that, snagging nonbinding commitments from several top local 2020 players (elite Miami Belen running back Don Chaney Jr.) and holding free clinics at South Florida parks to expose elementary and junior high students to Canes coaches and players.
“We’ve talked about how the Miami Hurricanes should represent the youth football culture here in South Florida, but if we didn’t show up and we didn’t do this, then it would just be talk,” Diaz said during one such clinic Wednesday in Plantation. “We’re here every year, and we have a coach on our staff, [safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator] Ephraim Banda, who is dedicated [to] a youth football program in essence. We had a clinic with almost 100 youth football coaches for free on our campus this past Sunday. We’re doing everything we can to try and promote and improve youth football in South Florida. This is who we are. We’ll be here every year. It matches our core values, and that’s why we have to follow through.”
After Wednesday’s clinic, Diaz told the youngsters: “We’re going to watch all of you guys as you get older and you go into high school. [Cornerbacks] coach [Mike] Rumph and [running backs] coach [Eric] Hickson recruit every school in Broward County. If you can play, you’ll be found. But if you can play and we find you, the first thing we’re going to ask for is your academic transcript. If you can play but don’t do the work in school, college football is not for you. You’ll be a park legend. You don’t want to be that. You want to be a Miami Hurricane legend.”
▪ Freshman safety Keontra Smith, an early enrollee, said Wednesday that “I want to get on the traveling team. I am going to get on all special teams first so I can travel and make some big plays as a freshman.
“Coach Banda tells me all the time if you want to play, you’ve got to get on special teams. I played special teams as a freshman and sophomore [at Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna], but when I got to my junior year, my coach took me off — he didn’t really need me there. I made a lot of big plays on special teams.”