Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz says as the new head coach, “it’s important to be authentic”
They arrived in Coral Gables last year as two of UM’s most decorated recruits this decade, the first Rivals.com five-star players to join the Hurricanes since Tracy Howard in 2012 and Chad Thomas in 2014.
But nothing last season went quite as Lorenzo Lingard or Mark Pope planned.
Lingard sustained a torn MCL in an October practice and remains only a partial participant in practice, awaiting full clearance. Pope caught just one pass and was surpassed on the depth chart by two other freshmen receivers largely because of his lack of mastery of the playbook.
Now sophomores, they’re hoping for a better second act, and credit each for putting in the work this summer — Lingard laboring tirelessly to strengthen the knee and Pope dramatically improving his study habits.
“Me and Lorenzo are like a dog that’s in the cage right now, ready to be released,” Pope said this week. “It’s going to be a great year for us, even if it’s not this year. Even if it’s next year, we are going to show people what we can do. It’s just about being patient.”
Before the injury last season, Lingard played sparingly but ran 17 times for 136 yards (8.0 per carry), showing flashes of the elite skills that earned him the No. 13 position among all recruits on Rivals’ 2018 Big Board and resulted in scholarship offers to Clemson, Georgia, UF and others. Because he had already played in six games, Lingard couldn’t redshirt despite the injury.
He said he has participated in portions of team drills in camp and said he’s “really, really close” to being cleared for full participation. He expects to be ready for game action after the Aug. 24 UF opener, perhaps as soon as the Sept. 7 North Carolina game, though UM isn’t going to rush him.
Lingard says the knee injury hasn’t diminished his cutting ability or any of his skills.
“I haven’t lost anything,” he said. “I want to hurdle something right now. Being aggressive and running hard, I still have that.”
In some respects, he believes he’s ready to play now.
“What’s crazy is I feel I can go a thousand miles an hour and [UM staffers] say, ‘Relax, relax.’ It’s been hearing ‘Relax, have patience’ for the last 10 months and it’s just killing me inside. I have to partake in some track activity to feel back like myself. In team runs, they got me going at 20 mph plus. The speed is still there.”
Besides being named Gatorade (football) Player of the Year for the state of Florida as a senior at University High in Orange City, Lingard also was a high-school track star, winning the Florida state 4A Championship in the 110-meter hurdles.
How frustrating was the past year?
“I can’t explain it in words, but I have a great support system here, great family support, teammates that uplift me,” Lingard said. “It’s pretty much good for me. It’s just a matter of time for me. I’m taking these moments to reflect to where I was and where I am now and how much I’ve learned from then to now.”
When Lingard returns, no immediate playing time will be assured. DeeJay Dallas and Cam’Ron Harris are firmly positioned to be UM’s top two backs, and oft-injured Robert Burns has impressed in camp and enters the season as the No. 3 back. But Lingard’s elite talent suggests an opportunity will come at some point.
As for Pope, the nation’s 28th ranked recruit in 2018 remains immersed in a competitive battle with Mike Harley, Dee Wiggins, Brian Hightower and Jeremiah Payton for three rotation spots behind KJ Osborn and Jeff Thomas.
Pope, a Miami Southridge High product, played sparingly on offense last season largely because of his inability to consistently run the right routes, a byproduct of not knowing the playbook well enough. Pope and receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield said Pope has taken significant steps to fix that.
Pope said he would study the playbook on weekends and at night during the summer and go to a local park with his brother, who would throw him passes that came specifically from UM’s offense.
“My weakness was the playbook so I studied the playbook more,” Pope said. As far as route running is concerned, “I feel comfortable now but I’m still learning. I still have a lot more work to do, but I feel more comfortable this year.”
Pope’s strengths? “Speed, route running, quickness,” he said. “I’ve got it all. Just need to hit the weight room a little more. But I feel like I got it all. They want me 185. I’m at 177.”
Stubblefield said Pope is “one of the toughest critics on himself because he knows how important it is. He knows there are some things he struggles with, so he has to make up for that with whatever it be -- extra meeting time with the older players or coming in on his own and watching film. He is trying his best to be prepared the way he needs to be prepared.”
But Stubblefield says the physical gifts are evident: “From the athletic standpoint, you see things that are like, “Wow’.. You got speed, quickness. For the most part, he’s a natural catcher. Sometimes he takes his eyes off the ball a little bit and that’s what will cause his drops. He’s not a guy that will fight the ball.
“Athletically, skill-wise when you look at him, you’re like, ‘This dude’s pretty good.’” With him, it’s about making sure he uses the right tool at the right time. What’s great about him is he’s motivated to do that and learn exactly what tool he has to use to make the most of the situation in front of him.”
Enrolling in college with five-star status carries prestige but ultimately assures nothing. And Lingard and Pope know nothing will be gifted to them. But from separate conversations with them on Tuesday, it’s clear there’s internal determination to become the type of impact players that most expected when they enrolled at Miami.