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Miami's Ready To Roll Against McNeese State

Aug. 30, 2000

By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer

MIAMI (AP) – After almost a year of watching, waiting and working out,NajehDavenport unleashed most of his frustration on his teammates. He also saved some for the McNeese State Cowboys. Davenport, a Miami Hurricanes running back who missed the majority oflastseason with a knee injury, ran roughshod over the defense in fall practice. Tough to catch and even tougher to tackle, Davenport showed the No. 5Hurricanes what they missed while he recovered from a torn ligament in hisright knee.

“It’s like you’re standing on the tracks and he’s the train – and it’scoming. There’s nothing you can do to stop him,” safety Al Blades said.”Whenhe’s back there, you’re just hoping for a pass play.”

McNeese State won’t be so lucky. The Hurricanes plan to get Davenport -a6-foot-2, 248-pound junior who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds thissummer- plenty of playing time in Thursday night’s season opener against theDivisionI-AA Cowboys.

“I want him to have success. It’s important for him psychologically andemotionally,” Miami coach Butch Davis said. “He’s been romping and stompingin practice. But once he gets in the game, gets hit and gets tackled andgetsthis game behind him, he’s going be fine.”

Davenport carried 13 times for 83 yards before injuring his knee latein thefourth quarter of last year’s opener against Ohio State. He missed the restofthe season and did not participate in full-contact drills during springpractice. In the meantime, Davenport added 15 pounds, lowered his body fat andincreased his strength and speed.

He did it all while counting down the days until the season opener. “I thought about it every day,” said Davenport, who led the Hurricaneswith a 7.0 yards-per-carry average in 1998. “It’s a hunger inside of me thatgrew and it’s still growing. Thinking about playing kept me going. “I think my first snap the defense will have to be scared because I’mgoingto unload all this frustration from the last year.”

Davenport rushed for 387 yards on 55 carries as a freshman, playingbehindEdgerrin James and James Jackson. He will share time again this season, partofa crowded backfield that includes Jackson, Clinton Portis and JarrettPayton.

“When they get their shot, they better be ready,” running backs coachDonSoldinger said. “It’s just like coming out of the bullpen or off the bench.They better get the strikeout or hit the home run when they’re in there.Theyhave to make their reps count.”

That shouldn’t be too difficult against McNeese State, which finished6-5last season and is playing its first Division I-A team since 1990. TheHurricanes have outscored its last five Division I-AA opponents 280-29, anaverage score of 56-6.

“We understand that coach Davis and his staff have done a great job ofgetting the program back to competing for national championships everyyear,”said first-year McNeese State coach Tommy Tate, who replaced Kirby Bruchhausafter Bruchhaus resigned in June following an investigation that he gambledonprofessional football.

“It’s pretty well documented how good they are,” Tate said. Especially with Davenport healthy. “I’m ready for a big debut,” Davenport said.