Football Excited for Opener vs. Bethune-Cookman
By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, FLA. – The wait is almost over.
The University of Miami football team opens its 92nd football season on Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, kicking off the second campaign of the Mark Richt era.
“We finally get to play a game, “Richt said. “It’s been a long time since the bowl game and there have been a lot of things that have happened – our mat drill program, our spring ball, our summer conditioning, fall camp and then the latter part of last week and all of this week preparation for Bethune-Cookman. We’re ready to play another team. I can’t ever remember being a part of a team in 30-something years of football where everybody wasn’t excited to play the first opponent. It doesn’t matter who it is, whether it be in-conference, out-of-conference, it doesn’t matter. It just means a lot, and it’s a chance to finally join forces and get after somebody. We spend all of spring competing against each other – offense versus defense. All fall, offense versus defense. Now we’re on the same team along with our special teams, so I’m really looking forward to that.
Eight months have elapsed since the Hurricanes defeated the 16th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers, 31-14, to win the 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl.
The victory capped an impressive debut season by head coach Mark Richt and his coaching staff, as Miami finished the first year of the Richt era with a 9-4 record and the Hurricanes’ first bowl win in a decade.
The positive momentum surrounding Miami’s football program continued to build in February, as Miami signed a consensus top-25 recruiting class that features several players expected to make an immediate impact
Spring football soon followed and the Hurricanes showed even more improvement after what was their first full year playing under Richt and his coaching staff.
“This is going to be a great year for us; I am really excited for it,” junior offensive lineman Tyree St. Louis said. “A lot of expectations come from last year with a new coach and new training staff, but now that we have a year under our belts we will be a lot better.”
Miami broke ground on the Carol Soffer Football Indoor Practice Facility in May. The $34 million, 81,800-square-foot facility will feature two field-turf fields – one 80 yards long, and an additional 40-yard field directly connecting to the Squillante Strength and Conditioning Center.
The excitement surrounding the Hurricanes continued to rise as the team opened fall camp in August, signaling the return of college football was just around the corner.
“Honestly, we’ve run our course through training camp,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “We need to go play a game. We’re just at the point that we have to go play somebody. You reach the point where you make practice mistakes and you get them corrected, but you need the game accountability to make the next jump. I like where we’re at. I like the attitude of our guys. We’re ready to go play.”
The Canes had a special guest stop by on Tuesday, as University President Julio Frenk wished the Hurricanes good luck as they prepared for their first game of the season.
“I think they’re going to do very well,” Frenk said. “At the same time, I want our players to know that we are with them. We are committed to their well-being, to making sure that their education here puts them on the right path to pursue whatever goals they have set for themselves individually. I predict we have a terrific team and I know we are going to have a great season.”
The Hurricanes are 3-0 all-time against Bethune-Cookman, including a 45-0 victory when the teams last met in 2015. Miami enters Saturday’s matchup having won 10 consecutive home openers.
“Coach [Terry] Sims has done a very good job at Bethune,” Richt said. “Their season was a little bit like ours a year ago—finished very strong, had four out of five wins at the end. I know we had five out of five wins at the end. Both programs are carrying that momentum into the season. They’ve got 15 starters returning, eight on offense and seven on defense. His coordinators are back. Their offensive coordinator has been there three years, the defensive coordinator has been there eight years, so guys that have worked together and trust each other. You can see it on tape. You see they execute well on both sides of the ball and it’ll be fun to see what we can do.”
The Canes are ranked 18th by both the Associated Press and Amway Coaches Polls, marking the first time Miami opens a season ranked in both polls since 2010. The Hurricanes were also picked to win the ACC’s Coastal Division by a poll of media members at the annual ACC Kickoff.
“We are all excited, but we have to stay level-headed,” senior tight end Christopher Herndon IV said. “We can’t think too far ahead. We still have to work each and every day to get better because we still have to work on offense and to stay consistent on how we practice.”
The Hurricanes kickoff the 2017 season Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
The wait is almost over.
Canes football is back.