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After Irma, No. 14 Canes Focused on Football

After Irma, No. 14 Canes Focused on Football

By David Villavicencio
ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s no secret that the beginning of the University of Miami’s 2017 football season has been a whirlwind of uncertainty.
After a season-opening 41-13 victory over Bethune-Cookman, the Hurricanes have not played a competitive snap of football in over two weeks. The destructive path of Hurricane Irma forced Miami to cancel its Week 2 matchup at Arkansas State and reschedule a Week 3 tilt at Florida State for October 7.
The University of Miami’s campus was evacuated and players, coaches and staff were scattered, evacuating to Orlando or returning home to be with their families.
“I went with the group that went to Orlando,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said. “There was a group of kids. Obviously we let our players choose. What was that, Wednesday morning? When we decided to break camp, we wanted everyone to have time to get with their family and make decisions on what’s best for them. The same thing with coaches, the staff – we wanted our coaches to be with their families and help batten down the hatches and make decisions on what they wanted to do. Some kids did stay in South Florida. Some went all over the place – whether it was home or maybe their family went to see other family up north somewhere. There was one that went to Puerto Rico, one or two went to California and Mississippi…they were all over the place.”
“In the beginning, the dormitories were really a pretty good spot to be, because those buildings have been through hurricanes and there were going to be generators,” Richt said. “There was going to be power. There was going to be food and water and all that. For the kids that lived on campus, that was one of the options. Then later on, when the university said, ‘Hey, we’re all going to move out of there,’ that’s when we said, for the kids that don’t have a good place to be, we have to find a place to be. That’s where this trip to Orlando originally started. When that option became open, I knew a lot of our players were going to be going. I didn’t know how many would end up going to Orlando, but that’s when Katharyn and I decided to come up with the rest of the team that wasn’t with families.”
There was some public outcry about Miami’s cancellation of its trip to Arkansas State, but Richt wanted to make sure his players, coaches and staff were prepared and safe. For Miami native Jaquan Johnson that meant being able to help his mother prepare for the storm in advance of its arrival.
“Whatever decision he made, we would have stuck behind him,” Johnson said. “But letting us go home to our families, that just shows how genuine he is. There is more than football. There is life outside of football.”
Jacksonville native Shaquille Quarterman drove home to make sure his family was safe during the hurricane. After about six and a half hours on the road, Quarterman arrived at his mother’s house. He also kept in contact with several of his teammates from the Jacksonville area, making sure everyone was okay.
“We didn’t get to hang out, per se,” Quarterman said. “I talked to [Kendrick] Norton. Me and Norton were about to go work out, I think the day before the storm was supposed to hit, but we just talked about it. We were like, ‘Let’s just stay with our families.’ I kept in touch with everyone though. Bradley Jennings, he rode with me. Derrick Smith rode with me. I just made sure that everybody that I could get home from my city, that they could get home.”
Kc McDermott has been through many storms over the years. The Wellington, Fla., native and his family were without power for over four days, but their experience helped them get ready for Irma.
“We prepared for the storm,” McDermott said. “Growing up I went through Jean, Frances and Wilma. We’ve been prepared for it. We knew what was going to happen. It always helps to have a generator.”
Zach McCloud went home to Palm Beach to ride out the storm with his family. After Irma passed through, McCloud had no power and cellular service was down. The sophomore linebacker was unreachable, causing those at Miami to worry about him.
“They actually sent out an e-mail,” McCloud said. “Everybody on the team had service, I guess, and they actually sent out an e-mail saying specifically I was the only one that didn’t reply to the messages. Travis Homer’s mom came and reached out. She drove to my house. I couldn’t reach anybody. It was good when we finally got back and it was good to see everybody’s faces and know that everyone was good at home.”
The storm passed and the team is back to work in preparation for a football game. With the school’s campus still in the recovery phase after Hurricane Irma’s impact, No. 14 Miami (1-0) is practicing at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando for their Sept. 23 matchup against Toledo (3-0).
“This is something that is new for all of us,” McDermott said. “I don’t think any of the coaches or players have ever gone through anything like this. It’s something that we were prepared for and it shows the maturity if this team. In talking to the guys and seeing social media, the guys went home and they still worked out. They knew we had a goal and they weren’t going to let a little storm stop us. Whether it was doing an old-fashioned run around the block or going to a gym that had power and working out, guys still worked out. Coach Richt even said he was surprised by our conditioning. He thought we were going to be a little bit more out of shape than he’s seen. That shows the maturity of this team and also how hard we worked over the summer as well.”
Quarterman said one of the toughest parts of this long layoff between games has been “keeping the focus on football.” After a challenging period filled with uncertainty, the standout linebacker is happy to return to the normal football game week routine.
“Coach Richt, he wanted us to be with our families,” Quarterman said. “I am really thankful for that decision, but football never stops. The aspect of trying to watch film while the power is going in and out or you don’t have the best things to eat like some of our teammates did. It was really tough. Just getting back to the grind, it feels good, but we know that we have a lot of stuff that we have to catch up on.”
Instead of dwelling on all they have endured, Miami is keeping a positive outlook on what has been a challenging situation.
“We just look at it like we got an early bye and now we have to prepare for 10 games straight,” Johnson said. “That is how we are approaching it and we are attacking it every day like that.”
The Hurricanes got together at their hotel in Orlando to watch Toledo’s most recent matchup, a 54-51 win over Tulsa on Saturday, and Richt came away impressed with what Miami’s upcoming opponent did.
“We watched a good bit of the first half together,” Richt said. “We didn’t make them stay for three hours or whatever. Then we’ll be able to see the film. We’ve already seen two games this season of [Toledo], and a lot of tape from the past. Obviously, offensively they’re very, very good at what they do. They can put a lot of points on the board. Defensively, like this last game, Tulsa is one of the better offensive teams in America. When you start shooting out and start going a lot of snaps -there were 96 snaps [for Tulsa], I think – not many defenses can play effectively for 96 snaps. It’s hard to do. They’re a very dangerous team. They have our respect for a lot of reasons.”
The players saw the same things their head coach did, echoing that Toledo will be a formidable opponent when they take the field at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday.
“My first impression is that they play hard,” Quarterman said. “They came from behind and ended up doing what they were supposed to do to get the W. In that aspect, I feel like they are a really tough team to play. But they are coming to Miami and we are going to give them a Miami welcome.”