“He’s a great man. He teaches us to be a man. That’s one of the best coaches I’ve had in my life."- Dee Wiggins on wide receivers coach Rob Likens
Hometown Trio Set for Big 2020
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Mark Pope remembers the feeling.
Heading into his junior year at Miami Southridge High School, he knew his team had a chance to be special. While he may not have predicted the school’s first state championship in more than 20 years, he knew the 2016 Spartans had a chance to be great.
Less than two weeks before Miami’s home opener against UAB, Pope feels a distinct sense of familiarity with the 2020 Hurricanes.
“The same feeling I had that year, I got the same feeling now,” Pope said. “History repeats itself, that’s what I believe. I’m feeling confident, and very excited for this season to go on. I’m ready. Definitely ready.”
Pope, who will undoubtedly play a significant role in the Hurricanes offense, said he feels more comfortable than ever before as he heads into his junior year.
Part of it is the new offensive system in place, with coordinator Rhett Lashlee running a similar up-tempo style that Pope took advantage of in high school. Some of it revolves around his relationship with new wide receivers coach Rob Likens, who he called a “perfect coach.”
But it might just be the familiarity in the Hurricanes locker room that will push him over the top.
The day he signed with the Hurricanes in his high school ceremony, longtime friends and teammates Dee Wiggins and DJ Scaife were sitting at the same table.
Now, the trio – who has shared the locker room in Coral Gables for the last two years – are expected to be among Miami’s most important contributors on a team with big aspirations.
“It’s like what Sheldrick Redwine and Jaquan Johnson had, but there’s three of us,” Pope said. “We’ve all known each other, played together in Pop Warner and we’re still together. This is like a brotherhood. All of us treat each other like brothers – like we’ve got the same blood. It should be fun with all three of us on the field a lot this year.”
Scaife, a two-year starter and Offensive MVP of the 2019 Hurricanes, transferred to Southridge for his final year of high school after starring at Miami Killian. But he said his familiarity with Pope and Wiggins has been a big part of his success at The U.
“Not many guys can say that they came in with a couple of their brothers from high school,” Scaife said. “I treat both of them like my brothers, really. Off the field, we stay tight. That’s all it really is – stay tight, since my senior year when I went to Southridge. We’ve stayed tight since.”
“Being around both of them is fun,” he said. “You never miss a day without having fun with both of them. Coming from high school to college, it’s been the same feeling. I can trust them. They’re like brothers to me.”
Wiggins said he has known Scaife, who lives “around the corner” from him, since he was born. Pope grew up about five minutes down the road from Wiggins’ mother’s house.
“What made the signing day was so special was it was a ‘dream come true kind of thing,’” Wiggins said. “I grew up with these guys. It’s rare that you get to go to college with guys you grew up with. It’s a blessing from God.”
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 314 pounds, Scaife said his friendship with Wiggins date back to their time as teammates in the Richmond Giants’ 70-pound division.
A lot has changed since – but not Wiggins.
“Some days you’re not going to feel well,” Scaife said. “He just gives you the energy. He says, ‘Alright, let’s get it.’ He’s a motivator, really.”
The sense of familiarity is not limited to just teammates; director of recruiting David Cooney served as offensive coordinator on the 2016 team that won the championship. Cooney called the 70-yard touchdown pass that Pope hauled in to put his team ahead.
“It’s perfect,” Pope said. “Cooney is one person I trust a lot. Cooney makes sure I’m on top of everything and making sure everything is going well, with me and with everyone. I give all my trust to him.”
While Scaife has been a mainstay in the Hurricanes’ offense for the last two years, Pope and Wiggins struggled to find consistent playing time as true freshmen in 2018; Wiggins finished with seven catches, and Pope had just one.
In 2019, however, the duo started to showcase the abilities that earned them the reputation as the most dynamic wide receiver duo in Dade County as seniors. Wiggins finished with 335 yards and four touchdowns, while Pope had 266 yards and two touchdowns.
The only two Miami wide receivers with 50-yard plays to their names in 2019? You guessed it.
“It goes back to learning. It goes back to details, knowing what I have to do on the field. If you don’t know what you’re doing on the field, you can’t play fast,” Wiggins said. “Once you play fast, you can’t be stopped. That goes for everybody.”
The trio will be part of a unit playing as fast as anyone else in college football this year, if Lashlee’s resume is any indication. A year ago, Lashlee’s SMU offense ranked No. 3 nationally in plays per game at 80.9.
“I’m comfortable because we get to get more plays in, and it gives us more chances to score. It gives us on the outside opportunities to get a chance to get the ball in our hands – I just love it,” Wiggins said. “It goes back to the Southridge offense – that was fast-tempo, but not as fast as this.”
Scaife thinks the system is perfect for the Hurricanes, who have a group of athletic offensive linemen. He said he grew a bond with offensive line coach Garin Justice during the four spring practices.
“I love the tempo because it can wear a guy out,” Scaife said. “On the first play, everyone is going to go hard. On the 12th play of a 12-play drive…some guys can’t go that long. I know I can. When I see the defensive linemen tired, I know it gives me more energy.”
Pope said he feels comfortable with the system, which brought him back to his days as a Dade County superstar.
“I’m feeling comfortable,” Pope said. “I’m confident, knowing my assignments and playing fast. I’m very excited. The offense has been great for me so far.”
Similar to Scaife’s bond with Justice, both Pope and Wiggins emphasized Likens’ role in their development and high expectations for the season.
“He’s like another Cooney to me,” Pope said. “I can trust him with anything. I can talk to him about anything – not just about football, but about life. Everything has been great with him so far.”
Wiggins echoed Pope’s sentiments and elaborated on Likens’ coaching style.
“He’s a great man. He teaches us to be a man. That’s one of the best coaches I’ve had in my life. He’s very hard on us – that’s what it takes for us to be great and not average,” Wiggins said. “He’s really a mentor. I’m learning a lot from him. Not just football-wise, but in life and about my future, and not just about football, but being a man.
“I love Coach Likens.”
When asked about his expectations for the season, Wiggins can’t help but smile. The usually verbose junior is poignant with his thoughts on 2020.
“I’m very excited. All I have to say is: we have a lot to prove. We’re going to show it on the field.”