Big Personalities, Big Performances

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – They have become viral sensations who set social media ablaze with every booming punt and every long field goal.

They were featured on ESPN’s College GameDay by a delighted Pat McAfee who wanted to know as much about them as possible, from their tattoos to the pronunciation of their names.

They have had countless words written about them from the moment they announced their intentions to become Hurricanes, whether those decisions were made in Mandurah, Australia or just across town in a South Florida neighborhood.

But here’s the thing with the Hurricanes’ wildly popular, headline-making specialists: they’re more than just tattoos, confidence and big legs.

They are really, really good at their jobs and the numbers prove it.

Through five games, kicker Jose Borregales is one of just nine kickers nationally still perfect on the year in field goal attempts. He is one of only three kickers to hold that distinction after making at least eight attempts.

Punter Lou Hedley, meanwhile, is averaging 47.6 yards per punt, a number that ranks fifth nationally.

Both have received individual recognition for their performances this season, with Borregales being named the ACC Specialist of the Week after his career performance in Miami’s 47-34 win over Louisville on Sept. 19. Hedley received the same honor on Monday after averaging 51.7 yards per punt and booting a season-long 60-yarder in Miami’s 31-19 win over Pittsburgh last week.

And, after last week’s games, the Hurricanes’ special teams unit was ranked No. 1 nationally in the SP+ Rankings put together by ESPN analyst Bill Connelly. The rankings are an advanced metric designed to measure efficiency in college football.

That Miami is atop that list is most definitely a source of pride for all of the Hurricanes’ specialists and their coaches.

“For us to be ranked No. 1, that’s what we pride ourselves on. It’s not just about the numbers, but the numbers say if you win special teams and you win field position, you have a good opportunity to win football games,” special teams coordinator Jonathan Patke said. “If we can win field position and we can be the best specialists and best special teams unit on the field, that’s 1/3 of the equation. … I think our special teams units understand how important it is that we not only perform well, but really, that we create the momentum in a football game.”

Added Borregales, “Before the season, we said we could be one of the best specialists groups in the nation and we were going to work toward that. We’re still working towards that, no matter what the numbers might say now. We know the season isn’t over yet. We’re still going to come here every day, put in the work, get our routine down and show everybody on the team that we’re not going to let them down.”

But how exactly have Miami’s specialists managed to be as effective as they are?

There’s no doubt experience and talent matter, of course. Borregales arrived at Miami as a graduate transfer after a record-breaking career at FIU. And Hedley was a solid punter at the junior college level who has only improved since joining the Hurricanes.

The two, however, believe something else has helped contribute to their success: chemistry.

Borregales, Hedley and their long snapper Clay James have forged a friendship that, they say, has helped them find success on the field.

Part of it came earlier this year when, faced with the reality of not being able to practice on campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trio got creative in finding any potential location where they could work on their snaps and holds, even if kicking itself wasn’t possible.

There were work sessions at local parks and even in a parking garage. As long as they were able to find a 15-yard space, Borregales, Hedley and James made it work.

“There were a few fields that were open and whatever fields we sussed out that were open and were allowed on, we sort of went on there and did the work, at least 2-3 times a week during that rough period,” said Hedley, who, along with his punting duties has served as Borregales’ holder. “It was hard, not being able to go back to school and be with our team. But that was everywhere around the world, so, we just had to deal with what was happening. It’s worked out well and all the work we put in during quarantine is paying off now. We’re just really confident as a whole, the three of us. Whether it’s me holding the ball for Jose or Clay snapping me the ball on punts, I feel a lot more calmer out there than I did last year.”

Said James, “We had so much free time and we were able to do a lot of things that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. … We really took stretching and taking care of our bodies seriously. We were able to just go to the fields and we’d just chill. We were out there, literally, for hours. If we weren’t snapping and kicking, we’d literally jog up and down the field. It was really great. Jose is really a professional and Lou is as well. They’re both obviously going to have a lot of success in the NFL one day, so I think they brought that mentality and I went with it. I’m really blessed to have both of them because they always want to work and that’s something I’m down for as well.”

Though practices, games and classes have resumed, the trio continues making an effort to spend time together away from the field. James and Hedley are roommates who both work out with the Hurricanes’ early-morning lift group. And there are weekly dinners where James, Hedley and Borregales make it a point to discuss everything but football.

That, they say, only helps when it’s time to discuss on-field matters, like how Borregales prefers to have a ball held before a field goal or how Hedley needs the ball snapped to him before a particular punt.

Egos are shelved when those conversations happen, each specialist determined to do his part to make sure his teammates are successfully able to execute.

“We’re all really mature dudes,” James said. “We’re all very humble and have that mentality that, whatever I can do better to help the next person, I will.”

Their teammates have taken note of their success and have celebrated it with them, the Miami sideline erupting when Borregales’ hit his career-long 57-yard field goal at Louisville and cheering wildly again when Hedley booted a season-long 60-yard punt against Pittsburgh.

“The entire team loves Jose, loves Lou, loves Clay. They love all our specialists and they know how big a momentum change they can bring,” Patke said. “Obviously, [head coach Manny] Diaz and myself, we talk about that weekly, daily. Special teams is about field position and points. We know if we can get a first down, we might already be in field goal range or whatever it might be. … The swag, you might say, of Jose and Lou, the team feeds off that. When Jose points at the sideline after making a 57-yarder, the team loves the competitiveness. When Lou hits a 60-yard punt, the defense is like, ‘Heck, yeah, man.’ They’re confident because of our field position, because of Lou. They all co-exist together.”

As much success as Miami’s specialists have had so far, though, all acknowledge their work is far from finished. The Hurricanes are set to host Virginia this weekend at Hard Rock Stadium and still have matchups with North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina looming on the schedule.

Three of those teams are ranked below No. 11 Miami in the AP Top 25. Points and field position will continue to matter.

Borregales, Hedley and James say they are ready to do their part to help the Hurricanes finish the season strong.

“Every game I go into, I’m not thinking about any streaks or how many kicks I’ve made or whatever. It’s one kick at a time, one punt at a time,” Borregales said. “We just want to do the best we can, be in the moment and that’s what we want to do the rest of the season. Just help the team win a couple games, if we have to. We’re always supporting our offense and our defense and if we have to, we’ll spark them up with a punt or a field goal or Clay running down making a tackle and hyping everyone up. We’re want an ACC Championship and that’s what we’re still aiming for.”

Said Hedley, “When it comes to punting, I hope I stay as least busy as possible. But, we’re going to do our jobs when we get called. We want touchdowns, more than anyone. But whether it’s a field goal or a punt, we’re all going to stay ready and when we’re not in there, we’re going to try and keep the energy on the sideline by pumping up our team.”