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''It Motivated Me More Than Ever''

''It Motivated Me More Than Ever''

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – It was as frustrating a stretch as Xavier Restrepo could remember.

Sidelined by a foot injury that kept him from playing in five games last season, the receiver tried to stay as connected to the game as best he could, injury and all.

He communicated with teammates and tried to provide encouragement as the Hurricanes navigated through some tough losses. He studied film and learned new ways to better read defenses. And he vowed that once he got back on the field, he’d make every moment count.

“It affected me a lot. It made me realize and cherish every moment I get to step on the field, even in practice,” Restrepo recalled. “I never took a moment for granted, but it killed me to see my team suffer like that [last season] and me not be there to help them. It hurt a lot, but it motivated me more than ever.”

Though Restrepo returned to action for the last five games of the 2022 season, that motivation still drives him a year later.

It carried him through offseason workouts, pushed him through spring practice and was fuel during more than a few sweltering sessions on Greentree during preseason camp.

And most importantly, his teammates and coaches say, that motivation helped Restrepo continue to find his voice as one of the leaders in the Hurricanes locker room.

“X has always had a voice. It’s just been a matter of his play kind of coming up to that. Last year he was hurt, and in his second year here, he was behind [former Hurricanes receiver] Mike Harley,” said Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. “Now that he’s an older guy and his play has [grown], a lot more people listen, and he has that voice in the team.”

No one would know better than Van Dyke just how much Restrepo’s game has grown.

The two arrived at Miami in 2020 and wasted little time becoming fast friends.

The quarterback and receiver – roommates during their first three years as Hurricanes – often spent time working together at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility and on Greentree’s practice fields. There would often be brutally honest conversations on how each could improve and this season, the duo has become an invaluable weapon for the Hurricanes’ offense.

Restrepo has emerged as one of Van Dyke’s most reliable targets through Miami’s first six games, hauling in a team-high 47 catches for a team-high 574 yards. He’s caught four of Van Dyke’s 16 touchdown passes and his efforts on punt returns have helped Restrepo become Miami’s leader in all-purpose yards to boot.

“I think the main thing is that he’s consistently consistent. You know what you’re going to get from him,” said Hurricanes receivers coach Kevin Beard of Restrepo. “I constantly explain to the guys that everybody wants to play in the NFL and in the NFL, they’re going to pay you a lot of money to be consistent. They want to know on every play, based off the play call, are you going to be where the drawing tells you to be? Where the quarterback knows you’re going to be? And that’s what makes it easy for TVD to find him like he does. Because he can trust that [Restrepo’s] going to be there and when he gets there, he’s going to make the play when the ball comes his way.”

Said Miami All-American safety Kam Kinchens, who often finds himself defending Restrepo in practice, “He’s one of those guys that’s just the perfect example of not being the biggest, not the strongest, not the fastest, but just a football player, a dog. And he makes sure he brings that energy to everybody else on the team. On the field, you can’t go against anybody better. He’s one of those guys that’s going to manipulate you and bring the best out of you. He’s going to go after you and then he’s going to talk to you and make sure he’s on you to help you get better.”

For Restrepo, emerging as one of the Hurricanes’ leaders on and off the field has been a years-long process the receiver says began long before he arrived in Coral Gables.

Understanding as a high schooler he didn’t have a prototypical receiver’s build, Restrepo pushed himself to work as hard as possible, as often possible.

It’s a work ethic he says was instilled in him by his parents, Ashley Padgett and Jaime Restrepo, one he hopes is an example for his younger siblings, Dominic and Milani, and one that helped him garner attention from schools like Georgia, Boston College, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers, and Texas, among others, despite his 5-foot-10 frame.

Now, he hopes it helps him not only continue to find success at Miami but will one day, give him the opportunity to make another lifelong dream a reality.

“My dad always tells me, ‘Leave them one less excuse on why not to draft you,’ and that’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid,” Restrepo said. “I’m undersized and stuff like that. Not the fastest guy on the field but working hard will never lead you wrong. … When I’m tired at practice, I look over on the sidelines, see my little brother staring at me, and I snap out of it. I go from tired to having full oxygen, full breath in my lungs. I’m blessed enough to have all my limbs working. So, just to see them on the sideline – my little sister Milani, my mom and dad, they worked so hard as young parents. I need them to never have to work again. … It’s just the little things and I’m super blessed for all of it.”

"It’s about being able to contribute to the team as much as I can. That’s always a good feeling."

Hurricanes receiver Xavier Restrepo

With six conference games still looming on the schedule – including a Saturday night showdown at Hard Rock Stadium against traditional ACC powerhouse Clemson – the hope is that Restrepo will continue building on the success he’s had to start the year.

The fourth-year junior has already topped the 120-yard mark in three of Miami’s six games and his average of 7.8 catches per game ranks fifth in the nation among FBS receivers. And with his 123-yard performance against Georgia Tech earlier this month, Restrepo topped the 1,000-yard mark for his career.

Impressive all around, but the receiver wants more – for his team.

“Honestly, the individual performances have not meant the most to me. It’s the team’s success that’s really meant the most to me,” Restrepo said. “It’s about being able to contribute to the team as much as I can. That’s always a good feeling. … Anything anybody asks from me, I’m going to give my hundred percent effort and do my best to lead the way.”