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The top 5 players that could have been stars at Miami

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Although Miami has had several great players this decade, multiple players have slipped through the cracks

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Since Al Golden took over as Miami’s head coach in 2010, several star players rose to the surface despite mediocre records.

NFL players such as Duke Johnson Jr. and Denzel Perryman represented “The U” well on the field; but despite the fact that many stars graduated as ‘Canes, a host of others slipped through the cracks, and never reached the potential Miami fans envisioned on signing day.

Although many talented players have left Miami’s program over several generations, below are the top 5 players since 2011.

5.) Alex Figueroa

Fig practice

Nicknamed “Figatron” while in Coral Gables, Alex Figueroa seemed to be a man amongst boys. The linebacker played one full season in a University of Miami uniform, and totaled five tackles in his first career game as a ‘Cane. During his freshman campaign, Figueroa had limited playing time due to veteran linebackers such as Jimmy Gaines V attaining large roles, but by the end of the year, Figueroa was ready to become a household name.

Going into his sophomore season, Figueroa was a projected starter at Miami. Figueroa had a great spring going into 2014, and many believed he was going to break out due to little depth at the linebacker position alongside Denzel Perryman.

But as everything seemed to be moving in the right direction for Figueroa, it all ended with a 6 word headline.

Figueroa was dismissed alongside fellow linebacker JaWand Blue after being charged with sexual battery, and the 6’3” linebacker ended up transferring to Garden City community college in Kansas.

In the aftermath of his dismissal, “Figs” did not hesitate to bash Miami, and made his hatred for the ‘Canes clear in an expletive-filled video put on social media.

4.) Derrick Griffin

At 6’6” 228 lbs, Derrick Griffin was a late add to Miami’s 2013 recruiting class, and was ranked as Miami’s top recruit on ESPN with a #33 overall player ranking.

Griffin could do everything coming out of high school, and boasted a two-sport athlete resume tailor-made for a superstar tight end. Griffin was a U.S. Army All-American, and entered Miami at a time where fans expected him to pair up alongside Clive Walford for a lethal combination.

Griffin had David Njoku type potential, but he could never officially become a Hurricane. Griffin did not have the ACT scores out of high school to enroll at Miami, and despite working hard to become eligible through outlets such as a prep school, the tight end never stepped onto the field as a ‘Cane.

In 2015, Griffin enrolled at Texas Southern University, and played both basketball and football. Griffin has gotten into several off the field incidents since, and was suspended from the football team for all of 2016 on Tuesday.

3.) Gionni Paul

Out of the five players listed on these rankings, Gionni Paul achieved the most after he left the Miami football program.

After Paul and Miami agreed to “mutually part ways” after 2 years in Coral Gables, Paul made an impact at The University of Utah. As a senior with the Utes, Paul earned All-Pac 12 first team honors, and led the team in tackles to go along with the second most fumble recoveries in the nation. Paul was simply a beast during his senior year at Utah, and wreaked havoc with his 5’10” 225 lb frame.

Paul showed flashes of that potential during his time as a ‘Cane, and had the majority of his success in Coral Gables during his sophomore year. Paul made 7 starts at outside linebacker that season, and finished third on the team with 61 total tackles. The versatile run stopper even earned ACC linebacker of the week honors after a 14 tackle performance at Virginia, and had 9 tackles in one of Miami’s biggest games against Notre Dame.

No major scandals such as criminal charges resulted in Paul’s departure from the program; but after a stout career at Utah, Miami fans could only wonder how well he would have fared next to star linebacker Denzel Perryman.

2.) Al-Quadin Muhammad

Muhammad’s departure still rings fresh in Miami fans’ minds, with the first three games of 2016 now in the rear view mirror. Unlike the other players on this list, Muhammad was at Miami for three seasons. Alongside Derrick Griffin and Stacy Coley, “Quan” Muhammad ranked at the top of Miami’s recruiting class in 2013 post-national signing day.

As a freshman, Muhammad was brought in mainly as an energy player in various defensive packages, and recorded two sacks by the year’s conclusion. The pass rusher had large expectations after his development as a freshman, but going into his sophomore season, Muhammad’s off the field issues began to meet the public eye.

The 6’3” defensive lineman was suspended for all of 2014 after an altercation with a former student, and was not enrolled in classes during that time period either.

In 2015, Muhammed returned to lead the ‘Canes in tackles for loss and sacks, but with Miami’s defensive scheme lacking aggression, fans were still waiting for Muhammad’s superstar potential to arrive.

The hype surrounding Muhammad reached an all-time high this offseason under new defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, and he believed it was time to take his place among the nation’s great pass rushers.

Just weeks before the season began; however, Muhammad was dismissed from the program due to his involvement in the highly-publicized luxury car rental case. Muhammed has since transferred to Hampton University, where he hopes to keep his career alive.

1.) Eddie Johnson

Eddie Johnson’s play making ability was never more evident than in the play below.

It was 4th down and 1, with the game on the line, tied at 36 in overtime. After a back and forth showdown against the yellow jackets, Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson decided to roll the dice, and attempt a fourth down conversion. It was a play Miami saw earlier in the game, and situation in which a normal tackle where the running back pushes forward for a yard would not suffice.

It was in that moment that Eddie Johnson made what might have been the defensive play of the year for Miami, which helped the ‘Canes pull off a conference victory.

The play happened in a flash and Eddie Johnson’s laid a hit so menacing, ‘Canes fans could not help but wonder what the future held for 6’1” redshirt freshman. Johnson was named to the cbssports.com All-Freshman team during his first year as a starter, and finished second in ACC Defensive rookie of the year voting.

Johnson stepped up in the season’s largest moments, including a seven tackle, two-forced fumble performance in a pivotal ACC matchup against NC State.

Whether it was because of his aggression or passion, Miami fans were enamored with Johnson in 2012. But the outside linebacker could not stay out of trouble off the field; Johnson was suspended for two of his final three games in 2012, and ended up signing a letter of intent to play at Hinds Community College in Jackson, Mississippi, 9 months later. After several games at Hinds, Johnson fell off the map, and his whereabouts today are difficult to track; a steep decline for someone who came into Coral Gables with so much potential.

  • Side Note: Jermaine Grace is not listed due to all he accomplished at Miami. Although Grace had much to prove his senior year, ‘Canes fans saw a lot from him over his first three years.