Continuing with State of the U’s countdown series, we’re now 75 days away from game day. Today we focus on Hurricane players who wore number 75. Dealing with a such a high number means that we’ll be highlighting players on the line of scrimmage.
Vince Wilfork was the first name that came up when we thought of past Hurricanes who donned the number. In fact, we had a difficult time finding another UM player who wore number 75 and had an impact on each team for which they played. Is it ambitious to put Wilfork on the same pedestal as Howie Long, Deacon Jones, and “Mean” Joe Greene when it comes to all-time greats who wore the number in the sport? Possibly. However, Wilfork’s impact, whether in college or in the NFL (where he anchored the middle of the defense for the New England Patriots for a decade) cannot be denied.
Wilfork played in Miami’s defensive line rotation before he became a starter in his sophomore season. For many fans, it is difficult to judge Wilfork’s resume, given that he didn’t put together the same numbers that a defensive end would with sacks or that a DT would with tackles for loss. However, Wilfork has won a championship at about every level of the game, from a national championship with the greatest college football team assembled to the Super Bowl (twice).
While Wilfork is best known for his portly size and ability to handle double teams efficiently, we shouldn’t forget just how athletic he is. If you watched Hard Knocks, you’ve probably seen his game on the basketball court. Wilfork was a multiple-sport athlete in his days at Santaluces High School. He was highly regarded as a discus thrower and shot putter, winning the Florida Class 4A State Championship in both events. Wilfork’s track and field career continued at UM; he held the indoor shot put record for Miami until it was broken in 2013.
While Wilfork is currently undecided on whether to return for another season, his mainstream appeal has increased due to his good-natured personality, which he’s shown off through his love of ribs and tailgating with Larry Culpepper. Wilfork has become the spokesperson for many brands in the twilight of his career.
Some players that wore the number after Wilfork are: DL Chaz Washington, OL Jared Wheeler, and a handful of offensive linemen. Well before Wilfork, OL Damond Neely, OL Candido Cerda, and Jason Owens were members of the 75 club.
John O’Neil was unsure if he would get a scholarship to a Division I school after tearing his knee in his senior year of high school. A letter from head coach Howard Schnellenberger offering O’Neil, a native of South Florida, a football scholarship to the University of Miami is what ultimately led him to become a Hurricane. Going on to be a starter at right tackle, O’Neil would be a contributing member along the offensive line, blocking for star quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde and Steve Walsh. He was a member of the 1987 national championship team that went 12–0 in the regular season, culminating in a Orange Bowl victory against Oklahoma (20–14) to secure the school’s second national championship.
For the 2017 season, freshman offensive lineman Zalon’tae Hillery will don number 75. The six-foot-six, 287 pound Glynn Academy alumnus enrolled at UM this past May. He will look to see his first action of collegiate football when camp opens this summer.
The 1975 Season
In 1975, when the school was still an independent, the Miami Hurricanes played under first-year head coach Carl Selmer. The Hurricanes finished the season with a 2–8 record.
The 75th Season
The situation was much better for the Miami Hurricanes during their 75th season in 2001. As part of the Big East conference, the Hurricanes went undefeated during the regular season. The greatest college football team ever assembled went on to win the national championship over Nebraska 37–14 in the Rose Bowl.