With the Hurricanes practicing in preparation for the 2017 season, only a short 26 days away, State of the U will look at the best players to don 26 as a member of the team.
The conversation around 26 begins and ends with the most beloved Hurricane, Sean Taylor. The pride of Gulliver Prep, Taylor was a featured running back, free safety, and wide receiver for the Raiders. He rushed for 1,300 yards with 44 touchdowns during the 2000 season, helping Gulliver Prep to win the Florida Class 2A State Championship. Whether carrying the rock or playing as the last line of defense, Taylor looked to make the most of his opportunities with the ball. And if you were unfortunate enough to run a deep route in front of him, a prayer would be sent your way, because you were going to be decleated.
Rated as one of the best prospects in the state of Florida, Taylor chose to attend the University of Miami. Joining an established team such as the Miami Hurricanes is one thing; joining an established group such as the 2001 team puts the experience on another level. Walking into Miami’s defensive back meeting room and sitting next to upperclassmen such as Mike Rumph, Ed Reed and Phillip Buchanon— who set high expectations for themselves and the team—Taylor must have felt immense pressure not to let those guys down. “Iron sharpens iron,” is a fitting mantra for Miami, especially for Sean Taylor in his freshman season. While Taylor did not start, he was worked into nickel and dime packages and given a role on special teams. When Sean Taylor, an immense talent, plays in sub-packages, it’s easy to see why the 2001 team is regarded as the best team to play college football.
As a sophomore, Taylor continued to improve. With Ed Reed moving on to the NFL, Taylor took over the starting duties at free safety, traveling all over the field that season. He made 85 tackles (third-most on the team). His four interceptions and 15 pass break-ups were the most by any Hurricane in 2002. With the ball in his hands, Taylor made the most of his chances, piling up 122 yards after interceptions. Whether on defense or special teams, he was a problem for every opponent. Taylor capped the season by being named an All-Big East member.
As most people will attest, complacency was not in Taylor’s vocabulary. In his 2003 junior season, he took his game to another level, setting a school record by returning three interceptions for touchdowns in a season. Taylor ended the season with ten interceptions, placing him in a tie with Bennie Blades for the most interceptions in a single season. Taylor went on to win the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award, be named a consensus All-American, and get selected as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the best defensive back in collegiate football.
After spending three seasons at the University of Miami, Taylor was already ranked second all-time in UM history (306 interception return yards and 3 interceptions returned for touchdown), behind only Ed Reed (389 interception return yards and 4 interceptions returned for touchdowns). After excelling in every season he played, Taylor decided to forgo his senior year and declare for the 2004 NFL Draft. Taylor left UM ranked fifth in program history with 14 career interceptions, which includes UM’s second-longest interception streak at four games.
In a record-setting first round that witnessed the selection of six Hurricanes, Taylor did not have to wait long to hear his name called. The Washington Redskins chose the six-foot-three, 220-pound missile as the fifth overall pick. In the four seasons that Taylor played, he quickly gained a reputation for the amount of field he was able to cover, his anticipation of where the quarterback wanted to go with the ball, and his determination to separate ball from receiver whenever possible.
Tragically, the world was robbed in 2007 when Sean Taylor was tragically taken from the earth at the age of 24. Taylor meant so much to many people. He was a son, a father, a teammate, a brother, a legend, and a Hurricane. His legacy lives on in the Miami community; in 2015 he was inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame by his father Pedro “Pete” Taylor.
Jenkins was the latest Hurricane to don number 26. He attended St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut Academy. Manning the free safety position, Jenkins established himself as a hard hitter and playmaker in the secondary. He appeared in 49 games, 33 of which he was a starter at free safety. His collegiate career was in jeopardy after he missed a season due to a back ailment that subsequently needed surgery. However, he was able to return in the 2016 season, and he became a senior leader on defense for Miami. Jenkins was selected in the fourth round (113) of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Chargers.
A coveted safety out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School (after transferring from Stranahan High School), Anthony Reddick was tasked with the unenviable job of being the guy to follow the extraordinary Ed Reed and the aforementioned Sean Taylor. Reddick started six games at free safety and played in eleven games that season. He was named Defensive Rookie of the Year, sharing the honor with linebacker Romeo Davis. After establishing himself as a freshman, Reddick looked to build on that foundation in 2005 as the starting strong safety. However, his season crumbled as soon as it began. In the opening game against FSU, Reddick went down with a torn ACL. The injury required surgery, forcing Reddick to take a medical redshirt and end his season. He was not the same following the injury, playing primarily on special teams his redshirt sophomore year. Lightning struck twice, as Reddick suffered another ACL injury that cost him his junior season. Reddick had a pretty good career in the CFL with the BC Lions, where he won the Grey Cup in 2011.
Aravious “Ray-Ray” Armstrong
Born in Sanford, Florida, Aravious “Ray-Ray” Armstrong played at Seminole High School as a Seminole. Better known to Hurricanes fans for his play at safety, Armstrong moonlighted as a quarterback in high school. He helped to lead Seminole past Miami Northwestern in the 2008 FHSAA Class 6A State Championship in a season where he passed for 1,400 yards and rushed for 1,144 yards, with 22 touchdowns on the ground.. The former USA Today High School American played in 10 games for the Hurricanes his freshman season. Armstrong broke out as a sophomore during the 2010 season, winning a starting spot at safety, tallying 66 tackles, nabbing a team-leading 3 interceptions, and returning one of those picks for a touchdown. The stats were good enough to earn him a spot as an All-ACC second team member.
The remainder of Armstrong’s career in Coral Gables was rocky. He was suspended for his role in the Nevin Shapiro fiasco. Armstrong’s tweets about relationships with personnel ranging from player agents and player relations representatives earned him suspensions and numerous warnings. The levy broke in Armstrong’s senior year when he was dismissed from the team. Not long after his dismissal, there was buzz that he intended to sue the University of Miami and the NCAA; however, he retracted the idea shortly after declaring his intention to transfer to Faulkner University. Armstrong was ruled ineligible to play for Faulkner based on his dismissal from Miami, ultimately ending his collegiate career.
Armstrong went undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft. He signed with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent prospect. He converted from safety to a linebacker, using his speed and coverage ability against the spread looks that are currently popular in the NFL. Armstrong later played for the Oakland Raiders and is currently a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
Number 26 will forever be synonymous with Sean Taylor. Retiring a number is one of the highest honors a player can receive. While Taylor has already been enshrined in the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame, I still wonder if 26 should be retired from the Miami Hurricanes. No, Taylor was not the first or last player to wear it, but he was the absolute best to do so.
What do you think: Should the Miami Hurricanes retire number 26?
Should the Hurricanes retire No. 26?
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