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Build a Perfect Cane: RB Edition

You take bit of Duke, mix it up some Willis, add a pinch of Edge and you get a masterpiece taking the handoff in this edition of ‘Build a Perfect Cane.’

Edgerrin James

It goes without saying that many of us have a Hurricane player in our mind who can do no wrong. A guy who is flawless between the whistles, making you “ooh” and “aww” down-after-down based on his playmaking. This summer, State of the U came up with a series titled ‘Building a Perfect ’Cane’. The premise being that we take a trait from a current or former player to build the ultimate player. Think of it as a Frankenstein, or for the younger generation Deadpool—minus the R-rated humor.

Today’s creation focuses on the running back position. With so much talent from a program that has become known as Running Back U, there are plenty of candidates and attributes to choose from. Perhaps too many… but we’ll do our best to find the best traits of each.


Let’s start with vision. Yes—speed, acceleration and receiving are attributes that you seek out first on Madden. But in real life, vision at the line of scrimmage to see a hole to run through when it hasn’t fully formed yet is integral.

Frank Gore

Before the knee injuries, Gore was touted by teammates as one of the most talented prospects at the position—perhaps since the program came into the existence. Blessed with vision to see blocks develop ahead of him, Gore would read and react off those blocks in a heartbeat for significant gains down the field.


Relax, we’re not going to go into the aesthetics of this body part today. Instead, we’re focusing on the running backs who’ve come through Miami who have showcased their quick feet while waiting for their blocks to develop, then punching through the line of scrimmage to cut/pivot in an instance to change direction. Almost a masterpiece in cleats, if you will.

Duke Johnson

We’re going to give the nod to Duke Johnson in this category. Although Johnson was not known for dancing at the line of scrimmage, once in the open field he was known for breaking ankles—alas, one of the ballers from those old AND 1 mixtapes. Rarely having to gear down to make his cuts, Johnson would not break stride as he would cut into the open field. With a house call often being the end result.

Hands / Receiving

How many times do we have to hear about the importance of running backs being able to catch the ball coming out of the backfield. For some schools it’s a struggle to find just one back each recruiting cycle who can accomplish that task. For the ’Canes, it just comes naturally. From Edgerrin James to James Jackson to Graig Cooper or Mark Walton, there have been plenty of Hurricanes who were threats catching the ball as they were taking a handoff.

Edgerrin James

It wouldn’t be the perfect Hurricanes’ RB without some trait from Edge. Having caught 42 passes in his career for 495 receiving yards and three touchdowns, James was a pioneer of the do-it-all backs that we associate with today’s game. It’s unlikely that James was running the type of routes out of the backfield that we see today, yet his ability to secure the catch, brush off a tackle and gain positive yards in that era of the game should not be understated.


One of the more underappreciated skills for a running back is the ability to keep the feet under them when contact eventually arrives at the doorstep with a thud instead of a light knock. Runners who are able to recover or not suffer any negative steps backwards are able to turn a good run into a rise-out-of-your-seat-and-grab-the-person-next-to-you level of excitement. There have been electric runners through UM’s history, but the threshold of what one would consider the definition of elite balance is few and far between. Normally, RBs who are short in stature, who are closer to the ground, often have a good center of balance. However, the player who we’re going to nominate flips off that trend.

Clinton Portis

Rose Bowl X

We’re giving the nod in this category to the rusher who ran for 2,523 rushing yards, 20 touchdowns and 5.7 yards-per-carry throughout his UM career. The numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t give a clear picture. Bursting through the line of scrimmage with a shimmy here, a cut there, and a wiggle here, Portis would be off-to-the-races. When he was caught by a defender the Gainesville, Florida, native would keep his feet moving to propel the rest of his body forward. Those actions helped shrug off tacklers—or, in the worst-case scenario, resulted in him falling forward to capitalize on gaining the most yards possible.


You have to be wired a bit differently to be a running back. There are going to be few plays in practice where you avoid taking contact. It’s the life of the position and just how the game is. Meaning that RBs have to possess a unique mindset unlike most other players. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah quantifies players as either a ‘Truck’ or a ‘Trailer’. The Truck being players who pull their team together, getting the most of their teammates and opportunities. Trailers, as you can imagine, are those who need to be carried, maybe even coddled a bit to get production out of them. As Hurricanes fans, rest assured that those trailer players have been or will be weeded out of the program. When it comes to running the ball for The U, the school most definitely qualifies as a truck stop.

Alonzo Highsmith

Another one of the pioneers who helped make Miami into RBU, Highsmith was all business from pregame to the final whistle. Of course, one of our fondest memories is the RB being among three teams captains for the coin toss in a game against Oklahoma, exchanging pleasantries with teammates DT Jerome Brown and DE Winston Moss at his side across from the Sooner captains. Highsmith was listed as a fullback, but he ran the ball as well as any running back to come through Coral Gables. Highsmith carried himself as a Hurricane, taking no BS from the competition and never holding back when it came to dishing out venom in their direction. It’s a mindset that until recently was lost—but we’ve got some disciples who must have heeded his lessons.


We’ve come to the final attribute in our creation, speed. There’s just something about South Florida speed that has the whole country trying to find the next burner in the area. Miami has brought in their share of blazers into the program, many of them with a background in track and field. The latest player in this athletic lineage being RB Lorenzo Lingard, who will be a freshman entering the season. So which ’Canes runner was meep-meeping past defenders like the Looney Tunes Road Runner?

Willis McGahee

Mcgahee was given consideration for having the nastiest stiff arm among any Hurricane back, but that speed out of the backfield left you with your mouth agape. A dodged tackler here, a juke there, and it was goodbye Willis as he raced into the endzone. McGahee was reportedly clocked as fast as 4.2 in the 40-yard dash. Suffering tears to his ACL, PCL and MCL after a devastating hit in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl which threatened his football career, McGahee returned to enjoy a productive 10-year career in the NFL.

Miami v Syracuse Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Agree with our selections? Hate them? Wherever you fall on this, let us know what traits you would want to see infused into your perfect Hurricane running back in the comment section.