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An Open Letter to Miami’s Juniors

Why Almost All Juniors Should Return for Their Senior Season

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 24 Camping World Kickoff - Florida v Miami Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It is almost that time of year when underclassman unwittingly declare for the NFL Draft in hoards. At Miami, players leaving early has become something of an annual tradition. The decision to leave campus is one that can never be undone and it is my hope that student athletes understand this. At Miami, players can come back to finish their degree at any time, but many who leave will never play in another meaningful football game. The decision to leave not only puts an end to a player’s collegiate career, but also to their adolescence: from the moment they leave campus, they will be on their own for better or worse.

To Be a Key Player on a Good CFB Team is a Once in a Lifetime Experience

Playing college football is an honor, privilege and something truly special and unlike any other sport. With the exception of the Final Four, where else do 50,000+ rabid fans from all walks of life come out in droves to watch 18-23 year-old young men compete in a what is in essence both a game and spectacle?

Football and CFB in particular, is a sport with unrivaled passion, tradition, and intensity, which are the reasons why it is so special. By a player’s third or fourth year in college they are finally primed to leave an indelible mark at a level they worked their entire lives to be able to compete in: what is the great rush to leave before one’s time is up? Allen Hurns, Chad Thomas, Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Braxton Berrios, Corn Elder, and Leonard Hankerson are examples of guys who did not shine until they were upperclassman, yet all played (or are currently playing) in the NFL after graduation. Because they played four full years in college, they were poised to make the most of their professional opportunity, but only once they had completed their collegiate careers.

With the exception of a few transcendent talents like Sean Taylor, Vince Wilfork, and Calais Campbell, there is no reason to rush to the NFL—it will be there next year. Why rush to the next chapter of life when there is still so much to be accomplished in this one? Whether an athlete leaves this year or next, football will one day end, and according to data, sooner than most think. The average NFL career is only 3.3 years. And that is if one makes the NFL at all, which depends largely on being drafted or signed by the right team and staying healthy! Compounding matters, almost 80% of NFL players “go broke” within three years of retirement, according to ESPN.

College Is More Than a Stepping Stone to Future Earnings

A college education and community can last a lifetime if taken seriously. Another year of college allows for continued growth resulting in a more mature individual, so that if blessed with an opportunity to play in the NFL, that individual will make the most of it, rather than squander what could become generational wealth (if cultivated and cared for wisely). The proper strategy for most, but not all high profile collegiate athletes, is to focus on education and becoming a competent and responsible person. Playing a collegiate sport a high level undoubtedly will foster this personal growth, which is another reason to consider staying an additional year.

If a guaranteed first round draft pick, it is prudent to declare pro and the Miami faithful will wish players who meet this criteria well as well as applaud their time spent at Miami. On Miami’s current roster, only Greg Rousseau looks to fit this category after the 2020 or 2021 season.

Data Suggests Many Underclassman Hurt Themselves By Declaring Early

It must be noted that almost 30% of underclassman that declared for the 2019 NFL Draft went undrafted, including Venzell Boulware from Miami. It is often stated by agents and certain Miami “fans” that the sooner a player gets to his second contract, the better because it will provide more pay than a player’s rookie contract. The problem with this line of thinking is less than half of players, of those that are even drafted, are likely to ever sniff anything beyond their rookie contract.

Football, at the professional level in particular is a brutal sport: Miami’s Frank Gore is the exception, not the rule. Because of this, it is wise to maximize one’s earning potential by being drafted as high as possible! In addition to earning many millions more in signing bonuses, incentives, and even guarantees, players selected in the first three rounds are disproportionately likely to make the team’s roster and be kept around for multiple seasons, even if they aren’t any good! An NFL Franchise has a vested interest in their top selection’s success and will bend over backwards to foster their development. While late round picks can sometimes excel, it is asinine to argue that returning to school to continue a prospect’s development and growth, both on the field and off, would not behoove him economically, as well as personally.

Those Who Do Not Know History Are…

Doomed to repeat it, as the maxim goes. In recent years, the Miami Hurricanes have unfortunately been the poster child for what not to do. Just last year, Venzell Boulware inexplicably declared pro after a mediocre season and went undrafted, failing to even sign with an NFL team. Joseph Jackson, who was one of the best defensive ends Miami has had since the glory years with 35.5 tackles for loss and 23 sacks in three seasons at Miami, declared early and was drafted in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys. By comparison, Jonathan Garvin—who many think will leave Miami after the season—only has 24.5 TFLs and 10.5 sacks respectively. Travis Homer, Miami’s running back from 2017-18 who declared early, was drafted in the sixth round by the Seattle Seahawks and does not have a carry on the season.

After 2017, Miami lost Kendrick Norton, RJ McIntosh, and Mark Walton to the NFL Draft. Norton, who was a seventh round selection, tragically suffered a career-ending, non-football related injury before ever playing an NFL down, while McIntosh has 10 tackles and 1 sack in his career thus far. Mark Walton seems to have found a home for the interim with the floundering Miami Dolphins and has 235 rushing yards in two seasons thus far. It is understandable for a running back like Walton to go pro (he was drafted in the fourth round), as it is well-known running backs do not last long in the NFL.

It is Not Just About You

After 2016, Brad Kaaya decided to declare for the NFL Draft just when he and Mark Richt were hitting their collective stride, finishing 2016 with 5 straight wins and Miami’s first bowl win since 2006. Kaaya was picked in the sixth round and has never played a down in a regular season NFL game. Despite Malik Rosier’s ability to run the ball, Miami would have been a much better team in 2017 with an elite passing threat like Kaaya at the helm. With all of the hype and fanfare Miami received in 2017, it is likely Kaaya would have been drafted higher than the sixth round and consequently stuck around the League for a longer time, earning millions of dollars in the process.

Joe Yearby also left the team after the 2016 season in what was one of the most confounding decisions of all time: Yearby, who wasn’t even the team’s starting running back in 2016, declared pro and unsurprisingly never made it. In our boastful culture, it is not surprising that collegiate athletes almost always overestimate their ability—it is human nature to do so. Nonetheless had Yearby stayed, he would have been the featured running back after Mark Walton’s injury during 2017 on a team that started 10-0 and rose to #2 in the CFP Rankings, and garnered all sports of attention in the process.

The darker side of the departures of guys who clearly had no business leaving early is that it hurts the Miami program immeasurably. Solely because of Gerald Willis, Miami was able to avert feeling the impact of the departure of Norton and McIntosh in 2018, but it most certainly felt the departure of Kaaya during the 2017 season, as FSU, GT, UNC, Pitt, and Clemson all but stymied Miami’s anemic offense (yes Mark Richt deserves some blame too for his “30 year old” plays).

A program invests so much capital into each and every player in order to nurture their talents on the field—and mold them into respectable and responsible human beings off—that to depart in your prime when you are most needed borders on selfishness, especially in cases where there is a good chance of going undrafted. It is one thing for a running back projected in the first few rounds to turn pro, it is quite another for a rotational offensive lineman to do so. Of all the Miami players that have turned pro early since 2016 (9), only David Njoku was drafted before the third day!

A realistic recognition of one’s ability is of paramount significance, but I would argue that player’s should err on the side of caution: there are NO do-overs! If injury is a concern, consider many Miami players had catastrophic injuries in college and had great NFL careers including runningbacks Willis McGahee and Frank Gore (tore two ACLs in college). McGahee and Gore, both of whom left early for good cause, were transcendent talents who were justified in leaving early. Still, Gore spent four years at Miami before turning pro—and he will most likely be an NFL Hall of Famer (if he ever retires).

The case could be made Joe Jackson, who played three full years, was ready to go pro and I would concur. I would begurdgingly accept the declaration of Travis Homer, Mark Walton, and even RJ McIntosh, but others had no business turning pro like Joe Yearby, Brad Kaaya, Kendrick Norton, and Venzell Boulware. While I love DeeJay Dallas as a player, he looks to be a prototypical NFL RB and should probably head to the NFL after the season: as the truest of Canes over his tenure, he has earned that opportunity by pouring his heart and soul into the Miami program. Jeff Thomas and Jonathan Garvin should most certainly return for another year to continue their development as both would be likely to be day 3 selections at best.

Manny Diaz Must Restore Pride in the Program

I must ask: would Miami have returned to national prominence in 2000 if senior leaders Damione Lewis, Dan Morgan, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, and James Jackson did not return for their fourth and final season? Would Miami have waltzed to the 2001 NC if Ed Reed and Bryant McKinnie did not return? If the aforementioned legends and other surefire first round picks like Antrel Rolle, DJ Williams, Jon Vilma, William Joseph, and Jerome McDougle can return for their senior year, the current crop of Hurricanes can too.

Guys who stay their entire four years and give their all for the program are always welcomed home, while it is much harder to welcome back deserters. I assure you, Sean Spence would receive far greater applause if he were to come home than Tommy Streeter, despite both being Hurricanes that came to Miami from the same high school.

The bottom line is Miami needs its juniors as much as they will need their Miami education after their playing days are over. Since arrival on campus, Miami has been cultivating the physical and non-physical gifts of its fledgling players in the hope that they would flourish during their upperclassman years. A team of underclassmen without veteran leadership will seldom win anything of consequence, no matter how talented they may be. With a roster full of true Canes like Jaquan Johnson, Shaq Quarterman, and Michael Pinckney, Miami will much sooner return to prominence. Manny Diaz must convince our juniors to return for one more year or else we will never have the depth necessary to compete with the CFB elite!