A three-star safety from Niceville High School, the former wide receiver and defensive back displayed a knack for making plays on the ball whenever he was in the vicinity. Despite that potential, safety Romeo Finley received sparse reps in his first two seasons at the University of Miami. A majority of his underclassmen years were spent working on special teams. All told, Finley tallied 14 tackles and a pass breakup entering his junior season. Entering the 2017 off-season, it was obvious something had to change.
Eager to earn some more playing time, Finley found himself leaving his role as a safety before the 2018 season. Then-defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had decided to create a new position on the Hurricanes’ defense. The creation of the striker position provided Finley the opportunity he needed to showcase his vast abilities as a defender — a role that would bounce from covering a slot receiver on one snap to playing downhill against the run the following down.
Miami’s 2018 training camp was a learning experience as he became immersed in the intricacies of the striker position. “When I first started the position, if I didn’t know what I was doing, I would just think of what I did at safety and it’s kinda like the opposite so that helped me out a lot,” he explained in camp. After putting in the sweat equity to get a firm grasp on the position, Finley held onto the starting role in an off-season-long position battle with Derrick Smith. Finley possessed all the necessary traits and beyond to become an integral team member, as Miami supporters would witness during his junior year.
That eagerness to prove himself on the field carried over from practices to games. With the viral popularity of spread formations on offense, the striker’s versatility to drop back in coverage, play the run or rush the passer was a valuable addition to UM’s defensive success. Finley was part of a season-long rotation with LB Zach McCLoud, with the former subbing off the latter as an answer on passing downs. With each snap, No. 30 displayed an impressive arsenal of talent that benefited the Canes during the 2018 season.
The Fort Walton Beach native quickly proved to be one of the Hurricanes’ surest tacklers, haunting ball carriers anytime he was on the field. Being a reliable tackler surely impressed Coach Diaz, who prioritizes those with the trait. What put Finley on the radar of programs across the country as well as pro scouts was his versatility. In a game against Virginia Tech, Romeo was lined up near the A-gap, appearing to be coming on a blitz. After the ball was snapped, he darted out of the gap to cover the running back who had taken off out of the backfield on a route to the open flat. Exhibiting the acceleration to close ground on the back, Finley wrapped up the RB to prevent a completion on third down.
Lining up close to the line of scrimmage, alongside linebackers and as deep as a safety, Finley provided UM’s defense with plenty of options. Possessing the range to play close to the action yet still drop back in coverage has drawn favorable comparison to former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro S Troy Polamalu. But is it their hair or play styles that are the most alike? Finley still needs to do some work to catch up to the future hall of famer, though. That talent and hunger to improve himself and those around him led to Romeo achieving career highs in virtually every category. Finley finished 2018 with 28 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, four pass breakups, two interceptions, an INT TD and a forced fumble. It’s perplexing how Finley was left off every All-ACC team following that season. A small consolation was State of the U naming Finley our Most Improved Player. “I was [brought] into this new position and it was year three and I just wanted to play so I learned it, and I excelled,” he said to summarize this off-season.
After faltering down the stretch to a 7-6 record, Finley knows that his game needs to continue to evolve if the program wants their fortunes to turn around. With a season’s worth of film available, opponents will key in on any vulnerability they can find in his senior year. However, the Canes continues to evolve.
What's to Come in 2019
The striker position now a fixture under new DC Blake Baker and the defensive playmaker is considered part of the starter unit for the Hurricanes. Aware that 2019 will be his final lap around the track, Finley described his preparation for the season, saying “I’m just trying to build on and get better. It’s the last go ‘round for me and four or five seniors. So we’re just trying to do what we’re going to do, bring everybody with us and be the best that we can be.”
Romeo Finley was an all-around defender at safety for the Canes last season! pic.twitter.com/kG0DRQFQFo— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 21, 2019
This year isn’t just about Finley improving his own game. He will also serve as a mentor for up-and-comers such as Gilbert Frierson and Colvin Alford. He can also be a sounding board for Zach McCloud who now is designated as a striker after playing linebacker his first three seasons. Winning now is imperative, but passing along hard-earned knowledge that will benefit the Canes for future generations is key to sustained success.
Finley’s production has grabbed the attention of many. From opponents to scouts, No. 30 finds himself a topic of conversation. It’s easy to imagine that he will drive more conversations next spring, with his film both at safety and working close to the line of scrimmage. His focus is on improving his flexibility in hopes it will help increase his maximum speed. A faster Romeo Finley would be a terror for Miami’s opponents this season.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!