The University of Miami has been the landing place of many top-rated prep players over the past four decades. Dating back to the late 70’s, Miami has done well in recruiting. Legendary ‘Canes coach Howard Schnellenberger put up the fence around The State of Miami and signed players like Lester Williams, Melvin Bratton, Alonzo Highsmith, and Jerome Brown- the cornerstone pieces of the Decade of Dominance.
Since Schnellenberger and the 1983 national championship team, Miami has brought in a number of highly regarded players. Names like Nate Webster, D.J. Williams, Ryan Clement, Darren Krein and Dwayne Johnson were big names in the world of prep football, too.
But while Miami has signed many top-rated future stars, The U has also thrived on the lesser known players to keep the program running. From Russell Maryland going from one Division I offer to 1st overall NFL Draft pick; to a gawky kid from California, named Ken Dorsey, who turned into a national championship quarterback, to unsung heroes like Carlos Huerta and our unlikely foursome in this piece.
Sure, the folklore of The U has been built around big name players and personalities but it’s really built upon the ground of next man up! For over a decade players lived in fear that if they sat out even an hour of practice they would lose their starting job forever. That was how intense the Greentree Practice Field battles were.
Take a deep dive into four underdogs that made Miami history when it was least expected.
Jack Fernandez, Linebacker
Backup linebacker Jack Fernandez played for the University of Miami from 1980-1983 but never really saw any playing time outside of special teams. That was until the 1984 Orange Bowl and number one Nebraska came to Miami, FL. When starting linebacker Ken Sisk went down with a knee injury against the Cornhuskers, Fernandez was called into action. Sometimes players wait four years to finally start their senior season, Fernandez’s wait lasted until his final game in orange and green.
In reserve for the injured Sisk, Fernandez logged 15 tackles, 10 unassisted, and a big time interception of Turner Gil in the 1st quarter to became the Orange Bowl Most Valuable Player. Fernandez was the ‘Canes first national championship game MVP, but he wouldn’t be the last, nor the last backup to come to stardom in the big game.
Bernard “Tiger” Clark, Linebacker
Another backup linebacker waiting for the call, Bernard “Tiger” Clark was merely a young sophomore for Miami when his number was called. Clark played at Miami from 1986-1989, winning two national championships at The U. Clark’s big break didn’t come by injury, but by suspension. George Mira Jr. was suspended for the 1988 Orange Bowl and Clark got the call from Dave Wannstedt on Christmas even telling Tiger, “Get ready to play.”
Clark took over the game with 12 tackles, a fumble recovery and a sack against the top-rated Oklahoma Sooners. Like Fernandez before him, Clark won the Orange Bowl MVP in a 20-14 victory for Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes. Clark went on to start for Miami in 1988 and 1989, winning the ‘89 national championship as a team leader and starting linebacker.
Larry Jones, Running Back
Larry Jones was a highly regarded running back out of Gainesville, FL. But after a devastating knee injury during his senior year of high school he arrived in Coral Gables, FL out of shape. He was so out of shape that the ‘Canes equipment staff gave Jones the jersey no. 51, assuming he was an offensive lineman. Jones cut weight and worked his way onto the scout team during his freshman season.
Another unlikely hero, Jones was Miami’s four string running back headed into the Orange Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in January of 1992. But with Stephen McGuire and Donnell Bennett out injured, and Melvin Patton suspended, Jones got the call. Larry Jones proceeded to rush for 144 yards on 30 carries on his way to the Orange Bowl MVP award.
Jones played for the Hurricanes from 1991-1994, alternating starting roles with McGuire, Bennett, and James Stewart over his tenure in the Miami backfield.
Joaquin Gonzalez, Offensive Tackle
Of all of the underdog stories, Joaquin Gonzalez’s wasn’t an overnight sensation, nor did he win the MVP of the Orange Bowl. Gonzalez came to Miami as an undersized walk-on from Columbus High School in Miami. After a redshirt season in 1997, Gonzalez proceeded to start for four seasons from 1998-2001 and was a big part of the resurgence of the Miami Hurricanes.
Gonzalez came to Miami after passing on an academic scholarship to Harvard. He became the epitome of a Butch Davis guy: hard working, academically strong, and a leader on and off the field. Gonzalez worked his way from little known walk-on to two-time All American in the 2000 and 2001 seasons, alongside left tackle Bryant McKinnie.
Gonzalez was part of the 2001 offensive line that allowed Ken Dorsey to stay off of his back, and paved the way for 1,000 yard rushers in 1998, 2000, and 2001. While Gonzalez didn’t walk away with the bowl game MVP award, he is still considered one of the most important pieces to the ‘Canes 2001 championship season.
The Miami Hurricanes built their legacy on next man up and that’s never been more evident than in the Orange Bowl Classics of 1984, 1988, 1992 and Gonzlaez’s run in the Orange Bowl Stadium from 1997-2001. Which of these stories are you favorite?
Which of these underdog stories is your favorite?
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