It was one for the ages, and not in a good way. After the lights shut off at Hard Rock Stadium on December 12 following the Canes’ 62-26 shellacking at the hands of UNC, the uncertainty about the future of the roster and the direction of the program began to set in. Gone were hopes of a 10-win season and a New Years Six bowl game, either of which would have been tangible proof of significant forward progress from a losing 2019 season.
What remained was a number of players with decisions to make. The NCAA gave an additional year of eligibility to athletes this fall, which opened some opportunities that many did not think possible before. When Miami first landed D’Eriq King a year ago in the portal, we didn’t yet know what we were facing as a nation in 2020. We thought we were getting an electric player for one season, then returning to the reality of having to find the QB of the future in 2021 and beyond.
And, despite an impressive 2020 season from King and having one more year of eligibility, it seemed as though we were very possibly seeing his last days as a Cane. We knew that Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia, a major recruiting victory for Manny Diaz, were waiting in the wings to take over and lead this program under center. But it felt like a knockout punch by UNC that signaled some major changes to come.
The expected moves happened. Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips both opted for the NFL. Given their draft stock, it was absolutely the right move.
But what about the rest of the dominoes? Was the disappointment of a season lost (and lost in such a deflating fashion) enough to persuade some of Miami’s fringe NFL talent to leave?
Then, a big present came one day after Christmas for Canes fans:
The King was back. I didn’t see it happening. No, King is not what you would envision as an NFL QB from the his physical measurements, but you can’t deny that he just makes plays and has a path to an NFL roster in some capacity.
But the first and most important chip fell in the offseason, and you can’t tell me it wasn’t because of the culture that Diaz is installing at UM. Players flee from disasters in today’s college football world. Look at FSU. Rats off a sinking ship. Heck, look at any program in disarray nowadays with the transfer portal at work. Tennessee is falling apart and leaking players. Programs slipping do that.
Not here. And not after King. Following King’s announcement, the Canes took the field in the Cheez It Bowl, where King suffered a torn ACL that will sideline him until the fall. Absolutely horrible, especially for a classy young man like King, who played in the type of game many feel is meaningless (ergo, so many players opting out of non-CFP bowl games), and right after he had committed to returning for another season. Ripped your heart out, and could have been a sign for some players on the fence to step BACK from returning.
Nope. Not these Canes.
Days later, Cam Harris, who had his struggles during the 2020 season, made it official he was coming back. Then, Bubba Bolden, a player who could certainly see his name announced on the NFL Draft tracker, announced he was coming back for another season. Mike Harley, Jr., Miami’s WR1, followed suit. Miami’s big defensive tackle Nesta Silvera announced he was going to help make the crib great for one more season. His linemate Jon Ford also announced his return. Zach McCloud just also announced he will be coming back for a final season with the Canes.
So many players are saying, “I want to be here.” They’re not going into the portal. They’re not grad transferring (those that are eligible). They’re staying home and putting on for their city and their school. This isn’t something we could say in previous years, as moderate, fringe, and long-shot NFL prospects left the Canes at different, head-scratching times. This is big. It means they like what’s going on at UM. It means they believe in what Diaz is building. Heck, I’ve had my doubts about Manny, and I still have some. The explanation about the readiness for the UNC game was confounding.
But, y’all, they’re staying. They’re buying in. These aren’t freshman coming in, not knowing the problems/issues with a program and bouncing after a year or two. No, these are players who have been here, who know the program, the university, the culture, and the coaches. And they want to be here. It may seem simple-minded to some to get so focused on satisfaction with players staying put, but it’s a big step forward for this program.
Congrats to Manny for a great recruiting class, and for his key upperclassmen staying for one more season. Here’s to continued improvement in 2021. Go Canes.