CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) A surprise was awaiting Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya after practice Thursday. He got tapped into the Iron Arrow Honor Society, the highest accolade one can receive from the school.
Finally, there was something for the Hurricanes to celebrate.
Iron Arrow looks for individuals with five qualities - a love of Miami, character, leadership, scholarship and humility. It didn't take long for first-year coach Mark Richt to see that Kaaya had all that, and their understanding of one another has been one of the few bright spots in this topsy-turvy Hurricanes season.
''I truly believe he cares about winning, he cares about his teammates, he cares about trying to do his part to help the team win,'' Richt said. ''I think that's his focus. I don't know what he thinks about in his off moments and things of that nature. but right now, he shows up every day and he's businesslike.''
It's not as easy as it sounds, especially now.
October was one to forget for Kaaya and the Hurricanes, who have lost four straight games to freefall from being as high as No. 10 in the AP Top 25 to unranked and out of contention in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division race. Still needing two wins in the final four ACC games just to become bowl-eligible, Miami (4-4, 1-3) will host Pittsburgh (5-3, 2-2) on Saturday.
Miami hasn't lost five straight in the same season since 1977.
''It's been a series of unfortunate events the last couple years,'' Kaaya said. ''One turn of events leads to another, and it always seems like it's around October-time. I don't know if that's a cursed month for us. I'm not really into good luck or bad luck, but it's been a tough couple Octobers for us. We just can't dwell on that, honestly.''
He and Richt share a philosophy there, and really, that might be one of the reasons why there's still some hope in the Miami locker room.
They've been together for 11 months now, and it's evident during games that Richt and Kaaya interact like no other coach-player combination on the team. After each series, whether it's a three-and-out or a score or anything in between, Kaaya immediately heads to the sideline, connects with Jon Richt - Mark Richt's son and Miami's quarterbacks coach - via headset to talk about every play. He then does a similar rundown with the head coach.
Both have been wildly celebrated at Miami, Kaaya for his climb up the school's record books in every passing category, Richt for being the alum who came home to fix things. Of late, though, they've both faced plenty of scrutiny, especially in the social-media world, which is understandable given that Miami is on a four-game skid.
Richt said he started telling Kaaya right away that the attention - good and bad - would be part of the job.
''It's usually head coach, quarterback. Those two positions get the most attention, the most feedback, good or bad,'' said Richt, who played quarterback at Miami from 1978-82. ''They're positions of leadership and the quarterback position is the one that most fans understand what his job is, at least a little bit. There's anonymity in other positions. For that one, there's just not.''
Kaaya has played through some issues this season, and a lot of hits of late especially. He got a molar busted in the Florida State game; that's since been bonded. He keeps flexing his shoulder during games as well, indicating some issues there - though if it's really hurting, he's not saying.
No matter the system, his numbers have stayed remarkably consistent. His completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating are virtually identical to what he posted a year ago in a system that was less technical than what Richt is using.
While he's being consistent; Miami's offense, not so much. And if the Hurricanes are going to salvage this season, Kaaya knows that must change.
''There's times where we look great, times where we look the exact opposite,'' Kaaya said. ''So just getting consistency in this offense, it's something that needs to be done.''
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