Miami football might be synonymous with swagger, but after losing three of five games to close the 2004 regular season, the Hurricanes were in need of a morale boost. The receivers got their's one afternoon in April, when position coach Curtis Johnson invited former Miami wideouts Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss, now NFL starters, to lead practice. After running some drills, says Johnson, "Reggie and Santana sat them down and said, 'It's time for you guys to go out and reach your potential, because you guys are a lot more talented than we were.'"
Miami coaches agree that this year's crop of receivers, especially junior Ryan Moore, sophomore Lance Leggett, senior Sinorice Moss (Santana's brother) and junior Darnell Jenkins, might be the program's most productive in years. That will be key for the offense, which has new starters at quarterback (sophomore Kyle Wright) and tailback (junior Tyrone Moss, no relation). "The Miami offense has been fortunate in recent seasons by having a young unit in one position balanced by experience in another," says coach Larry Coker. "Our receivers have had to mature real quick."
None more so than Moore. When injuries to others forced him into a starter's role in 2003, he became the first freshman to lead Miami in receiving yards since Wayne in 1997. But in the '04 opener against Florida State, he dropped several passes, costing him his starting job for one game, and against Houston on Sept. 23 he sprained his right foot, missing six more games. "It was a blow," says Moore, "but being on the sideline can't help but improve your knowledge of the game."
That was evident this spring, when Moore, a slippery, ultraprecise route runner, "started to take over," says Johnson. Now Moore has praise for his fellow receivers, whose varying styles will give opposing secondaries fits. The 6'3" Leggett, who broke his right foot in a March practice but should be ready for September, "can [reach back and get the ball] even when he's two steps beyond everybody," Moore says. "Sinorice is even faster than his brother. And Darnell is a hustle guy who just wears out cornerbacks."
To capitalize on these talents, the Hurricanes will occasionally go three- and four-wide with their receivers this season. "[The coaches] are putting the ball in our hands," says Moore, "which only increases our confidence."
Noting the return of 10 defensive starters and the development of Wright at quarterback, Coker says he's more confident in the team than some prognosticators. "We don't see this as a transitional year," he says. "We can be as good as anybody." --K.K.
2004 RECORD 9--3 (5--3, T3 in ACC)
FINAL AP RANK 11 RETURNING STARTERS 15
KEY RETURNEES (2004 stats)
RB Tyrone Moss (Jr.) 956 career yards, 11 TDs in backup duty
WR Sinorice Moss (Sr.) 15 of 20 catches went for 10-plus yards
WR Lance Leggett (Soph.) Averaged team-high 20.5 yards per catch
CB-WR Devin Hester (Jr.) Standout on offense, defense, special teams
Consecutive wins for the Hurricanes when they scored 30 or more points. The last such loss was 31--30 to Notre Dame in 1988.
Devin Hester proved his worth at cornerback last year, but the 5'11", 185-pound junior is most valuable as a return man. Timed in 4.33 seconds in the 40, he ran back three punts and one kickoff for TDs and ranked sixth in the country in punt-return average (17.2 yards). Against Louisville he had 184 return yards, including a 78-yard punt return that sparked Miami to a 41--38 victory.
Sept. 5 at Florida State
17 at Clemson
Oct. 1 SOUTH FLORIDA
15 at Temple
22 GEORGIA TECH
29 NORTH CAROLINA
Nov. 5 at Virginia Tech
17 at Wake Forest