Seniors Looking To Go Out On Top

Other than a chance at bragging rights for the next nine months there will be little else at stake for the players involved when the University of Miami Hurricanes meet up with the Florida State Seminoles in the FedEx Orange Bowl Jan.1 at Pro Player Stadium. The nation's No. 1 ranking won't go to the winner. Scratch the national championship celebration in the middle of the field after the game.

Just some handshakes from both sides, the presentation of the trophy to the winner and some post-game interviews before the lights will go off. But in no way does that mean that the 21 or more UM players participating in their final collegiate game will just be playing out the season. Although it might be difficult getting up for a game that won't have any barring on which team wins the national title many of the Hurricanes seniors would like nothing more than to go out with a victory.

And it's hard to blame them because many of the same seniors who will waving goodbye to UM after the conclusion of the bowl game entered the program during a down period and will be remembered fondly around Coral Gables no matter what happens against the Seminoles on New Year's Day. Ten of the members from the Hurricanes graduating class were part of a 9-4 season in 1999. But since 2000 the entire senior class has helped put together a 45-4 record which includes a national championship, four Big East titles, four Bowl Championship Series bowl appearance and four straight victories over the Seminoles.

One of those players is senior safety Maurice Sikes, who has been with the Hurricanes the last four years. And he doesn't intend on walking off the field wearing orange and green for the final time as a loser.

"Nobody wants to go out a loser and to beat Florida State would be a nice way to finish up my career here," said Sikes. "I've been part of so many things at the University of Miami, but beating the Seminoles one more time would be icing on the cake."

Sikes, a fifth-year senior who signed with the Hurricanes in 1999, could also be part of school history as the Hurricanes have a chance to eclipse the school's record for wins during a four-year span (45-3, 1986-89) with another victory. But Sikes might have some motivation of his own. The 5-11, 206-pounder missed Miami's 22-14 victory against Florida State earlier this season with a sprained knee.

"A lot of people are saying that we didn't want this game, but I didn't get Florida State this year so I'm anxious to face them," said Sikes, who finished the regular season seventh on the team with 46 tackles. "I have some unfinished business to take care of."

UM senior linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the team-leader in tackles this season with 118, doesn't hide his feelings about wanting to play Ohio State instead of Florida State. It was the Buckeyes who defeated the Hurricanes 31-24 in last January's national championship Fiesta Bowl. But Vilma, like Sikes, isn't complaining about seeing the Seminoles again.

"If we have to play anybody again I rather it be FSU," said Vilma. "It's a great rivalry and I'm sure the guys will be up for the game."

There was some disappointment when the match-up was originally announced because both teams will face each other next Labor Day to open the season. But the Hurricanes have spent all but four weeks in the top-10 since 2000 and a victory next Thursday would prolong that streak a little longer.

"We're accustomed to winning around here and that's the way we plan on going out," said UM senior tailback Jarrett Payton. "If you can't get up for this game you shouldn't even be on the field."


The 'Patch Beach Bash, a pre-Orange Bowl pep rally featuring UM players and coaches, will be held Wednesday, Dec. 31 from noon to 8 p.m. in Hollywood. The event will include appearances by UM cheerleaders, the Sunsations and Sebastian the Ibis.

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