Hurricane Elite: RB

For a long time the Miami football program was defined by it's quarterbacks and it's string of marquee signal callers. But while the Hurricanes have had a state of the art passing game for years, they've also exhibited the ability to run the ball effectively in the years they have won big.

Throughout the years Miami has had a vast collection of runners who have gained yardage in a variety of ways. Some were darters, others slashers, a few were power backs and a couple guys had sprinters speed. Regardless of their different styles, Miami has had guys that could carry the load on the ground.

10 - Leonard Conley (87-90): Lil' Leonard was short in stature, but he had the heart and toughness of a heavyweight champion. From his first year in 1987 through 1990, Conley was a key contributor on squads that won two national championships and went 44-4 in his time at Coral Gables.

Conley, whose 1,892 rushing yards ranks eighth all-time was an elusive runner with a great spin move. He was especially effective on draws and was a dangerous weapon on fake punts. His 529 yards on the ground would lead the '89 national title squad.

9 - Danyell Ferguson (92-96): Ferguson was a highly touted recruit out of nearby Columbus High and after a heated recruiting battle with Notre Dame, Ferguson would sign on with the Canes in 1992.

The early part of his career with Dennis Erickson were frustrating. While he would show flashes of brilliance, he would also be stuck in a system that didn't truly showcase his abilities and he was also hampered by nagging injuries.

With the arrival of Butch Davis in 1995, Ferguson would begin the consistent run of 1,000-yard rushers under running back coach Don Soldinger. Ferguson was a quick runner with enough burst to take it the distance when he had a crease. In '95 he would rush for 1,069 yards-becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher at UM since the great Ottis Anderson in 1978.

Unfortunately, that year would be his apex, he would be entangled in the infamous 'Limogate' scandal the next off-season and his career would end in West Virginia the following year with a career-ending hip injury.

8 - Albert Bentley (82-83): There have been a number of productive walk-on's in Miami's storied history, none though may have embodied the pioneering spirit of the 80's Canes quite like this guy.

Bentley was a well-rounded back, who formed a productive 1-2 combo with Keith Griffin in the early 80's. His 722 yards on the ground would lead the '83 Cinderella squad. His 7-yard touchdown scamper in the 84 Orange Bowl against Nebraska, would be the deciding points in Miami's 31-30 win over the 'Huskers.

In Gary Stevens' system, running backs had to do more than just carry the ball, they also had to be able to block and catch the ball out of the backfield, something that Bentley was proficient at.

7 - Warren Williams (84-87): In the 80's, Williams was like Jan Brady, the quintessential middle child, overshadowed by his siblings. Everyone seemed to focus on the duo of Melvin Bratton and Alonzo Highsmith, while forgetting about the hard-running Williams.

Williams, was not as flashy as Bratton, nor did he have the physical prowess of Highsmith, but Williams was a blue-collar, lunch pail runner who could get the tough yards consistently.

Williams would lead the Canes in rushing in both '85 and '87.

6 - James Jackson (96-00): Speaking of being overlooked, Jackson is often forgotten about when people talk about the recent of run of Miami runners, sandwiched in-between Edgerrin James and Clint Portis.

But JJ is UM's third all-time leading ground gainer with 2,953 yards. His 11, 100-yard games and his 32 career touchdowns also put him in the top three in those categories.

Early in his career he was a dangerous change-of-pace back to James, by the time he left he was a durable back capable of carry the rock 20-25 times a game, who could move the chains consistently.

It's too bad his heroic performance against Penn St. in 1999 is overshadowed by Chafie Fields' heroics. I can still see Jackson following Richard Mercier around the corner on his way to the endzone on that wet, rainy, September afternoon.

5 - Stephen McGuire (89-92): Truly a Brooklyn bruiser, McGuire is perhaps forgotten about because of a severe knee injury suffered against Boston College in 1991-kept him out of the NFL- but can you name me a better clutch runner than McGuire?

As a freshman in 89, he would come on strong in the second half of the season to set the UM freshman rushing mark. In the showdown against Notre Dame he would gain 83 tough yards on 21 carries, including a touchdown late in the first half that put UM up for good, 17-10, in what ended up being a 27-10 Miami conquest. For his efforts, McGuire would make the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But where McGuire really thrived was against the Noles. In '90 he would gash FSU for 176 yards in a 31-22 win. But it was in the fabled 'Wide Right I' where McGuire proved to be the ultimate 'Nole killer' Down 16-7 late in the game, it was McGuire and his hard running that led Miami down the field twice for a 17-16 lead.

Does anyone remember McGuire making Leon Fowler bounce of him like it was a video game during that game winning drive? And did you see his helmet that day? The mixture of garnet and gold on his headgear should tell you just how hard he was running that afternoon in Tallahassee. As legendary announcer Keith Jackson would say, "He was paint swappin.'"

He was never the same after his knee injury in Chestnut Hill, but that shouldn't overshadow what he accomplished during his time as a Hurricane. His 35 career touchdowns is tops at Miami. But it's when he got them, which is important.

4 - Melvin Bratton (84-87): Now here's a guy that could have played in any era and under any system of Miami football. Bratton was more than just a running back, he was a complete and consummate football player. He could run, block and catch with power, speed and finesse.

And more importantly he had the knack of playing big in big games- even in losing causes. Just pop in a tape of the '84 Thanksgiving weekend classic against Boston College- making sure of course you stop the tape right before the last play- and you'll see the #5 was perhaps the best player on the Orange Bowl field that day with his four touchdowns. His 52-yard, east-west-north-south, touchdown run is one of the most spectacular you'll ever see. Then there was the pair of touchdowns he scored in Gainesville in '86 from 24 and 20 yards out that led Miami to a 23-15 win over the hated Gators.

It was his 49-yard catch-and-run down the seam from Steve Walsh for a touchdown in the '87 classic at Doak Campbell that spearheaded the great comeback win at FSU.

His last game as a Hurricane was a mixture of euphoria and tragedy.

In the 1988 Orange Bowl Classic, it was his nine catches for 102 yards (which included a 30-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring) that led Miami to a 20-14 win and another championship. But late in the game he would suffer a severe knee injury that effectively ruined his career as a professional.

But it was a great career in Miami.

3 - Willis McGahee (01-02): Quite simply, in 2002, this guy put on the single greatest individual season in Miami history. Look at the numbers: 1,753 yards on the ground, 168 total points, 2,108 total yards, 10 100 yard games and 28 touchdowns- those are all seasonal marks. And they don't even really tell you the full story.

McGahee, is as impressive a physical specimen as you'll see. Put simply, he was the prototype: size, speed, durability, toughness and heart, he had it all in abundance. When Frank Gore went down in the spring of that year, some were worried about the Miami rushing attack. While McGahee had great physical talent, some wondered if he could do it under live fire. He answered those questions emphatically.

Starting with a strong game at Florida, he just continued to flourish. But what was impressive was his knack of bailing his team out in tough situations. It was his 201 total yards, which included a 48-yard draw right before the half and a 77-yard screen pass, against Boston College that broke open a close game. Then his 69-yard touchdown jaunt late in the second quarter against Pitt would pull the Canes even at 14-14 against Pitt, in a closely contested 28-21 win. And did the Orange Bowl ever rock louder than when McGahee was sprinting down the field against FSU after catching a short screen in the fourth quarter, which set up Miami's game winning TD?

He would cap that regular season with a six touchdown performance against Virginia Tech- that should have been seven if not for one of the worst play calls in this program's history.

But in a scene that is eerily familiar to the Miami faithful, McGahee would suffer a ghastly knee injury against Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Without the heart-and-soul of their offense, Miami would eventually lose in double-OT.

It's rare that a player get a ranking this high based on a single year, but what a year it was.

2 - Clint Portis (99-01): Can you believe that message board talk after the 1999 season centered on moving Portis to cornerback and his lack of breakaway speed? Score one for the coaching staff that kept him at running back.

Portis wasn't the fastest or the biggest, but he had that special intangible that the great one's have. He is the very definition of 'playmaker'. All he does is make plays over and over again. Portis has uncanny vision, balance and an ability to make people miss. When scouts talk of guys with 'wiggle', they're talking about Portis.

He had all this with the confidence and cockiness of Muhammad Ali.

Coming in as a true freshman, he would lead Miami with 839 yards rushing, which was a freshman record. Then after being hampered by a broken foot during the 2000 season, he could come of the bench late in 2001 Sugar Bowl and delivered some big runs against the Gators- who wanted him as a defensive back. But his biggest impact came in that season's only loss to Washington. Anyone else think that if Portis- who had six carries for 91 yards and one catch for 59- would have been used more by Butch Davis, that Miami goes undefeated?

In the 2001 championship season, Portis led the Canes with 1,200 yards. But what really stands out is his key runs late in tight games against BC and Virginia Tech that sealed UM wins. Mariano Rivera or Eric Gagne couldn't have closed any better.

1 - Edgerrin James (96-99): I still say that if UCLA could have just tackled James a little bit that Miami makes a run at the national crown in 1999. But instead, his 299 yards and three touchdowns on the ground against the top-ranked Bruins, would catapult the Canes to a 49-45 upset win and signal the Canes return to national prominence but also sent James to the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining.

He is one of the most important recruits in the Butch Davis era. As a late signee before the 1996 season, he would quickly display his all-around talent as a true freshman and in the subsequent two years, he would become the only runner in Miami history to have back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. And he was adept as any back at picking up the blitz.

His 2,960 rushing yards ranks second behind Ottis Anderson, his 3,590 all-purpose yards ranks third and his 14, 100-yard games, ties him for first at UM.

There have been plenty of great backs that have come through 'the U' but James is my choice for one simple reason: Regardless of the era, irrespective of whoever the coach was or what system Miami was running, which running back would you choose?

It says here, Edgerrin James.

Honorable Mention: Keith Griffin, James Stewart, Frank Gore, Larry Jones, Mark Rush

Steve Kim is a regular contributor to Canestime and runs his own website at MaxBoxing.com. For questions or comments, he can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com

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