Hurricane Elite: Safeties

Usually safeties are the last line of defense. At most programs they're guys that line up deep and prevent the big play. But at Miami this position has been about 'playmakers' that make them. The Hurricanes have been blessed with a bevy of them who were swift, strong, intimidating and instinctual. At Miami, it is 'safety first'.

10 - Kenny Calhoun (81-84): Calhoun was a smart, heady player during the early 80's that was key member of a gritty and relatively unknown defensive squad that was routinely overshadowed by it's more acclaimed offensive counterparts.

Calhoun would register 211 total tackles in his time at Coral Gables along with five career interceptions. And his 92-yard return of a Louisville pass in 1983 ranks sixth all-time at Miami.

But Calhoun will forever be remember for ' 55 Double-Dog Trio'

With Miami clinging to a 31-30 lead in the final seconds of the 1984 Orange Bowl against the mighty Nebraska Cornhuskers, it was Calhoun who saved Miami's first national championship. The 'Huskers would go for two, and as they did, quarterback Turner Gill would roll to his right and see Jeff Smith breaking free into the flat.

As the ball was thrown it looked like Nebraska would be taking a 32-31 lead. But as the ball hung perilously in the air; Calhoun would leap and get his right wrist on the ball. Deflecting it away and wrapping up Miami's heart-stopping upset.

Calhoun will forever be remembered by the Miami faithful for this one play.

9 - James Lewis (98-01): Now, you just knew, that me of all people, would be putting this guy on here. But this guy was a steady and consistent performer throughout his career at Miami whether it was on special teams, as a nickel back or the starting strong safety in 2001.

If that historic '01 secondary- which featured stars like Ed Reed, Phil Buchanon and Mike Rumph- were 'the Beatles', then Lewis played the role of Ringo Starr. Lewis may not have had the ideal size for a strong safety but he was strong in run support and when he laid a hat on you, you were tackled. His 47-yard touchdown jaunt after picking off an Eric Crouch pass in the 2002 Rose Bowl against Nebraska would give Miami a 21-0 lead and basically wrapped up UM's fifth championship.

8 - Bobby Harden (86-89): This guy must've known what it was like to be the backup shooting guard of the Chicago Bulls in the same era he was in Coral Gables.

But when he finally got out of the shadows of the magnificent Bennie Blades and the rest of 'the Jets', Harden proved to be a pretty good player in his own right. Harden was a fierce tackler who wasn't afraid of a collision.

He would lead the '88 squad with four interceptions, three coming on national TV against BYU on ESPN. In his two years starting at Miami in '88 and '89, the Hurricanes compiled a mark of 23-1 with Harden anchoring the secondary.

7 - Selwyn Brown (84-87): The best way to describe Brown is 'blue collar' and 'hard nosed'. Brown was adept at coming up and providing solid run support as a three year starter as one of the key members of the fabled 'Bennie and the Jets' secondary.

In 1985, Brown was selected A.P. All-South Independent and honorable All-American. His 100-yard interception return against Boston College for a touchdown that year remains a school record. He would also add 12 tackles and caused a fumble to earn Sports Illustrated, UPI and AP Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Where Brown was most effective was against ground-orientated teams that ran the option. Against Oklahoma in 1986 he would register 11 tackles.

6 - CJ Richardson (91-94): Richardson didn't have great straight ahead speed, but nobody hit as consistently hard as Richardson.

But Richardson's biggest play came as a pass defender. In the 1994 showdown against FSU, Miami was down 14-7 with the Noles driving for another apparent touchdown. But just as FSU was about to take complete control of the game, Richardson would step in front of a Danny Kanell pass deep in Miami territory and take it all the way down near the Seminole endzone. That play forever changed the momentum in Miami's 34-20 win.

It was plays like that which earned the Texas All-American honors, a semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award and All-Big East. The 1994 Miami defense ranked number one in pass defense and had a streak of 18 consecutive quarters without giving up a touchdown.

5 - Fred Marion (78-81): Everyone talks about the tradition of Miami safeties, this is the guy that started it all. But because he didn't play on any of the championship teams that followed his departure, he is often forgotten about. But remember this, without players like Marion setting the foundation, UM football never gets off the ground.

Marion was a first-team All-American in 1981 and he still holds the record for most assists by a safety with 152. His 16 picks, by the time he moved onto the NFL, was a UM record.

4 - Daryl Williams (89-91): For my money, Williams is the most underrated of all the marquee Miami safeties. Williams, was a smooth, sleek, elegant playmaker who could cover the length of the field and still lay people out.

In 1991, his play was absolutely stellar, picking off three passes (including the game saver against Penn St.) and leading all the defensive backs with 84 stops. Against FSU in 'Wide Right I' he had 18 tackles, an amazing total for a linebacker, much less a free safety.

Afterwords, he would make himself eligible for the NFL draft, getting selected in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

3 - Sean Taylor (2001-2003): One of the best pure athletes to ever put on the orange and green. Literally, this guy could have been a standout at any of the skill positions and perhaps even tight end or linebacker. That's the type of physical specimen Taylor was.

Finished '03 with ten picks, and his two INT's against the Noles, which included his weaving-through-all-of-Tallahasee-touchdown romp, is one of the greatest individual performances in Miami history. He singlehandedly destroyed the Noles passing attack on that wet and rainy afternoon at Doak Campbell. Along with the passes he intercepted, he also registered a quarterback sack and one-and-a-half tackles for losses.

Along with that effort he would help shut down Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald with two more picks at Heinz Field. In his two years as a starter, he compiled 14 picks. The three interceptions that he housed in '03 is a seasonal record at Miami.

That he didn't win the Thorpe Award is perhaps the worst decision since Julio Cesar Chavez was given a gift draw against Pernell Whitaker. They wuz both robbed!

For his efforts though, he was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and ESPN The Magazine's top player at mid-season.

The scary thing is that he did most of this with a banged up shoulder.

2 - Ed Reed (98-01): Was there ever a better leader than Ed Reed? Was there ever a headier and more cerebral player than this young man out of St. Rose, Louisiana? Who can forget the scene inside the lockeroom at Doak Campbell at halftime of the 2001 game versus FSU?

"I'M HURT DAWG!!!! DON'T ASK ME HOW I'M DOING!!! JOAQUIN SAID DOMINATE, AND WE AIN'T DOMINATIN'!!!," screamed Reed at his teammates, just before the Canes went out for the second half with a 21-13 lead. Spurred on by their team leader, Miami would indeed dominate the second half on their way to a 49-27 win. Reed would back up his own words with two second half interceptions of Chris Rix.

That, epitomizes the impact of Ed Reed. Words, backed up loudly by actions.

Reed was a key player in the Cane renaissance- as he was a four year starter- who after a minor sophomore slump in 1999, became a dominant force. In both 2000 and 2001, he was a consensus first team All-American, then the Big East Defensive Player of the Year his senior year. He was also a finalist for the Thorpe Award.

Listed at 5'10, 195 pounds, Reed was not a prototype, but he was the ultimate playmaker. His 21 interceptions ranks first all-time at Miami. But what speaks volumes is what he did with those swipes. His five career TD's off interceptions ranks first, as do his 389 total return yards. Overall, he helped lead to 106 points throughout his tenure as a Hurricane with turnovers that he caused.

Now, that's a playmaker.

1 - Bennie Blades (84-87): Just what type of athlete was Horatio Bennie Blades? He was invited to the 1984 Olympic Trials in the 400 meters as a high-schooler at Piper High in Ft. Lauderdale. By the time he left Miami in '87, along with Kenny Easley, he was perhaps the most decorated safety in the history of the college game.

Blades was a consensus All-American in both '86 and '87. And his senior year was capped off by sharing the Thorpe Award with Oklahoma's Ricky Dixon. Blades was a physical specimen with sprinters speed. But it was really his temperament that set him apart. He was an intimidator, plain and simple. He would smack you in face and let you know all about it. What sets him apart by a slight margin over Reed and Taylor was his consistency in tackling. His 286 career tackles ranks first among all defensive backs at Miami.

His 19 interceptions ranks second behind Reed and his ten INT's led the nation in '86. And was there ever a better moniker than 'Bennie and the Jets'?

Jimmy Johnson thought so highly of him that he said that Blades was," The best player at his position that I have ever coached."

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

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