Hurricane Elite: OL

There's an old football proverb that says, 'It all starts up front,' which means you can have all the speed and skill in the world, but unless you can push people around in the trenches, your team isn't going anywhere.

For the past quarter-century everyone knows Miami has been blessed with skilled quarterbacks, elusive running backs, and swift receivers, but without solid protection from the offensive line, it would all be for naught.

You can have all the flash and dash outside, but you gotta have the 'big uglies' to make it all work.

10 - Brett Romberg (99-02): There was never a more quotable Hurricane than this Canadian who flourished when he settled in at center in 2000. Romberg would make 37 consecutive starts as a Hurricane - a stretch in which UM would go 35-2.

Romberg, had a body that would best be described as 'squatty,' but he made up for it with grit and toughness. Larry Coker would say about Romberg, "I don't know that I've coached a tougher player." Romberg was the glue to an offensive front in 2001 that was the foundation to Miami's fifth national championship. That unit is widely considered one of the best of all time in college football history.

In addition to being a consensus All-American in 2002, he would win the Rimington Award for being the nation's best center.

9 - Vernon Carey (00-03): Carey was one of the most highly-touted recruits of the Butch Davis era. Coming out of Miami Northwestern, Carey came in with every single accolade you could think of as a high schooler.

But it took a while before Carey started making a real impact as a Cane. But when he finally got his weight under control, he became a force. After serving as a valuable backup to that great offensive line of 2001, Carey emerged in 2002 with 42 pancake blocks and was voted the most valuable lineman in games against Florida, FSU, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. His stout blocking led the way for Willis McGahee's extraordinary season, where he set the single-season mark for rushing at Miami.

Big Vern had a strong lower body that allowed him to not just hold his ground but to bull defenders on their heels. What also stood out with Carey was his ability to play either guard or tackle on either side.

8 - Martin Bibla (98-01): While the bookend tackles of Joaquin Gonzalez and Bryant McKinnie got most of the accolades and Romberg got all the headlines for his zany quotes, it was Bibla who may have been the most consistent and steadiest of that historic 2001 unit.

It was all just part of the yeoman's work Bibla did as a three-year starter at Miami. It just seemed like all you had to do was let Bibla play and you never had to worry about him. Bibla had explosive lower-body strength and played with a good burst.

To finish out his career at Miami, Bibla was named All-Big East and was named second team All-American by ABC Sports and third team by the AP.

7 - Matt Patchan (84-87): It seems that Miami has had a host of linemen come out of Pennsylvania, which would be appropriate since offensive line coach and Mr. Hurricane himself, Art Kehoe is from that area. Patchan came out of Pittsburgh and helped build that strong pipeline.

Patchan had great strength, benching 475 pounds and squatting nearly 600. While he battled nagging injuries throughout his tenure at Miami, he was a productive and reliable run blocker at right tackle.

6 - Richard Mercier (95-99): Most young mogul skiers don't grow up to be dominant division I offensive linemen but that's precisely what Mercier became. Mercier is the guy who started the strong run of Hurri-Canadians that have come from up north to provide UM with strong play in the interior line.

Mercier did not have great size, but he had an abundance of athletic ability. This is a guy who Vince Lombardi would have loved, with his ability to pull and get to the second level. I can still see him leading James Jackson downfield against Penn St. in 1999.

By his senior year he was a consensus All-American and had been named All-Big East twice.

5 - Mike Sullivan (87-90): Y'know, you just gotta love a guy who came from deep in the heart of Notre Dame country (Chicago, Illinois), was a Catholic, who lived to stick it to the Irish as much as Sullivan did.

Sullivan in many ways was the quintessential Tony Wise-coached Hurricane lineman of the late 80's. While not imposing physically, Sullivan was a smart, heady player who had quick feet and who always found a way to open up holes or protect the quarterback.

What really stands out about Sullivan was his versatility and his durability. Sullivan could literally play any position on the line at a moment's notice and his 48 career starts is tops in Miami history.

With Sullivan anchoring things up front, Miami would win two national titles during his stay at Coral Gables, never finishing lower than third in the final polls.

4 - Greg Rakoczy (83-86): Older generations of Cane fans will always think of the great Jim Otto when talking about great centers in Hurricane history and the newer ones will mention either KC Jones or Romberg. But 'Racks' has to be in any discussion regarding the best snappers Miami's ever had.

Rakoczy was a dominant collegiate center who often graded out around 90 percent by the coaches. This native of New Jersey was blessed with foot speed and lateral movement that was uncommon for his position.

Rakoczy was voted UM's Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1986 and was a Playboy All-American in 1987.

3 - KC Jones (93-96): In the dark era of lineman for Hurricane football, Jones was the one shining light for Miami in the mid-90's. While it seemed he was constantly surrounded by behemoths that moved like glaciers - and blocked like mannequins - Jones was like the Rock of Gibraltar at center.

Despite battling constant knee injuries, he still made 41 career starts. The best way to describe Jones is fiery and intense - nobody played as hard as he did. While he did not have prototypical size, I don't think anybody played with as much explosion and leverage as Jones. He consistently beat much bigger opponents off the ball.

A four-year starter, Jones was a three-time All-Big East selection and a consensus All-American in 1996, and was a semifinalist for both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award.

2 - Leon Searcy (88-91): Whoever replaced Searcy after his All-American season of 1991 had big shoes to fill – literally, as Searcy wore size 17EEE shoes. And with those big feet, he would routinely stomp all over opposing defensive linemen.

A three-year starter on teams that won two national titles, Searcy was the complete package. In addition to his size, Searcy moved gracefully for a big guy. Just watch him pull and kick-out against Nebraska in his final game as a Hurricane in the 1992 Orange Bowl Classic. His run blocking keyed an MVP performance from Larry Jones, who rushed for a career high 144 yards.

Gregg Smith, who was then the head offensive line coach at UM said about Searcy, "If you were to draw a tackle up, you'd draw him up just like Leon." That is amazing considering that Searcy didn't even play organized football until his senior year at Orlando's Maynard Evans High School.

1 - Bryant McKinnie (00-01): OK, raise your hand if you even knew who this guy was coming out of Lackawanna JC in New Jersey, as part of Butch Davis' 1999 recruiting class.

McKinnie was built like a power forward at 6'9", 336 pounds, but he blocked like a young Jonathan Ogden. He would burst onto the national scene by limiting FSU's All-American defensive end Jamal Reynolds to one assist in Miami's 27-24 win over the Noles in 2000. It was at that point the nation discovered Mt. McKinnie.

His streak of never allowing a sack until his rookie season in the NFL is DiMaggio-esque. Blessed with solid footwork and a long wingspan, he provided the ultimate blind side protection for Ken Dorsey.

In 2001, he raised his game even further from his performance against Reynolds, by flat-out blanking the great Dwight Freeney of Syracuse in 2001. No tackles, assists or sacks for the All-American and future first-round draft pick. It was the defining performance in the Hurricanes' 59-0 thrashing of the Orangemen.

McKinnie was the anchor of Miami's great 2001 offensive line. For his efforts that year, he was a consensus All-American and the recipient of the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's outstanding interior lineman.

HONORABLE MENTION

Bobby Garcia, Ty Wise, Rod Holder, John O'Neill, Alvin Ward, Dave Heffernen, Luis and Mario Cristobal, Claude Jones, Rudy Barber, Scott Provin, Kerlin Blaise

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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