Injury Gives McGahee, Payton Daylight

The sudden loss of sophomore starting running back Frank Gore to a serious knee injury last week sent tremors through the Hurricanes coaching staff and the defending national champions. Both Willis McGahee and Jarrett Payton discuss the upcoming season with us.

But sophomore Willis McGahee and junior Jarrett Payton are both confident they can solve what many now call a problem in the Hurricanes offensive backfield.

McGahee, the frontrunner to replace Gore as starter, recently displayed what he can do when called upon. The 6-1, 220-pounder recently put on an electrifying performance with 111 yards on 11 carries, including a 56-yard touchdown run, at during the first official scrimmage of the spring at Cobb Stadium on the UM campus.

"It's unfortunate for Frank because he's very talented and had worked very hard to be in the position he was in," said McGahee. "But I'm not going to try to do anything special. I'll do whatever it takes to help this team move forward. I'm not here to over do it."

McGahee, who redshirted during the 2000 season, entered last fall penciled in as the back-up to Clinton Portis. But Gore eventually worked himself behind Portis, while McGahee battled through several nagging injuries. McGahee finished the 2001-2002 seson with 321 yards on 67 carries. McGahee scored three touchdowns and posted a 4.7 yards per carry average.

"Willis McGahee is a very talented running back," said UM head coach Larry Coker. "He's quick enough to blow by people and strong enough to run through people as well. That's not a bad combination to possess. As long as he keeps working hard and proving himself there is no reason not to believe he can't help this team."

Payton, the son of Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, like McGahee was redshirted and missed the 2000 season because of a foot injury. The 6-2, 205-pound running back suited up for several games and made three road trips that season, but did not see playing time.

"I realize I have something to prove out here, but I'm not going to add any more pressure on myself. The only thing I can do and go out and give 100 percent everyday. The rest is out of my hands," said Payton, who had 37 yards on 15 carries in the scrimmage.

Gore had surgery March 22 to repair ligament damage in his right knee after being injured on a collision with sophomore safety Sean Taylor. But Gore, who ran for 562 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman, could recover in time to join the Hurricanes in the fall according to Dr. John Uribe who performed the surgery. Uribe added that Gore could start to do some light running by the middle of July.

"The initial stages of his rehab will be painful, but judging by his work ethic I think he will recover quickly," said Uribe.

Coker said he won't like to see Gore rush through the rehabbing process, instead just good judgment and return fully prepared.

"We'd love to have him this fall, but only if he is fully recovered and ready to play," Coker said.

Quadtrine Hill is the only other running back on the roster.

BACK AT IT

The Hurricanes practiced for 90 minutes in shorts and shoulder pads as spring football practice continued March 27 at Greentree Field . UM went through positional fundamentals and also worked on the two-minute drill in preparation for a full-scale scrimmage on Thursday. Thursday's practice will be closed to the public, the only workout that is closed this spring.

"We worked on the batters today, plus some two-minute drill, and I thought we looked pretty good," said head coach Larry Coker. "This is one of those days where you get to see how you're progressing. It's not like a scrimmage, but there are always things in two-minute drills and such that let you see where you are. I'm encouraged from what I've seen."

Five of the 15 practices remain before the Hurricanes conclude spring practice with the annual CanesFest spring game at the Orange Bowl, Saturday April 6. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Net.

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