His arrival as the starting signal caller at 'the U' is one of the most anticipated in the programs storied history. Wright is perhaps the most important recruit of the Larry Coker era. He would sign a letter of intent with the University of Miami in 2003 after a glorious prep career at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California. Foremost among his numerous accolades was being named the 2002-03 Gatorade National High School Football Player of the Year.
Now, after two seasons where the Hurricane offense
failed to live up to its lofty expectations with the
beleaguered Brock Berlin at quarterback, all eyes will
be on the 6'4, 220-pound redshirt sophomore.
The pressure will be intense. At Miami, anything less
than a national championship season is looked upon as
a failure. Being the starting quarterback at Miami is
one of the most glamorous positions in all of
collegiate sports. But one that comes with high
expectations and scrutiny.
Both Steve Walsh and Gino Torretta know what Wright
will be going through on September 5tThand beyond as
he begins his journey as the Hurricanes' starting
quarterback. Walsh, led the 'Canes to a mark of 23-1
over his two seasons as a starter and a National
Championship in 1987. Torretta, like Walsh would lead
the program to a title in 1991 and became the second
Heisman Trophy winner that the program has produced in
1992. Both Walsh and Torretta earned numerous
accolades during their run at UM and their names are
splashed throughout the Miami record book.
Both played during an era where Miami stamped itself
as 'Quarterback U'. From Jim Kelly, to Bernie Kosar,
to Vinny Testaverde, to Walsh, to Craig Erickson to
Torretta, nobody produced NFL-ready throwers like
Wright is hoping to re-establish that reputation but
not much is known of him. Last season he got just a
handful of throws (five completions in nine attempts
with no touchdowns) and was hampered by drops and
shoddy blocking upfront when he did play. Then a
mid-season injury curtailed his progress, as he
suffered a sprained ankle in practice in October and
then suffered an allergic reaction to a bee sting in
December that caused him to miss even more valuable
practice time. It was an anti-climatic end to Wrights'
first year on the field.
As much fanfare as Wright comes in with, he is still
an unknown commodity.
But Torretta, who was a part of the broadcast crew for
Comcast Sports that televised the spring game at
Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, was encouraged by
what he saw from Wright on April 9Th
"I thought he was very impressive, he started off and
he struggled a bit, obviously the defense played
really well and with the injuries to the offensive
line, protection probably wasn't what it needed to
be," said Torretta, alluding to the fact that Eric Winston and Tony Tella were held out of the
scrimmage. "And Kyle, the first couple of drives he
struggled but then really lit it up. I think he was 10
of 12, whatever he was, he made some very impressive
After a rough start, Wright would show great pocket
presence and the ability to see the field and deliver
the ball accurately. It was the type of performance
that gave Miami fans hope.
"I liked the way he came back after struggling early
and played well," said Torretta, who finished his
career with 11 school passing marks.
Shortly after spring practice, Coker would name Wright
the starter over Kirby Freeman. Unlike what Torretta
went through before the 1991 season- where he had to
battle Bryan Fortay till the bitter end of fall camp-
Wright has the peace of mind knowing that he will be
the starting quarterback going into the season.
"Obviously, he was going to prepare as the starter,
either way," Torretta says. "But he doesn't have to
worry about a lot of things coming into summer ball,
he knows he's been named the starter. So he knows he
doesn't have to worry about competition for his job.
He just realized, 'Hey, I gotta worry about preparing
myself the best I can and getting ready for Florida State.'"
But even with that assurance, this will be Wright's
first start at Miami- and it comes against FSU, not
FAMU. It's akin to a young boxer being thrown into a
12-round championship main event without the benefit
of cutting his teeth with a series of preliminary
Just how big is experience in this circumstance?
"It certainly helps from understanding your offense
and what you're trying to accomplish," explains Walsh,
who is perhaps the most cerebral quarterback that has
ever played college football. "The fact of the matter
that he hasn't had a lot of reps or hasn't been on
campus a long time kind of clouds things,' OK, what
does he really understand and know about what he wants
to do within that offense?' That's the coaches' job to
get him ready to do that and then he's got to be
mature enough to handle it."
Back in 1987, Walsh's first start came under a similar
set of circumstances. As Vinny Testaverde's incumbent
he would face another in-state rival, the hated
Florida Gators in his first start at the Orange Bowl.
"I knew personally I was prepared and I knew what I
wanted to do within my system," said Walsh, who would
lead UM to a 12-0 record that season. "And if Kyle's
got that down, he'll be fine. If he doesn't, I'll be a
The question that always exists with rookie
quarterbacks is always the same: just how much of the
offense do you give them? Walsh believes it's
imperative that offensive coordinator Dan Werner know
exactly what Wright can handle going into his first
"Absolutely, you don't want to overload a young
quarterback," he says. "You may not give him more
complicated reads in a game plan You just want to keep
it real simple and let the kids natural athletic
ability come out because he's a very gifted
quarterback. He's got good size, he throws a good
ball, good velocity on it and very accurate. The more
comfortable he gets, the more accurate he'll get."
And as the season goes along and Wright matures, Walsh
expects to see a more diverse Miami offense as the
unknowns about Wright are found out.
"I think that's just obvious," says the 1988 Football
News College Player of the Year. "Because nobody
knows, nobody knows what this young quarterbacks going
to be, nobody knew what I was going to be, till you
turn on the lights, if you will. At that point you're
going to find out very quickly come Labor Day,' OK,
how does he handle the blitz? How does he handle
getting hit in the back of the head a couple times?
How does he handle coming back after an interception?'
"All those things, you're going to find out and then
you're going to know how to handle him as the season
goes along as far as getting a little more aggressive
in situations, maybe being more conservative in
situations. So there's no question I think he's going
to grow leaps and bounds as the season goes along."
But Torretta thinks that Miami should be dealing from
a full deck versus FSU.
"I think they ought to give him all the offense," he
states. "I think it's going to be a situation where
you're going to see how good the offensive line is
going to jell with the injuries to Winston and Tella
and those guys are coming back. So if they're healthy
and they feel comfortable, obviously you're going to
go into the game and know what plays Kyle likes
running and so forth, especially against Florida
States' defense. But I don't think you can hold it
back. You're going to have the whole summer to prepare
for that first game. So I would think they would have
a few wrinkles that Florida State has never seen
before as well."
If anyone should know how tough it is to play for the
first time in the land of garnet and gold, it's
Torretta. In 1989, he would throw four picks as the
Noles handed Miami it's only loss of it's third
championship campaign by a score of 24-10.
"It's going to be very difficult and I had already
had starting experience in my redshirt freshman year,"
said Torretta, who after taking over for an injured
Craig Erickson against Michigan St. had started the
following two games against Cincinnati and San Jose
St.(where he set the school record with 468 yards
through the air) before going up north to
Tallahassee." It's a difficult place to play," he says
of Doak Campbell Stadium. "It's going to be a night
game, so it's going to be even that much louder. And
the thing you have to realize when you play Florida
State, especially in that situation with the lack of
experience, is that you can get your team beat.
"As a quarterback you're probably not going to beat
Florida State by yourself. But you can definitely lose
the game by turning it over and so forth. So he'll
realize that and I'm sure the coaches will drill that
into him during the week of preparation. So I think
he's just got to play consistent and you'll be
conservative in those games because usually the
defense ends up winning them."
But it won't be just the strong right arm of Wright
that will take Miami's offense back to the upper
echelon of college football. Every quarterback needs a
strong supporting cast. Wright would be aided
immensely with the return to form of wideout Ryan Moore, the health of Greg Olsen, the continued
development of Lance Leggett and the re-emergence of
running back Tyrone Moss.
But what may ultimately dictate how the offense runs
will be the performance of an offensive line which
struggled badly down the stretch without Winston last
"Well, with an offense they're trying to run now, it
does," agreed Torretta. "They want to be balanced and
they want to be able to run the football and without
an offensive line you can't run the football. They're
a two-back, pro-set team, so you've go to be able to
block for your quarterback. But more so than that,
you've got to be able to block, open up lanes for the
running game, so that'll open up the play-action
From 2000 to 2002, Miami had one of the nations most
balanced and explosive offensive units in the nation.
But since the departure of the record setting Ken Dorsey, the Hurricanes production has declined.
Although, Berlin did rebound after a disastrous 2003
where his touchdown-to-INT ratio was a dismal 12/17.
During that season Berlin was benched for a spell in
favor of Derrick Crudup after a disastrous outing
against Virginia Tech. However, in 2004, Berlin
bounced back with a solid campaign where he threw for
2,680 yards and 22 touchdowns against just six picks.
"A couple of years ago I think Brock struggled a
little bit," said Torretta, who's brother Geoff, also
played quarterback at Miami in the mid-80's."I think
last year he took some undue criticism, I thought he
played really well. I thought that the offense as a
whole was inconsistent. When he played well, maybe the
receivers didn't play well. And then when the
offensive line played well, maybe Brock didn't have
his best game. But I though he was very good."
In Werner's first year as offensive coordinator,
Miami's pass offense would rank first in the ACC with
234 yards per game, but just 43rd nationally. Overall,
the total offense at 365 yards per game was fifth in
the league and 66th overall. Not bad in-conference but
really just middle-of-the road across the country.
But under Werner's guidance, the offense made
"I think they did a good job," said Walsh, who's
playing days at UM coincided with Werner's first stint
at Miami as a graduate assistant in '87 and '88."They
focused in on the things that Brock did really well,
tried to avoid the things that got him in trouble.
They got him to protect the football a little bit more
and sometimes maybe too much. But I think Dan was
really able to have a good relationship with Brock. He
was able to identify his strengths and weaknesses and
your game plan, it's a lot easier for the quarterbacks
coach and coordinator to say,' Ya' know what? I just
want to stay away from that because that's going to
cause us some problems' or 'Ya' know, we really need to
do this because this is what he does well."
Wright and Werner have a golden opportunity to reverse
an alarming trend that has taken place at the Miami
program for over a decade. While UM was once thought
off as 'Quarterback U', since the graduation of
Torretta in 1992, programs such as Michigan have long
surpassed UM as the premiere developer of signal
callers. Outside of Dorsey, Miami has had many more
misses than hits at the position since highly regarded
quarterback guru and coordinator Gary Stevens left the
program following the 1988 season.
"I think there's definitely some things that Gary had
ingrained in the system and you have to keep in mind
that that offense didn't change for many years there
as Gary was running the offense," said Walsh, who has
said in the past that he would have returned for his
senior season in Coral Gables in 1989 had Stevens been
given the head coaching job after the departure of
Jimmy Johnson. "So when you get a system in place and
you get buy-in from all your teammates, it's much
easier on the quarterback to be able to go in and be
"When Dennis Erickson came along, it was all of a
sudden a whole new different philosophy- and I wasn't
really there to make an educated comment on it- but at
the same point, I don't know if everyone necessarily
really understood what their roles were in that
offense and had buy-in.
"And therefore I think you saw the play of the
quarterback deteriorate- even though Gino Torretta won
a Heisman Trophy- they were putting up numbers, it
wasn't the same. It was a different type of passing
offense and then I think when you see high school
quarterbacks looking to see where they want to go to
the next level, maybe they don't feel comfortable
watching that system. I think the recruiting dropped
off a little bit."
In looking at some of the quotes from various
offensive players and Werner himself, they seem to
hint that perhaps we'll see a more wide-open expanded
offense, less reliant on the ol' Coker-T and more on
multiple receiver sets.
It's something that Torretta would like to see: "I
think mixing up personnel wise and things like that, I
would do a little bit more in formation variations and
such based on the talent we normally have at the skill
positions. I think we have a limited amount of time
and hours you can put in during the work week in
college football now, it hurts teams like Miami that
have that much talent and probably could use those
"But with the limited number of hours you can get in
practice and so forth, maybe you can't prepare those
kids for all those situations."
But perhaps we'll just see more of the same.
"I think it'll be the same as we've seen in the last
few years," Torretta says. "I think it's going to be a
pro-set, run first to open up the play-action pass and
try to be as balanced as possible. Being an
ex-quarterback I would like to see it skew onto
throwing the ball, but I'm not the one calling plays,"
he added with a laugh.
Like every other quarterback that wears the
orange-and-green, Wright will be closely scrutinized
and critiqued. And how he handles that, could
determine just how successful he is in the future.
"The pressure is just the pressure to win and Brock
didn't always do it the best looking, but he won his
fair share of games," said Walsh, who like Kosar,
Testaverde and Walsh won his first career start versus
FSU. "Granted, it wasn't up to the standards that Ken
Dorsey had set and therefore he took a lot of heat. So
Kyle, coming off a season where they lost three games
last year, the pressure of coming off a national
championship season aren't there. But at the same
point, Miami normally competes for the championship
and that's what they expect year in and year out.
"So the pressure is just to win and whether you win
ugly or you throw for 300 yards a game, the pressures
going to be there."
And it starts September 5th.
(Steve Kim is a regular contributor to Canes Time and
runs his own website at MaxBoxing.com. For questions
or comments, he can be reached at email@example.com)
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