Commentary: Spring Game Had Great Atmosphere

11,000 fans packed into Lockhart Stadium to watch the 2008 spring version of the Hurricanes play in their annual spring game. ‘Canes fans flocked from all over South Florida to see just how much some of the new talent and refreshed veterans could infuse some life into a team who didn't come close to performing near expectations in 2007.

The results were positive. While fans definitely saw an imperfect team (wide receivers and backs dropped balls, both sides had a handful of penalties, etc.), it definitely saw a team willing to compete from the first whistle to the last. Additionally, fans came away with hope that the young talent on the team could provide a solid foundation for the future. On defense, Sean Spence, Arthur Brown, Allen Bailey, Marcus Forston all had excellent games. Young guys like Jojo Nicholas and Damien Berry saw significant playing time on the second team defense and performed well. On offense, it's hard to grasp that Graig Cooper is only a true sophomore, but he is. Shawnbrey McNeal had a big play and showed the speed that makes him one of the fastest guys on the team as only a true sophomore. The rotation at wide receiver included Aldarius Johnson, a freshman (who by all accounts had a poor game, but that doesn't take away from the good spring he had), Leonard Hankerson (sophomore), and would have included Jermaine McKenzie if he hadn't been dinged up. While the receivers were largely non-existent on Saturday, they had a good spring, and along with Sam Shields, Kayne Farquharson, Ryan Hill, Khalil Jones, and the infusion of incoming freshmen in the fall, it should be at the very least a solid group.

And then there's quarterback. While the ‘Canes primarily worked on their short passing game and didn't complete a pass longer than 12 yards, the quarterbacks were able to manage the game effectively and move down the field. They did miss some scoring opportunities, but fans could come away pleased that they didn't see a repeat of last year's spring game, which had one less touchdown and a significantly greater number of incomplete passes and 3 and outs.

The purpose of this commentary isn't to break down the performance of each position, however. While the ‘Canes played well enough on Saturday, the biggest story to me was the energy and excitement in that stadium, both on the field and off. The crowd was lively and involved. 11,000 fans came tosupport the ‘Canes, many of whom made a fairly long trip from the Miami area. Said one former player's father, "I've never seen this many people here like this." The television crews, large number of media, and fans cheering every play gave it a feel that it simply didn't have last season.

It didn't hurt that there was a bigger concentration of talent at the game than any spring game I've ever been to previously. Nearly every signed recruit from the South Florida area in the 2008 class was on hand to watch. Tommy Streeter, Brandon Washington, Brandon Harris, Davon Johnson, Jeremy Lewis, Travis Benjamin, Thearon Collier, and more were all in attendance. If that wasn't enough, the sidelines resembled a "who's who" of former players. Jonathan Vilma was an instant celebrity, as he was standing on the sidelines closest to the fans. Also in attendance were Edgerrin James and Lamar Thomas, as well as Kenny Phillips, Tavares Gooden, and Calais Campbell. There were even some prospective future ‘Canes in attendance, including 5 star halfback Bryce Brown, who made the trip from Kansas with his mentor Brian Butler, amongst others.

Overall, the game, while not completely satisfying, did enough to get fans excited about this upcoming season. We saw several young players stand out, and we saw the quarterbacks manage the game well. Most of all; however, we saw an energy and liveliness from this team that shows that at the very least, they are moving in the right direction. The fall will bring forth many tests and hurdles for this team to overcome, and what they do from here until opening day will largely determine how they clear those hurdles and handle adversity should they get tripped up (a near certainty with such a young team). If nothing else, Saturday shows that University of Miami football is far from a forgotten afterthought. The ‘Canes will be back, whether or not the rest of the nation is expecting it.


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