JJ – No, not even. At no point in time did it matter to me one way or another. My only concern was not playing my first year. Probation meant nothing because I already knew I wanted to go to UM.
CT – I consider myself to be a pretty astute fan of the game, but I've never heard of nor heard from anyone who's been able to tell me anything comparable to what everyone from the U, including you, says about that level of competition. How come other schools haven't been able to replicate that sort of intensity? Feel free to disagree with me.
JJ – I don't think there's the same level of competition. I kind of see a little bit of that at USC but that's something that's just recently begun to take place. Honestly, the only thing I can think of is that I don't think that other schools work as hard as we do during the summer. I don't think it gets much hotter anywhere in the U.S. than it does in Coral Gables during the summer. That is heat. It will either make you or break you. Practicing in 98 degree weather with 100 percent humidity.. I remember certain days drinking probably 14 or 15 bottles of water. That's during practice. After practice I'd try to keep myself hydrated too. I think that plays a part because you have to be hungry in order to go out there and put yourself into that. I think that plays a major role and I don't know if other schools have that level of intensity in practice. A lot of people have indoor facilities, and the one thing I hear Miami get knocked for a lot is not having nice indoor facilities like a lot of schools do and not having a nice weight room. That probably is one of our greatest strengths. We have an old fashioned type of weight room because of it. We're always out in the sun and we don't spend a lot of time in air conditioning. What we had was enough for us. Sometimes people get caught up in wanting more, more more. You don't necessarily need great workout facilities to get what you want out of your athletes.
CT – But I think the argument a lot of people use isn't so much that you can't work out effectively in those kinds of facilities. The argument is more that you can't recruit as effectively when your facilities aren't up to the same level as some of your rivals and that our rivals are using that against us. Thoughts?
JJ – That is part of what the problem is with some of those schools. Who was that kid from FSU? Antone Smith. That's why you have kids negatively talking about the school when they leave. It's because they aren't buying into the program when they get there. What they are buying into is themselves. Those programs never break athletes from being individuals. They look at themselves as individuals. You rarely hear about those guys going back to their schools. For us there's an unspoken brotherhood. We'll always be ‘Canes. I never considered myself to be a Cleveland Brown or a Raider or even a Cardinal. I always considered myself to be a ‘Cane who played in the NFL. I'm pretty sure that goes for a lot of guys that I played with. That's what it means for us because a lot of us…we sometimes sit down and talk about how things were. I just talked to Santana about how things were between our freshman and senior year and let me tell you, actually my second year in the league, I went back to the University of Miami , and I thought about it and I told my little brother that "these kids have been in school for two years (referring to the players from the 2002 Hurricanes team) and some of them have never lost a game." You have to think about that. And they didn't lose a game until that Ohio State game, which I don't count as a loss anyway. I always wondered if they appreciated the building that we had to do in order to get to that point. As far as I'm concerned, that's what matters most. We don't have individuals at the University of Miami. The University of Miami builds a team. Not a knock on Coker, because Coker was a great offensive coordinator, but I think he got away from that a little bit and started recruiting individuals. You start having individuals and that becomes a problem.
CT – You mentioned that you guys had to do some serious building to get to that point. Hate to bring it up again, but I have to ask. In 1997 you guys started 1-4 and the fourth loss was to Florida State which must have been tough to swallow. At any point did you guys feel like maybe you weren't going to turn things around in the program?
JJ – Honestly I can remember going into that locker room after that game and seeing the look on the seniors' faces and I think that's what struck a nerve in us younger guys. Seeing that look on their faces. I know it struck a nerve with me and with Nate. We went back and talked about that. Honestly at that point in time we didn't have a feel for who we were in college. Just that look on their faces gave us incentive to try to pick up what was left of our season. At no point did we look at each other and say "ok, we're down, let's just give up." What we did say is "ok, we're not a great team yet but we're going to play as hard as we can every single game and give it everything we got, leave it all on the field." That was our motto. Leave it all on the field. We had that and we had that chain. Don't be a weak link in the chain. Nate kept it in his room. That's one of the things that we would do our freshman year. We would pass that chain around to eachother. Don't be the weak link. That's how we motivated ourselves. I'm pretty sure that chain thing started taking place after the Florida State game. So that season for us, while we didn't have a great season, it built fortitude in us. It built character, and that's because we knew what it was to be down. We weren't afraid. We went into every game thinking that we could win if we played our game. If we played well. We went into the games thinking that and we played as hard as we could. Now whether or not we got the job done and got the W was a different thing. But we played every game as hard as we possibly could. At no point in time during that season did we ever give up during a game. Like I said, we policed the locker room. Even as freshman. I'll be honest with you, even as a freshman, Nate would still stand up in the locker room to talk. Nate came from Northwestern and he came in and was a talker. He was not afraid to voice his opinion on how people were playing. That played a big role, to see someone who came in at the same time as me stand up and start to be a leader immediately. After that game, we sat down and did not want to lose. I was rooming with Fulcher at the time, he was a tight-end, and I would just sit around and ask him what do you see in my game that I can improve on. He was one year or two years ahead of me. I'd constantly ask him and he'd be honest with me. He would talk to me and tell me how he was going to block it a certain way and that if I ran behind a certain way, it'd be at least a 6 or 7 yard gain. And I listened to him because we respected those older guys. We had that fight though. Never gave up. I don't know if anyone remembers, but at the end of the FSU game I got a draw play and a hole opened up as wide as the sea and I thought I was going to get through it and I broke a tackle in the backfield and was juuuust about to get through it and I could already envision myself running for 80. I just kept saying to myself I'm going to run for a score because I was going to get to full speed and there was no way anyone was going to catch me because I refuse to get caught from behind. I don't know how but one of the defensive linemen got pushed down and made me trip over my feet and I stumbled for about five yards. That was one of the memories from that Florida State game and it was in the fourth quarter I believe. I thought I had blown a chance to get us on the board.