McGahee, Johnson Talk About NFL

The University of Miami football team will have to go on without their top running back and receiving yardage leader of 2002-03.Willis McGahee, who broke UM single season records for rushing yards (1,753), and touchdowns (28) this past season, and Andre Johnson, a fourth-year junior who quickly develop into one of the best receivers in school history, have both opted to leave UM by declaring early entrance into the NFL draft in April.

McGahee, who tore two knee ligaments in Miami's 31-24 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, released a statement through his uncle earlier this week that stated his decision after getting three medical opinions.

It was only last month, about several weeks before the Fiesta Bowl, that McGahee took out a 2.5 million insurance policy. The policy will go into affect if his football career ends within a four-game period.

McGahee could have elected to stay in school and rehabilitate the knee in an effort to get back into the line-up in time for the 2004 UM season. But according to his uncle, McGahee was reassured by one of the surgeons that his knee would be healed in time for the National Football League season next fall.

Johnson, who is being projected as a top-ten first-round selection, didn't take long to become one of Ken Dorsey's favorite targets while at Miami. Johnson finished this past season second on the team in receptions (52) and first in receiving yards (1.092). He leaves Miami fifth in career receiving yards (1,777) and tied for third in career touchdown receptions (20). In 2002, Johnson became the second player in school history to gain 1,000 yards or more receiving. Johnson had nine touchdown catches and a 21.6 yards per catch average.

"You always hate to leave a place like Miami," said Johnson, a former standout at Miami High. "But one day I had to leave anyway. I'll always come back and help the guys after me, because that's what other guys did for me."

Johnson's expected departure leaves the Hurricanes in short supply at the wide receiver spot, with only Kevin Beard and Roscoe Parrish the only two receivers with significant experience returning. Although talented the rest of the receiving unit will be made up of Ryan Moore, Sinorice Moss, and Aikeem Jolla. Senior Jason Geathers could possibly figure in the team's plans at the position. He was switched from tailback to receiver after a knee injury sidelined Beard last season.

Before suffering the injury McGahee was being projected in some scouting circles as a top-five selection in the first-round of the draft. But considering the magnitude of his injury McGahee is now being touted as a third-round pick, at best. Financially, it seems like McGahee's injury was also a major blow because most players taken in the top-10 are almost guaranteed signing bonuses between $5-10 million. If McGahee were to be drafted in the third or fourth round he could be looking at a yearly salary of $250,000 in addition to a signing bonus of $500,000.

Still, McGahee has little intentions of having to fall back on the insurance policy and doesn't seem to be bothered by the persevered drop in his tock.

"I said I was going to be the best running back in college, and I think I did that, and I'm going to be the best running back in the NFL," said McGahee. "I have no reason to seek or no reason to have to collect on my policy."

Should McGahee would have stayed in school and be healthy enough to return next season he would have been caught in a logjam with third-year sophomore Frank Gore and Pompano Beach Ely High running back Tyrone Moss, who has already orally committed to the Hurricanes.

Despite losing McGahee, Hurricanes running backs coach Don Soldinger believes that the team could be better at the position next season than they were last season. Soldinger is so high on Gore that he said the former Gables High standout might be the ‘best pure runner' he's ever coached.

"We're going to be unbelievable next year," said Soldinger.

Gore sat out this past season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee during the spring. But he displayed flashes of greatness as a freshman by rushing for 562 yards and five touchdowns in a backfield that included Clinton Portis and James Jackson. The Hurricanes will have other options at running back including Jarrett Payton and Geathers should he be switched back to the position.

UM coach Larry Coker wasn't surprised to see either player depart considering the nature of college football these days.

"We are disappointed to lose underclassmen but know that is the nature of college football today," Coker said. "Both Andre and Willis have made tremendous contributions to our football team and program. The injury Willis suffered was a devastating blow but I am confident he will recover. Whatever team drafts Andre and Willis will not only get an outstanding football player but a fine young man as well. We wish them tremendous success in their pro career."

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