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Miami football: Seen and heard at Hurricanes practice — ‘No. 26’ must be earned

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Ted Hendricks, Jim Dooley, Vinny Testaverde and George Mira are the only players whose jersey numbers — Nos. 89, 42, 14 and 10, respectively — officially are retired at the University of Miami.

There are quite a few others who should be as well. Michael Irvin’s No. 47, Ray Lewis’ No. 52 and the late Jerome Brown’s No. 98 come to mind.

For the better part of the past two decades, however, they’ve been readily available to pretty much whoever requested them. Jalar Holley, mostly known for his dancing on the Miami sideline than anything he did on the field, wore Brown’s No. 98 in 2020 before transferring to UNC-Charlotte last year.

Patrick Joyner Jr., who transferred to Utah, wore Lewis’ trademark No. 52 the same season. And Irvin’s No. 47, meanwhile, was worn by walk-on receiver Mykel Tubbs last season.

When Miami opened preseason camp Friday, nobody was wearing Nos. 98 or 52, but walk-on defensive lineman Bryan Levine was wearing No. 47.

Head coach Mario Cristobal, who won national titles as a player at Miami in 1989 and 1991, acknowledged you can’t go around retiring every number worn by a Canes great.

“You could retire 40 numbers in a hurry,” he quipped.

But Cristobal likes the idea of players having to earn the honor of wearing a jersey worn by a Canes great. He said Friday he shut down requests by players who asked for No. 1 and No. 26 — the latter the jersey of the late, great Sean Taylor.

“No. 1, you gotta earn it,’’ Cristobal said. “Some guys have asked for it, and I do not disrespect anyone in not awarding them a number, but if you’re going to wear that, you better be the baddest son of a gun on the planet, OK?

“I think we have guys that can work themselves there, and if someone gets to that point, then maybe it’s a consideration.’’

Last season, quarterback D’Eriq King and defensive lineman Nesta Silvera each wore No. 1. Safety Gurvan Hall wore Taylor’s No. 26.

Former Hurricanes punter Brian Monroe, a teammate of Taylor’s at Miami and an analyst on Hurricanes pregame radio broadcasts on WQAM, applauded Cristobal’s decision to protect the honor of special numbers in Miami lore.

“It makes absolute sense,” Monroe said. “Obviously, we are a school that you just can’t retire all the greats. But there’s a couple of special numbers that I would love for it to be at least earned. If you’re not going to retire it, at least earn it. I know LSU does that with a couple of their numbers (Nos. 7 and 18). I think that could be an amazing tradition down here as far as the best guy gets to wear 26 on defense. And if nobody earns it, it stays on the shelf. You can’t just let some random dude wear 26.”

Here are 10 more takeaways from Miami’s first preseason practice with some quotes mixed in from media day earlier this week:

1. Starting left tackle Zion Nelson was the only notable player held out of practice Friday because of injury. Cleveland Reed, a fifth-year junior and former four-star recruit who played 78 snaps in four seasons, was the only player still on Miami’s active roster this spring who is no longer with the program.

2. Media members were allowed to watch several periods of drills but were asked to leave for the final 90 minutes of practice. Monroe, among a few former players on hand, viewed all of Miami’s practice alongside former Canes linebacker Jon Beason and said the intensity of practice impressed him.

“It’s been ratcheted up another level,” Monroe said. “Cristobal knows what it takes to be great. The way practices looked before was not where it needed to be at. You need to be sprinting every single play. He has them doing that. There was a receiver — I forgot who it was — who threw up today. You love to see that. Games are supposed to be easier than practice.”

Miami’s third practice of the preseason will be the first in full pads. Cristobal said the pace of Miami’s practice Friday was “solid but will increase.”

“I like the type of attitude that we display,” Cristobal said. “You can push this team. You can push these coaches.”

3. The Hurricanes have two new large “cooling stations” where players can sit inside on benches and cool down after practice. The temperature set inside the station was set at 19 degrees on Friday.

“That has nothing to do with anything but recovering,” Cristobal said. “The way we practice is a different level. And there are times after practice where you want to bring your core temperature down. I’d love to explain all the science that goes with it. I’m sure, I would bore you guys to death. So, I’m not going to do that. But it’s something that we use in a couple different spots … the way we’re going to practice every ounce of recovery, every advantage we’re going to do.”

Said tight end Will Mallory: “It’s really nice. It’s a good break from the heat, and it gets pretty cold very quickly. So, you don’t want to stay in for too long. It’s good that we have that. It kind of just shows the amount they’re pouring into the program to help us to win and help us be better on the field.”

4. Aaron Feld, Miami’s strength and conditioning coordinator, credited the team’s head nutritionist, Meaghan Turcotte, for helping linebacker Keontra Smith — and others — put on good weight during the summer. Smith (5-foot-11) gained 28 pounds since January and weighs 230 with a 15.6 body fat percentage.

“She’s phenomenal at what she does,” Feld said. “That’s just been a huge key for these guys, learning how to eat. She calls it plate coaching. Every time they put a meal together, she’s helping them eat. So they do that over and over and over, and all sudden, they’re making good decisions when they’re not here. I mean, nutrition is as big of a factor of those kinds of gains as anything.”

Miami also hired a sports scientist to work with Feld and players to create a variety of workouts and drills to maximize player strength and speed. Feld described it as building “force velocity profiles.”

“We train attributes,” Feld said. “I tell everybody all the time, like our job, everything we do, every single thing we do is specifically designed to make you a better football player.

“You look at the movements on a football field, and you break it down. What are the attributes that you need to have to be a great striker? You need to have a big strong chest. You need to be able to have a tight core. So, you can transfer that force from your hips into your hands, all those things. So, we go and train those attributes. Start with core anti-rotational core, shoulder stability. It doesn’t matter how strong you are if you don’t have this ability to put that force in the direction you want to go. So, whether it’s sprinting, putting the force down and back into the turf to go forward, or if it’s striking, putting that force into your opponent.”

5. What happens to the transfers and late arriving freshmen who were not around for spring football and missed most of Feld’s offseason program?

“If a guy comes in after phase two, he’s gonna roll with the strength level he has,” Feld said. “You onboard them as quickly as you can, and you assess the deficiencies, fix their imbalances, and then you help them catch up.”

6. The Hurricanes had two offensive linemen — Justice Oluwaseun and Logan Sagapolu — break the program record with 700-pound squats. Feld is proud, but he put the accomplishments into focus.

“What’s the number a guy has to back squat to be the best that ever played the game?” he said. “I don’t know either. So we don’t focus on maxes. I think it’s great for them. We high-fived them, we hugged them, celebrated. It was a big deal. We don’t really chase maxes. As a matter of fact, if all we did that day was show up to try to squat as heavy as possible, they both probably could have squatted more than that. But that’s never been our focus, our focus about getting better at football. So we celebrate benchmarks and maxes when they happen. But we don’t make a big deal out of it. Because in reality, football players are supposed to be strong.”

7. What is Cristobal’s stance on players using social media? Everything they do has to be appropriate, he said.

“If we have to build a book this thick of policies and procedures, we probably have the wrong group of guys in the building,” he said. “Responsibility, the image, you’re representing all of us. The U never comes off, and every action every choice and every decision have to be made with The U at the forefront.”

8. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said earlier this week that roughly 75 to 80 percent of his playbook was installed during the spring. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said he’s looking forward to what’s left to unfurl.

“We’re just trying to get the basic plays down, get them right, almost perfect before we put in the extra stuff,” Van Dyke said Friday.

Van Dyke said he’s eager to see who will emerge from Miami’s receiver group as a reliable leader on the field.

“We got to find who those guys are gonna be,” Van Dyke said. “I mean, there’s plenty of guys that will be able to do it. We just don’t know who it’s gonna be yet. I’m excited to see who it’s gonna be.”

9. Among the transfers and new arrivals who stood out the most to Monroe on Friday were ex-West Virginia defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor and ex-Clemson receiver Frank Ladson.

“(Mesidor) was all over the place,” Monroe said. “He looks like he’s gonna push for some playing time. Ladson caught it well (better than in the spring). He’s a big kid. He’s smooth.

“I like (former Ole Miss running back Henry) Parrish, too. He’s gonna do well. (Ex-UCLA defensive end Mitchell Agude) looks the part. If he can get it together and play like he did with those pressures at UCLA and make them into sacks, we’re gonna have something there.”

10. Miami picked up its fifth commitment from an offensive lineman in the 2023 cycle on Friday when Connor Lew of the Acworth (Ga.) Kennesaw Mountain — a three-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite — picked the Hurricanes over Clemson, Auburn and Georgia.

Lew (6-3, 280) is an All-America center and wrestler. The Hurricanes, with 17 commitments in their class, jumped up two spots in the 247Sports Composite team rankings to seventh. Lew, ranked 510th overall, is the third-highest ranked offensive lineman in the Canes’ class behind five-star tackle Francis Mauigoa (No. 6) and three-star interior lineman Antonio Tripp of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy. Miami is also considered the favorite to land uncommitted five-star tackle Samson Okunlola (No. 14) out Braintree (Mass.) Thayer Academy.

Asked earlier this week what his philosophy is when summer commitments ask him later in the year to take official visits to other schools, Cristobal redirected the topic.

“It’s real simple,” he said. “We make it real clear that when you commit to Miami, make sure you want to commit to Miami and make sure when you do that, you do what I did as a player. Jimmy Johnson asked me: ‘Do you want to win? Well, you better recruit. I don’t mean just sell a program, but go find the guys and talk to us and tell us about the guys that can help us take that next step. … Make sure that you’re finding guys that are attracted to that type of a blueprint, that type of regiment.’

“So that’s our message to our guys. We spend a lot of time around them. We’re very honest and open and generous with them. So, the relationships are real. You stay the course. You don’t come off of that and along the way, we expect to build this class even more. We feel it certainly has a lot of momentum and that the best is yet to come.”

(Photo of Mario Cristobal: Manny Navarro / The Athletic)

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