The eventual departure of Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Allen Hurns appeared to be no more than a blip on the radar a few years back. A solid player and even better individual, Hurns was consistent on the field, but hardly a next-level guy as a sophomore or junior.
And then 2013 happened.
Hurns put together a 62-reception, six-touchdown, 1,162-yard, record-breaking season for Miami, quickly becoming quarterback Stephen Morris' favorite target and a legitimate threat to do something meaningful every time he touched the football.
The Hurricanes were a bit thin at receiver last season and, despite picking up three solid new prospects on national signing day, will struggle this fall without a veteran stepping up in Hurns-like fashion.
Standing 6'3" and weighing 195 pounds, Hurns' most comparable replacements—physically, at least—are junior Herb Waters or senior Rashawn Scott. Both an inch shorter and within a few pounds of Hurns' frame, Waters and Scott each have tremendous upside if ready to take their game to another level.
Waters is coming off a 28-reception, 633-yard, seven-touchdown sophomore season. In a loss at Duke, Waters had nine receptions for 116 yards and two scores, topping Hurns' eight-grab, 107-yard effort. Earlier in the year against Florida Atlantic, Waters turned a 63-yard reverse into a touchdown.
While Waters certainly has the pedigree, Scott has similar potential—if he can finally put it all together this season. As a sophomore, Scott looked primed to break out with a 35-reception, 512-yard, three-touchdown effort.
In a shootout win over North Carolina State, Scott had a career-high 180-yard day, with six receptions and two touchdowns—the first going for 76 yards.
Scott had a few more respectable performances in 2012, but saw his season end early due to suspension for violation of team rules. After missing those final three games, a promising junior campaign got off to a rough start when Scott suffered a shoulder injury during mop-up duty in the season opener.
Two pre-injury grabs against Florida Atlantic were followed by eight weeks in a sling and one reception for the rest of the year.
While both Waters and Scott need to grow, Miami also has solid options in senior Phillip Dorsett and sophomore Stacy Coley. Dorsett measures 5'10", while Coley stands 6'1". Both weigh in at 180 pounds.
Dorsett is playing his way back from a partially torn MCL which happened midway through last season, while Coley had a breakout freshman campaign, hauling in 33 receptions for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. The first-timer also shone on special teams, finding the end zone three times on returns and rushing for a 73-yard score on an end-around.
Whoever attempts to replace Hurns not only has to produce on the field, but must also grow into a viable team leader while becoming a poster boy for overall work ethic.
Head coach Al Golden never missed an opportunity to praise Hurns' on- and off-the-field efforts and shared his thoughts with Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald last November. "He's really a guy that is showing everybody on the team—not just the younger guys—showing everybody on the team the value of hard work," Golden said about Hurns.
In the same article, offensive coordinator James Coley explained to Navarro that Hurns' on-the-field feedback tremendously helped the Hurricanes at times last season.
He's one of those guys that really plays the game with the mind-set that he’s not just a receiver. As soon as he comes off, he'll come to me and say "Coach, you know this is there." And I don’t even doubt it. You get a lot of players who will tell you "Coach I'm open," and they’re really not. If Hurns tells you, it’s because its there.
Maturity—which goes hand in hand with work ethic in this case—appears to be the biggest key to Hurns' success. Outside of the efforts on the football field, the NFL-bound receiver earned his degree in sports administration last December and has long-term aspirations of becoming a coach.
The same will need to be said for Miami's next great wideout—especially with pending questions under center.
Which Miami Hurricanes receiver has the best shot at being this year's Allen Hurns?
Stephen Morris may have regressed between his junior and senior campaigns, but the quarterback was a veteran, a leader and had chemistry with his receiving corps—an area that will pretty much start from scratch, whoever wins the starting job.
Senior transfer Ryan Williams will bring some stability to the position, but with only 37 completions, 506 yards and four touchdowns in two years at Miami—mostly in "garbage time"—the Hurricanes offense must quickly find a groove this fall.
Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen will also compete for the starting job, as will incoming quarterbacks Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier—though neither were early enrollees, which hurts their overall chances of taking the reins in 2014.
Whoever steps up as Miami's next great quarterback, a big part of their legacy lies in the Hurricanes finding another Hurns. Flash and sizzle may bring excitement, but when it comes to attitude, ability to grind, consistency and delivering the goods, the former No. 1 left some enormous shoes to fill.
For Miami's sake, it better hope Waters, Scott, Dorsett and Coley learned the recipe and have all the ingredients that made their former teammate such an all-around success.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.com.