'Cane Domination? Maybe not in terms of titles, but that doesn't mean the decade hasn't produced a fresh crop of new stars to carry on Miami's "NFL U" banner.
Before we begin, a few words about the criteria I put our players through: The players on this list were judged solely on their achievements while playing college ball. Second, it was really, REALLY hard to rank a group of players of this caliber into any order. After all was said and done, I could've just as easily thrown darts at these names and assigned a number. Lord knows it would've been much easier.
It's a flawed and subjective system, sure, but unlike the BCS or my girlfriend, I'm willing to admit that I'm prone to error.
Ahhh, the cusp players. On most lists, this space is usually reserved for the people who almost made it, but just weren't quite good enough. For this list, the criteria changes a bit: Our "On the Cusp" players either:
A.) Didn't play in this decade long enough, or
B.) Were hampered by injury throughout their career, or
C.) Simply didn't make the kind of impact in college they'd later make in the NFL.
With that said, apologies all around to: Vince Wilfork, Kellen Winslow II, Dan Morgan, Frank Gore, Vernon Carey, Najeh Davenport, DJ Williams, Kelly Jennings, Jon Beason, Brand Meriweather, Greg Olsen, and Todd Sievers.
Haven't rioted yet? Good. On to the List.
Before he set the Windy City ablaze, "Anytime" was running wild over Miami opponents on all sides of the ball. His 97-yard return for a TD on the opening kickoff against Florida as a freshman set the stage for a dominating collegiate career. Hester carved his path into Hurricane lore by becoming the first player in recent memory to line up offense, defense, and special teams.
There are still scorch marks on the streets of Coral Gables from where Hester zigged and zagged his way through accolades and awards. By the time Hurricane Hester dissipated, he'd racked up 6 kick returns for TD's, 5 INT's on defense, and a rushing and receiving TD on offense.
Imagine this: You're Larry Coker. You've just landed the head coaching job at Miami after Butch Davis packed up and ditched. You have a running back core so deep, Willis McGahee is your fourth stringer. So who do you slot in as your #1?
There's no real question here. Portis soon became the face of the Hurricanes ground game, gutting opposing defenses while leading Miami to the #1 offense in the country in 2001. In the season opener, Portis rushed for a career best 164 yards against Penn State, helping the 'Canes hand Joe Paterno his worse defeat at home—ever.
By the time Portis vaulted into the NFL Draft in 2002, he'd tied Edgerrin James for most career 100-yard rushing games (10), rushed for 23 TD's, and compiled 2,523 rushing yards in three seasons—good enough for fourth all-time at Miami.
By the 2001 season, Miami had done all it could to purge itself of its bad-boy image. Someone must've forgotten to tell that to Jeremy Shockey, who oftentimes embarrassed opposing defenses to the point of humiliation.
Shockey will best be remembered by the Miami faithful for his game-winning TD against then-#1 FSU in 2000, snapping Miami's seven-game losing streak to the hated Seminoles. Little known, though, is how integral he was to Miami's 2001 title run. That year, he led all Hurricanes in receptions with 45, including 5 in Miami's 37-14 drubbing over Nebraska in the BCS Title Game.
Shockey was selected as a first-team All-American that season by CNNSI, and a second-team All-American by AP, Sportsline, and ABS Sports Line.
At Miami, the unwritten law is that your swagger is as important as your stats. Long mired by a string of below-average QB's (by "Quarterback U" standards, anyway), Hurricanes fans didn't think much of the lanky, soft-tossing kid from Orinda, CA when he started against McNeese St. in 2000.
But the lanky kid won. And he kept winning. Soon enough, his numbers spoke volumes where his lack of swagger had failed. In his three years at QB, Miami never finished below #3 in the BCS rankings. He compiled a frightening 32-1 record as a starter, with 76 TD's and two appearances in a national title game, including a championship in 2001.
Oh yeah, he also finished as a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist. Swagger is nice, but for guys like Dorsey, stats rule the day.
Never one for subtlety, Ed Reed seemingly owned as many job titles as he did INT's. Part inspirational leader, part season saver, part QB pariah, and all orange-and-green, Reed became the face of Miami's on-field dominance and off-field assurance.
Known around these parts for his now-fabled lockerroom speech during halftime of the 2001 Miami/FSU matchup, Reed saw the worst that Miami had to offer in 1997 and refused to settle for anything less than a championship title. During the 2001 season, he bottled up late-game surges from Virginia Tech and Boston College with INT's, helping Miami keep their perfect season and earning a trip to the BCS Title Game.
Reed was a key component of the resurgent Miami defense. In 2001, the Hurricanes gave up only 13 TD's all season. By comparison, Reed had 9 INT's that year alone. He finished his four seasons at Miami holding the records for most INT's (21), INT return yards (389), and Pick Six's (5).
OL guys have it tough—Like bass guitarists or ship captains or Kennedy's, no one ever mentions them unless something goes wrong. The same applies at Miami, where glory has often been built on the success of the offensive players, and never on the guys who spring them.
Meet Bryant McKinnie: In 2000, this hulking beast made it his mission to give his QB all the time he needed to get the offensive machine in motion. The result? Lithe QB Ken Dorsey never felt pressured, as McKinnie did not allow a single sack in his collegiate career.
McKinnie's success did not go unrewarded. In 2000, he was named to his first All-American team. In 2001, he made his second, along with winning the Outland Trophy and Jim Parker Award. McKinnie finished eighth in the voting for the 2001 Heisman Trophy, finishing up an already amazing resume that landed him 7th overall in the 2002 NFL Draft.
So here's to all the unsung OL guys out there. May you never be compared to the Kennedy's again.
My oh my, McGahee. Clinton Portis' departure for the NFL left a huge hole in the Hurricanes' backfield—a hole that would only grow deeper when starter Frank Gore went down for the year with a torn ACL in the Spring of '02.
Willis did not disappoint. In his sole season as Miami's starting RB, McGahee racked up 1753 yards and a ridiculous 6.2 YPC. Add to that 28 rushing TD's, including eight scores (yes, EIGHT—two receving, six rushing) in a late-season 56-45 melee with Va Tech.
McGahee raced his way into the NCAA record books, where he is currently 3rd all-time in rushing TD's in a season. So dominating was McGahee's 2002 season that the Buffalo Bills selected him 23rd overall in the 2003 NFL Draft...4 months after he'd torn his ACL, MCL, and PCL in the BCS title game.
When your performance is so dominant that an NFL team will allow you to park in the handicap spot for a year, you deserve all the accolades in the world.
Look at this man. Now close your eyes and imagine him storming at you the minute your center hikes the ball. If you're like me, you'd toss him the ball and hide behind the goal posts until you've either stopped sobbing or stopped pissing yourself—whichever comes first.
That's what it was like for offenses from 2000 to 2003, when Jonathan Vilma roamed at linebacker for Miami. Filling in for the legendary Dan Morgan (who's exclusion from this list I can't reasonably explain), Vilma soon became the middleman between Jerome McDougle at DE, Ed Reed in the open field, and later Vince Wilfork at DT. "The Secretary of Defense" anchored himself as the one-stop shop for punishing hits, racking up a monstrous 133 tackles in 2003.
Vilma finished his career at Miami with 377 tackles, a two-time Dick Butkus Award finalist, and two-time All-Big East First Team member. In 2004, he was the 12th overall pick in a draft that featured 6 Miami players going in the first round—an NFL record.
When Ken Dorsey needed a weapon with speed, agility, and an agressive demeanor, he often found solace in Andre Johnson.
Known for his rough play, Johnson romped opposing corners not through finesse, but by sheer brute strength. When it mattered, no one turned it on like Johnson. Against Florida in 2002, he caught four passes for 56 yards and a score. In 2000, he averaged 20.8 yards as a kickoff specialist. Against FSU in 2001, he had five catches for 111 yards and two TD's.
His crowning moment, though, came at the 2002 Rose Bowl, where he set personal highs in receptions (7), yards (199), and TD's (2). Johnson eventually split the MVP of the Rose Bowl with Dorsey.
When he landed third overall in the 2003 NFL Draft, Johnson left Miami tied second all-time in TD's by a wide receiver (20), and fifth in receiving yards (1,831).
Yeah. Was there really any doubt? I could go into numbers and stats, but really, that wouldn't do the man any justice. So instead, I'm going to tell you about my friend, Robbie.
Robbie is a first-year med student at SUNY who played football for Gulliver Sr. High in Miami, where Taylor played. I've known Robbie for most of my adult life, and I can honestly say that he's never been the kind of guy to take losing lightly. Once while playing a riveting game of Final Fantasy Tactics, he lost, and shot his PSX with a crossbow. Winning was everything to him.
So I remember talking to him when Sean Taylor died about his experience in playing alongside "ShawnTay." He looked at me and smiled that evil smile he gave the PSX before impaling it.
"I wouldn't know," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I rode the bench for him all four years I was there."
"Don't be. I can tell my kids I kept the great Sean Taylor's seat warm."
That's how great Sean Taylor was: He humbled and left a sociopathic med student with a penchant for medieval weaponry in awe. Thanks, Sean.