Friday, August 09, 2002

Miami hungers for 2nd No. 1

By Kelly Whiteside

        When Kellen Winslow II returned home to San Diego after his Miami Hurricanes won the 2001 national title, Winslow handed his father, the NFL Hall of Fame tight end, his championship ring.

        Winslow was one of four true freshmen to play for the Hurricanes, but because the tight end caught only two passes during the season, he asked his father to keep the ring. He didn't think he earned it.

        This is what senior center Brett Romberg wants to hear as the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes begin practice Saturday with the goal of becoming the first Miami team to win consecutive national championships.

        “I hope the younger guys realize that they really didn't earn a national championship,” Romberg says. “It was the older guys, the juniors and seniors, they're the ones that have been through the hard times and earned the national championship. The younger guys need to go out and get their own.”

        The veterans say they are not sated by last year's national title. “I want to do something that no one has ever done at the University of Miami, go back to back,” Romberg says.

        This year's team will be filled with last year's understudies. With only 10 returning starters, young players like Winslow, who replaces Jeremy Shockey, one of the five Miami players drafted in the first round, will step in. Though the cast has changed, there are still plenty of Matthew Brodericks and Nathan Lanes to go around.

        “Miami last year had one of the greatest football teams I've ever seen,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer says. “They might have lost a lot of those players to the NFL, but they are going to replace a lot of them with great players.”

        Winslow is perhaps the most heralded of those replacements, in part because of his famous father, but mostly because of his speed and talent.

        “Coming out of spring practice, I won't say Kellen was the most pleasant surprise, because it wasn't a surprise because we expected him to be good,” says Miami coach Larry Coker, “but he had a great spring and had a terrific summer, so I think he'll be a good replacement for Jeremy.”

        “He's so much better than I was at that point,” says Winslow Sr., who started as a sophomore at Missouri.

        Looking for improvement

        Last season quarterback Ken Dorsey had the cleanest uniform in college football because the starting offensive line allowed only two sacks. This season, he doesn't think he'll need much bleach because four players on the line have significant experience.

        Dorsey will become the winningest quarterback in Miami history with his next victory. The 6-5, 200-pound senior has a 26-1 record as a starter and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting behind winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska and Florida's Rex Grossman.

        The way Dorsey views the world, there's always a spiral that could be tighter or a read that could be smarter. He has two goals for self-improvement.

        “I want to get one or two more completions a quarter. If I do, that puts me in 60 percent passing, which would give the team a much better opportunity to win, and I want to throw less interceptions,” Dorsey says. “I think last year was not my best year, to be honest with you.”

        Most quarterbacks would love to have Dorsey's numbers: He completed 57.9 percent of his passes with nine interceptions. Dorsey spent the summer studying endless hours of film and ran the team's workout program. He also practiced off-campus with receiver Andre Johnson, his co-MVP in the Rose Bowl. Johnson was suspended for summer sessions because of alleged cheating in two classes last year and was not permitted to train on campus. So Dorsey would meet Johnson at a park and throw to him in preparation for fall.

        Dorsey “still a geek” to teammates

        Dorsey's other free hours were filled with the other loves in his life: his girlfriend, Jordan Simms, and his Madden NFL 2002 video game.

        “Kenny is still a geek,” Romberg says. “He's still the geeky guy that he was when he came in his freshman year.

        “Between his girlfriend and his video games ...,” Romberg sighs. Romberg lives with both Dorsey and Simms in an off-campus house. “The way he talks to his girlfriend, I never heard that many "I love yous' in my life. Makes you want to throw up,” says Romberg, just warming up. “You go golfing with him, and he's calling his girlfriend every three minutes, telling her how he's doing, asking her what she's doing, saying, "Honey, I'll be home in 16 holes.' Honey, I'll be home in 12 holes.' That type of thing.”

        Then there's the video games and Dorsey's competitiveness.

        “That guy has a grumpy day if he loses a video game, so his girlfriend is always yelling in the bedroom, "Are you winning?' Just to make sure her day is not going to be as miserable as his,” Romberg says.

        Dorsey's rebuttal to being called a geek, albeit one who's a strong contender for the Heisman?

        “This coming from a fat prima donna?” Dorsey fires back, before relenting. “Actually, it hard to argue with the fact that I never go out, and I play a lot of video games.”

        In other words, Dorsey hasn't changed.

        Neither has Miami's entire defensive front, which returns intact, led by defensive end Jerome McDougle and defensive tackle William Joseph. In all, six starters are back from a group that led the nation in scoring defense, allowing 9.4 points per game and forcing a nation-best 45 turnovers.

        Jonathan Vilma, one of the two returning starters at linebacker, says the defense doesn't want to give the quarterback more than four seconds to throw the ball this season. Vilma is used to working quickly. To escape the boredom of summer workouts, he and some teammates entertained themselves by going on night boat rides searching for alligators. They would find one, lift it by the back of the neck and have a teammate snap a photo. “Every so often,” Vilma says, “one gets in the boat.”

        So what do you do?

        “You get them out,” he says.

        Of course. This Miami team has an answer for everything.

        Coker bobbles fame

        As for the self-effacing Coker, his smooth head certainly didn't grow any larger after he became the first rookie coach since 1948 to win a national title.

        A few weeks after the Rose Bowl, Coker, assuming he was still as anonymous as he was during 22 years as an assistant coach, threw on his sweats, didn't shave and brought his wife's car in for servicing early one morning. At the station, a crowd of nattily attired businessmen dropping off their cars gathered around him, congratulated him on his success and asked if the 'Canes could repeat. Coker was embarrassed that he wore yesterday's stubble, and from that moment on he learned there's no anonymity anymore, not even in an oil and filter change.

        In today's sports world, if bobblehead dolls have become the measuring stick of fame, Coker has not yet arrived.

        “Our baseball coach has one,” Coker says. Then he adds in mock indignation, “I'm going to talk to our athletic director, Paul Dee, about that one. I need a bobblehead also.”

        Truth is, all Coker needs this season is a break. The Hurricanes will test their nation's-best 22-game win streak against a schedule arguably the most difficult in the country: at No. 7 Florida, home against No. 4 Florida State, at No. 5 Tennessee and home vs. No. 16 Virginia Tech. Coker spent some time talking with Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and asked about the challenge of repeating as champions. (The Broncos won the Super Bowl in '98 and '99.) Following a Super Bowl win, the next season's schedule is brutal, Shanahan said, just like the Hurricanes. Shanahan also warned that every team will be out to unseat the champ.

        “If we're the same team we were a year ago, that won't be good enough because our schedule got tougher,” Coker says. “We're going to have be focused and hungry, and if we play well we'll have a chance to win every game.”

        And another national championship.

        “Anytime you're successful,” Coker says, “you want to do it again.”


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