College Miami Hurricanes

UM Spring Notebook: Opportunities Abound For Canes’ Young Cornerbacks

It’s no secret, if you want to attract high-level recruits – you better be offering early playing time.

And it better not be a hollow offer.

Sure, having seasoned upperclassmen is any coach’s dream but the reality of college football – and amateur sports in general – is that the young bloods want a piece of the action.

With Miami losing two cornerbacks – grad-transfer Dee Delaney to graduation and would-be junior Malek Young to a career-ending neck injury – having their youngest boundary defenders make contributions this coming season is a borderline necessity.

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said that the young players have a “responsibility” to be ready to contribute right away if they are called upon – especially since Miami only has five cornerbacks on the roster currently, which will become six when speedy three-star converted cornerback Nigel Bethel (from Miami Northwestern High) arrives on campus this summer.

Young And Hungry

The Hurricanes were fortunate enough start four upperclassmen in its secondary in 2017 – Delaney and Michael Jackson at corner along with Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine at the safety positions.

But it was Trajan Bandy (a freshman in 2017) who continued to impress coaches and pushed for playing time. Between Delaney’s battle with injuries and defensive sub-packages that called for extra defensive backs, Bandy got on the field and started paying early dividends.

The 5-foot-9, Miami Christopher Columbus High alum, ended up playing in all 13 of UM’s games – totaling 25 tackles, 6 pass breakups (tied for third-highest) and an interception, which he returned 65 yards for a touchdown against Notre Dame.

But Bandy, a player that multiple coaches have called a “True Cane”, isn’t satisfied with his early success.

Just like Bandy, Miami has a pair of early enrollee cornerbacks – both from Miami-Dade County – that have their sights set on getting on the field early and often this coming season.

Gilbert Frierson (Coral Gables High) and DJ Ivey (South Dade High) have already made impressions on the coaching staff – and their teammates – with their work in Miami’s offseason “mat drills” and through the early spring practice sessions.

Both Ivey and Frierson, who were South Florida All-MST First Team selections, have the “prototype” build for cornerbacks – tall frames with long arms to re-direct receivers and disrupt passing lanes – while also possessing elite level athleticism and speed.

Ivey (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) is the more natural cover corner of the two – having played the position almost exclusively in high school – while Frierson (6-foot-1, 186 pounds) has the athleticism to cover receivers on the edges but plays the game with more physicality, usually seen in safeties.

Neither Frierson or Ivey have been made available to the media this spring – and probably won’t be until the team’s “media day” or until they play in a game per team rules – but Bandy had nothing but good things to say about his young teammates.

Always Competing

As good as Ivey and Frierson have looked, Miami cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph does have a bit of a safety net in place that would prevent the youngsters being thrown to the proverbial wolves – like the Canes’ season-opening showdown with LSU.

The secondary got a 6-foot-1, 200-pound gift when Michael Jackson said he’d return for his senior season. Jackson has worked his way through the ranks and has earned the trust of Rumph and Diaz – tying for a team-high with four interceptions along with 43 tackles, a sack, 5 pass breakups, and 1 fumble recovery.

Jackson, who said he returned to school because he wanted to prove that his 2017 campaign was “no fluke”, knows that the young corners are very capable of getting on the field – even at his expense.

“Oh yeah. It’s spring. Nobody’s job is certain,” Jackson told reporters this past week. “If I don’t come out here and play, my job is [taken].”

But, in a sign of true leadership, Jackson has welcomed them to the cornerback room and has willingly poured out wisdom.

“They bring a lot of spirit to the room and just me being an older guy, I like that…they are always going to have fun, laugh, joke, but when it’s time to play ball they get serious, too.”

Forgotten Man

With Jackson cemented in his leadership role, Bandy building on the splash he made this past season, and the two youngsters turning heads through the spring; senior Jhavonte Dean has become a bit of the “forgotten man”.

Fans celebrated when the former South Dade High product that took the junior college route and became the No. 1 rated JUCO cornerback in the 2017 class signed with Canes.

His 6-foot-2, 185-pound build and elite speed seemed like a perfect fit in Miami’s aggressive defense, but Dean didn’t live up to expectations. He was nothing more than a rotational piece – appearing in 12 games this past season and only accumulating 11 tackles and one pass breakup.

Even though he’s a senior, he is only coming into his second season in Coral Gables and is going through his first spring with the team – and the additional practice time has begun to pay off.

Dean, who confirmed that he’s been working mostly with the No. 1 defense, said the mental aspect of his game is catching up with his gifted physical attributes.

Diaz called Dean’s physical attributes “off the charts” and said that the spring session has been just what the doctored ordered for his career.

“He’s getting more confident in his technique. From an ability standpoint – his ability to run, his length – all of his physical attributes are off the charts,” Diaz said.

“Now it’s about him feeling comfortable in his technique…he can lean on his technique instead of just his physical attributes. And your confidence comes back when you feel good about your technique; having a lot of confidence playing corner is critical. This month is vital for him and we like the way he’s coming along.”

Quick Hits

>>> The defense had to do “wall sits” Thursday after practice. Players were lined up with their backs against a gate in a seated position and held the position for close to five minutes.

When asked why the defensive players had to endure the unusual drill, junior linebacker Michael Pinckney called it a “team bonding experience”.

But Coach Diaz was much more direct with the real reason – saying the defensive players didn’t compete well enough Thursday.

>>> Sophomore Jonathan Garvin, who said his current weight is up to 245 pounds, spoke highly of early enrollee freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau.

The 6-foot-6 Rousseau (from Hialeah Champagnat Catholic) has received praise from multiple sources for his work-ethic and immense potential and is said to have the defenes’ only strip-sack so far during the spring.

J.T. Wilcox
J.T. Wilcox is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked in South Florida for more than a decade. He authors "The Bald Predictions" blog and "The Baldcast" podcast.

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