Hurricanes WR Stacy Coley aiming for bigger year as sophomore

Humbled by a couple of drops he had in last year's season opener for Miami, the versatile and speedy Stacy Coley hopes to emerge at the top receiving threat for the Hurricanes.

Stacy Coley finished with 33 receptions for 591 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman.

Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- University of Miami sophomore wide receiver Stacy Coley learned the hard way about the speed of collegiate football.

Although he was the only FBS player to score a touchdown four different ways, the memory that stands out most from his first year came during the opener against Florida Atlantic University. Coley dropped two touchdowns in the 34-6 victory.

Despite his status as one of the top recruits in the nation out of Oakland Park's Northeast High, the failure challenged him early on.

"Once you're thrown in the game it's much faster," Coley said. "Everything calms down and it's high school all over again. Not saying it was a worry because of the FAU game, I just kept myself calm. I tell the new guys if they get thrown into the situation I was just stay calm and rely on your training.

"It was really mentally trying. I have good leadership. Once that went down it felt like nothing actually happened. They immediately came at me and said, 'Let it go.' I'm just thankful it happened at the beginning and not at the end of the season."

Coley would rebound thanks to several factors. Whether by product of circumstance or his skill or a combination of the two, his playing time increased and forced him to bounce back.

Upperclassman Phillip Dorsett would sustain an injury at North Carolina that kept him out until the Russell Athletic Bowl, though he only played one snap in the defeat. Rashawn Scott and Malcolm Lewis combined for just 10 catches, 109 yards and no touchdowns. All-ACC running back Duke Johnson broke his ankle at Florida State and missed the remainder of the season.

Suddenly, Coley was asked to complement senior Allen Hurns' possession-style repertoire as a quick-threat weapon. He started five of the final seven games after just one through the first five.

Of the 13 games, he appeared in all but one -- Sept. 7 against the rival Florida Gators. Coley caught a pass in the other 12 (five with a touchdown), including three for 73 yards and two touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

"One thing about our offense is we have the next-man mentality," Coley said. "Once somebody goes down it's the next man up, so Phillip going down -- he was a great leader. He knew I was up next so he came up to me and gave me some wise words. Of course, Allen Hurns, Herb Waters -- all of them, since I was a freshman, were keeping me calm and encouraging me about how things could go."

The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder would finish with 591 yards on 33 receptions for a 17.9 average, earning All-ACC honorable mention. He caught seven touchdowns and rushed for one. Coley also returned a punt and kickoff for a score, becoming the first Hurricane to do so since Devin Hester in 2004, upping his total to 10 for second most on the team.

To improve upon his freshman year, Coley has worked with the strength and conditioning staff to get his weight up. As wide receivers coach Brennan Carroll proclaims, "strength gains, speed gains."

Both the ups and downs of 2013 humbled Coley. Just as he learned from Hurns and Waters last season, he now teaches the younger guys like Braxton Berrios and Tyre Brady.

Already intrinsically motivated, Carroll didn't need to get on Coley for his work ethic. He has continued to mentally prepare himself, study film and read defenses.

"He's very focused," Carroll said. "We really just always stress competition. We play a lot of different guys and a lot of guys are able to play, so for all the guys I teach them to make plays and be ready to play every down and show you're that type of player. They're always competing to get at that level and they just have to keep at it."

Johnson is no stranger to the transition from one's first and second year. After success as a freshman, he knew defenses would try to stop him from making plays. He had to work with his teammates and coaches in adjusting to what was given to him.

"A lot more teams are actually going to start gameplanning for him, whereas when you're a freshman and it's like 'OK, who is this kid?" Johnson said. "He played against this team and did it on them, but who says he'll do it on us?' I think this year a lot of teams will gameplan more for him and that will continue from week to week."

Coley will no longer catch teams by surprise. Combating that will be a joint effort.

"You help him with the playcalls and with his teammates," offensive coordinator James Coley said. "Other guys have to step up so the plan of 'Hey, we're going to stop this one guy' is foiled. That's what you do."

After exceeding his own expectations as a freshman, Coley wants to up his game even more. He was named to the Maxwell Award watch list given to the college player of the year .

Hurns, who set a program record with 1,162 receiving yards in a single season, continues to communicate with Coley and his other former teammates on the unit. He passes along drills and techniques he has learned in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and offers a challenge he hopes one of the wideouts will not only accept but surpass.

"I set a high standard for myself and I think I achieved that," Coley said. "I'm setting an even higher one. Basically what Hurns said after the Louisville game is go out there and break his record. Everybody right now is just competing to break his record. That's what we're striving for and just keep scoring touchdowns and making plays when the ball's in my hand."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.