CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Al-Quadin Muhammad’s 2014 football season never happened.
He’s ready to make up for that.
The Miami defensive lineman missed last season — as well as the fall 2014 semester academically — after the university suspended him for his role in an off-campus fight with another student. So this spring football season is a long-awaited return for Muhammad, who got a job during the day and worked out in a gym near campus at night while he was banished from school.
"I definitely look at the game differently," Muhammad said Saturday after Miami’s third practice of the spring season. "I feel like I’m more mature when it comes down to watching the game and going out there and working and doing what I’ve got to do as far as being on the football field."
He changed his body, getting to 260 pounds and readying himself to potentially have a big impact this fall for a Hurricanes team that finished 6-7 a year ago. He changed his jersey number to 8, both his high school number and a nod to the days when the best player on his Pop Warner team would be issued that shirt.
He also changed his attitude, and Miami coach Al Golden raves about that most of all.
"He brings great energy," Golden said. "He’s a great kid. He brings awesome energy, he’s a leader and he’s real. He can identify with everybody in the locker room, coaches, everybody in the building, really. It’s good to have his presence back. He’s part of our soul, to be honest with you."
Muhammad went through training camp last summer, but wasn’t on the field for game day while the university evaluated a claim from the former student — also Muhammad’s former roommate — who alleged that he was struck three times after last year’s spring game off-campus.
The incident was reported to police as an aggravated battery, though court records do not show charges being filed. But the school disciplinary process took many months to sort through and Muhammad’s sanction was a suspension defined as a "complete separation from the university."
Muhammad said he’s not interested in looking back, and neither is Golden. They’ve moved on to what awaits in 2015.
"I got everything I needed to get done and it’s actually been helping me," Muhammad said. "Now I’m able to go out there and perform the way I’m supposed to perform. … Most importantly, I’m excited to be back with my friends and the guys on the team to help get this thing where it needs to be."
Muhammad had eight tackles and two sacks in 13 games in 2013, his freshman season. The native of Irvington, New Jersey, was a highly regarded recruit from perennial high school power Don Bosco Prep.
"I think I’m a hell of a football player," Muhammad said.
Come September, Miami will certainly hope that he’s right.
NOTES: No. 14 was in use at a Miami football practice for the first time in a long time. Transfer quarterback Vincent Testaverde — whose father Vinny’s No. 14 jersey has been retired by the Hurricanes — will wear the number this season. Vinny Testaverde was at practice Saturday. … Golden said offensive lineman K.C. McDermott, who hurt his knee last season, is expected back at some point this spring. Among those out for the entire spring, per Golden: DL Calvin Heurtelou and OL Taylor Gadbois.