MIAMI (AP) — Damien Berry simply could not keep a straight face.
Miami’s starting running back was sitting in the Hurricanes’ football meeting room earlier this week, insisting that Thursday night’s season-opener against Florida A&M was forefront in his team’s mind, and nothing — not even the fast-approaching Sept. 11 meeting at No. 2 Ohio State — could disrupt that focus.
“We don’t look over nobody. We just go out there and play to the best of our ability,” Berry was saying, his smirk turning into a grin, the grin turning into a giggle, the giggle turning into all-out laughter.
“Had to try,” Berry said.
Not looking ahead to Week 2 might be the toughest task the 13th-ranked Hurricanes face in Week 1 against the Rattlers, who have played Miami seven times since 1980 and lost them all by a combined 355-49 count.
Miami rolled past Florida A&M 48-16 a year ago, and clearly has a huge edge in size, speed and talent over the Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
“I think one of the challenges you have to have when playing a team like Florida A&M is making sure that your guys understand that part of the preparations, what we’ve done in August and throughout camp, (means you) have to go through the process of playing this team,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “And staying focused.”
The Hurricanes were 9-4 a year ago, and believe they’re one of the teams capable of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference this season. While whatever happens Thursday night won’t help or hinder those plans, Miami knows not getting off to a fast start in 2010 would be considered a colossal disappointment.
“I know they’re going to come out there and play us like its their Super Bowl,” Miami left tackle Orlando Franklin said. “They’re going to come out here and play us hard. This is their biggest game of the season, probably. So we’ve got to go out there and take care of all the little things … and get us prepared for what we’re going to see later on in the season.”
Miami has plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball, most notably quarterback Jacory Harris, who threw for 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his first season as Miami’s starter. And he’s already convinced that the Hurricanes’ fan base has skipped past the opener and turned all its attention to the Ohio State showdown.
“You hear it all the time,” Harris said. “You hear it on Twitter. No matter where you go, ‘OSU this, OSU that.’ Right now, we’re just concentrating on FAMU. And once the FAMU game is over, that’s when OSU will be something, will be our main focus.”
If Miami wants to overlook Florida A&M, that would be fine with the Rattlers.
Florida A&M went 8-3 last season, and took away plenty of lessons from their matchup with Miami. The Rattlers jumped ahead 3-0 in that game, then quickly fell apart, giving up the next 31 points in a span of only 17 minutes.
“I think us playing Miami, in the end, it was good for us,” Rattlers defensive back Curtis Holcomb said. “It allowed us to see the speed and strength of Division I. It’s different from our league. But we adjusted to it well. The score at the end looked funny, but I think we did handle it well. We know how they play now. So us playing them, it has to help us.”
Miami’s initial depth chart of the season came with few surprises.
Running back Graig Cooper, who badly hurt his right knee during Miami’s loss in the Champs Sports Bowl to Wisconsin, made it through training camp without any setbacks — and without any hitting, either. Cooper did not play in any of Miami’s three scrimmages, but is listed as the first-string punt returner for Miami’s opener.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get him some plays in, see how he feels and go from there,” Shannon said.
Another key for the Hurricanes will be the play of the offensive line, which returns some veterans like Franklin and Joel Figueroa, but will open the season with five players essentially starting in new roles. Franklin and Figueroa have primarily been guards during their careers; the seniors are now Miami’s starting tackles.
“I’m pretty sure everybody’s been focused on FAMU,” Franklin said. “It’s been so long since we’ve played a game. I don’t really think that’ll be a problem.”