Unique experience for UM's seniors about to wrap up
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Stephen Morris stepped onto the University of Miami campus in spring 2009 as an early enrollee and the quarterback of the future.
He can still recite what his professor proclaimed during his first college course -- Introduction to Theatre: "Death is always in the room."
Four years later, Morris and his fellow seniors will play their final home game against Virginia (2-8, 0-6 ACC) this Saturday at noon at Sun Life Stadium.
"I think it means a little more for the seniors. Obviously it's our last go-around here, our last game," Morris said. "It's going to mean a lot to us, it's going to be emotional. It's a sign of a new development, and I'm excited."
Despite three consecutive losses that plummeted a 7-0 team from No. 7 in the BCS standings to out of the rankings, the Hurricanes (7-3, 3-3 ACC) still remain in sight of their goals.
If they win out by beating Virginia, Pittsburgh and a bowl-game opponent, they would boast the program's first double-digit victory season since 2003 when the team went 11-2 and defeated Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
Three times over the past decade Miami fell short at nine wins.
Defensive back Kacy Rodgers II, who will have family from Texas in attendance on Saturday, said going through the smoke tunnel one final time would be emotional.
"To get this program turned around," Rodgers said. "I think that was our mission from the start of it, and I think our mission hasn't changed yet. We still have an ability to win 10 games, and we haven't done that in a long time. That's exactly how the seniors want to go out."
At the end of the regular season, more importantly, players will get to compete in a bowl game. That couldn't happen over the past two seasons while the athletics department self-imposed sanctions during the NCAA saga.
In 2010 Morris took over for then-starter Jacory Harris, who tossed three first-half interceptions, at the Sun Bowl (where it actually snowed).
Miami would go on to lose to Notre Dame 33-17 as Morris went 22 of 33 with 282 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
"Especially for the ones who have already been to El Paso, we're looking forward to winning these last two games," senior fullback Maurice Hagens said. "From my experience going to El Paso -- it was an alright time, but it’s nothing you want the freshmen's first experience to be."
Morris, who is fourth on Miami's career passing list with 7,224 yards behind Ken Dorsey, Harris and Gino Torretta, agreed. He is also one of only four 7,000-yard passers in program history.
Although the Atlantic Coast Conference championship is almost certainly out of the picture, by beating their next two opponents the Hurricanes would reach a higher-tier game and avoid a repeat scenario of the Sun Bowl.
"There's a lot to play for still, and I think that's the message from us leaders on the team," Morris said. "There's still so much positive to look at and so much to work for and practice hard for. That's really the message, and we had a great practice (Tuesday), and we're going to continue to develop and see how it goes."
Like Morris, a few other seniors have marched toward leaving their marks in the record books with career years in 2013.
Wideout Allen Hurns, finally playing a full season healthy, has a team-high 45 catches for 839 yards and five touchdowns. He could become the fourth Miami wide receiver with a 1,000-yard season.
Head coach Al Golden said Hurns and offensive lineman Brandon Linder are "playing their best football right now, playing lights out."
Defensive lineman Shayon Green is third on the team with 57 tackles, first with 10.5 for a loss and tied for second with three sacks.
"I didn't leave nothing on the table," Green said. "I think my time here I did my best. I don't regret any decision I made. Leave with a W. This year’s team has probably been the best morale since I’ve been here. We have a lot of unity, and we're just out there playing."
So what will the legacy be for this senior class?
"The biggest thing is they stood with us when it was really hard, and I know it's for the most part over now, but there really wasn't many days where they could see the future in the last 28 months," Golden said.
"I'm really proud of how they've delivered us through this. They've adopted somebody else's problem as their own, they fought through it, they resolved it, and they allowed us to move forward. I want to make sure everybody in our organization understands how pivotal that was for us and that we send them off the right way."