- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

Quarterback Jacory Harris is the driving force behind Miami’s remarkable U-turn.

Coach Randy Shannon’s first two seasons resulted in a 12-13 record and provided few if any warnings that a storm was brewing in Coral Gables. But after victories over No. 18 Florida State (38-34) and No. 14 Georgia Tech (33-17), the sirens are blaring.

The Hurricanes are back - lock, stock and swagger - behind the play of their precocious sophomore quarterback.

“We don’t want everybody jumping on us now,” said Harris, who leads No. 9 Miami into Blacksburg on Saturday to face No. 11 Virginia Tech (2-1). “Everybody was down on us, saying we were going to go 0-4 [to start the season], so we still have that in our minds.”

Miami practically invented the us-vs.-the-world renegade mentality during its rise to prominence in the 1980s and throughout the 20-year dynasty that produced five national titles (1983, ‘87, ‘89, ‘91 and 2001) and an unmatched pipeline of NFL talent. A linebacker during the meat of Miami’s reign of terror (1985-87), Shannon was promoted from defensive coordinator to coach in the wake of an ugly 2006 campaign that ended with a 7-6 record and saw former coach Larry Coker lose control on the field and off.

Shannon’s mandate required a nasty balancing act: return Miami football to its elite status while injecting discipline into a program that derived at least part of its success and allure from pushing behavioral boundaries. In his first full recruiting class, Shannon found a nucleus of players who understood his directive at Miami’s Northwestern High, signing a remarkable seven players from the state’s best squad.

Harris was the quarterback of that team, which compiled a 30-0 record and won back-to-back state titles in football-rich Florida’s largest division. College scouts questioned his arm strength and durability as a 6-foot-4, 176-pound senior, but Shannon saw traits often overlooked: poise and leadership.

Those characteristics were on display in Miami’s season-opening victory in Tallahassee: Harris repeatedly rallied the Hurricanes from behind with three fourth-quarter touchdown drives. He carved up Georgia Tech’s secondary last week, completing 20 of 25 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns to earn his second ACC player of the week award and land on a number of Heisman Trophy watch lists.

“I’m not surprised. His demeanor never changes - calm and cool,” Shannon said. “It’s nice to see that Jacory is getting some accolades about Heisman thoughts and all of those things. But sitting down with Jacory and knowing Jacory, his total focus is on this football team and Virginia Tech.”

It hardly could be anywhere else given the savage gantlet Miami is trying to negotiate to open the season. If the Hurricanes survive this weekend’s trip to Lane Stadium, they will return home to face their toughest test of the season: No. 10 Oklahoma. That leaves Harris and the Hurricanes little time to reflect on the Heisman race or the team’s highest ranking since 2005.

“We’re not paying attention to any of that stuff,” Harris said. “I really don’t think I have done anything yet, because we’ve only played two games and we still have 12 more to go. We don’t want [to be ranked] No. 9. No. 9 is [eight] spots away from being No. 1. You want to be No. 1 in the nation. You want to be where Florida is… where all the great teams are. That’s where we’re trying to get.”

That quest recommences Saturday at Virginia Tech, where the Hurricanes will face a defense that kept Nebraska out of the end zone last week en route to a 16-15 victory. Lane Stadium is littered with the shattered dreams of visiting teams, but the Hurricanes demolished the Hokies the last time these teams collided in Blacksburg with national rankings (27-7 in 2005).

Channeling some vintage Miami bravado, Harris said he is looking forward to his Lane Stadium debut.

“Who doesn’t want to play in front of a hostile crowd?” he asked. “I’m not a cocky or arrogant person, but I like playing away because at the end of the game when you see the fans, you want to see them with stunned faces, stale faces wondering what just happened. That’s my fuel at away games. I just want to see the crowd go from like ‘Boo, Jacory, boo the team, you sorry, you suck’ to like ‘What just happened? We just blew the game.’ ”

Ah yes, the bluster before the storm. Miami is indeed back.

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