When Miami quarterback Scott Covington worked out this summer,
lifting weights and running laps through the oppressive South
Florida heat with his teammates, he frequently talked about an
incident that occurred on Sept. 27 of last year, a day that will
live in infamy among the Hurricanes. That afternoon, during
Miami's game against West Virginia, a plane flew by towing this
message for coach Butch Davis above the Orange Bowl: FROM
NATIONAL CHAMPS TO NATIONAL CHUMPS! THANKS BUTCH! As the plane
passed out of sight, you could almost see the mystique of
Hurricanes football disappearing with it into the clear, blue
sky over Miami.
"We've talked about that banner a lot," says Covington, a
fifth-year senior. "It has motivated us by serving as a reminder
of how embarrassing last season was."
True, the halcyon days of golden-armed quarterbacks, Heisman
Trophies and national titles are over for the Hurricanes--at
least for now. Last year Miami finished 5-6, its first losing
season since 1979. Worse, the Hurricanes were at times laughably
bad, as when they lost 47-0 to Florida State and 21-17 to that
powerhouse Pittsburgh. Yet for the first time since Davis was
hired in January 1995, there's reason for hope in Coral Gables.
Fifteen true freshmen got valuable playing time last season, and
the probation and scholarship reductions that Davis inherited
have finally been removed. This year Miami signed its first full
class of recruits (25) in five years. This all translates into
program building, which doesn't take long when you're located in
a region that breeds some of the best high school talent in the
country and you have a charismatic coach like Davis. "There are
no more excuses," says Davis. "Whatever we do now reflects
directly on us. I look forward to that challenge."
That challenge will be made easier if Covington, a high school
All-America at Dana Hills (Calif.) High, can live up to the hype
that has followed him since he enrolled in 1994. Though he's
blessed with beautiful mechanics and a strong arm, Covington
failed to win the starting job in any of his first three
seasons. Distressed over his lack of playing time, he quit the
Hurricanes in January 1996 and returned only after Davis, citing
the lack of scholarship players on the roster, refused to
release him from his commitment to Miami. "I didn't understand
at the time why he wouldn't let me leave, but it has worked
out," says Covington, who appeared in nine games last season and
completed 45% of his passes. "Hopefully I can help this team get
back into the elite."
The return to glory won't happen this year, but Miami has an
enviable foundation of experienced underclassmen, along with
junior tailback Edgerrin James, who is one of only three backs
in Hurricanes history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a
season. Sophomore wideouts Reggie Wayne and Daryl Jones
constitute one of the best young pass-catching duos in the
nation. Sophomores Damione Lewis, a defensive tackle, and Dan
Morgan, a linebacker, are All-Americas-in-waiting.
"This is the year we start our climb back to the top," says
Davis. "You have to have a lot of seniors to win a national
title, and in 1999 we'll have 23." Davis stops here. He makes no
bold predictions, but if he can pull off big things in '99,
there will be a pilot out there with some crow to eat.
COLOR PHOTO: MIKE DEHOOG/TDP Eye of the storm Covington will direct a talented but callow supporting cast. [Scott Covington throwing pass]
1997 record: 5-6
(3-4, tied for 5th in Big East)
Final ranking: unranked
1997 Averages OFFENSE DEFENSE
Scoring 28.5 25.9
Rushing Yards 170.0 219.9
Passing Yards 222.2 177.3
Total Yards 392.2 397.2
Sophomore Al Blades, the younger brother of former Miami stars
Bennie and Brian, has fully recovered from reconstructive
surgery on his left knee, which sidelined him for the 1997
season.... Reggie Wayne set a school record for freshmen last
season with 48 receptions, breaking the old mark set by Michael
Irvin (46 catches in 1985). Wayne figures to be a prominent
receiver again this season.
Schedule strength: 43rd of 112
Oct. 10 vs. Florida State Another embarrassing loss would
severely hamstring Butch Davis in the Sunshine State recruiting
Nov. 28 at Syracuse Before last season's 33-13 setback, Miami
hadn't lost to the Orangemen since '79.
The Bottom Line
Davis is moving in the right direction. Even so, it'll be at
least a year before the Hurricanes spend New Year's on the road.