FORT LAUDERDALE — You looked really fast out there today, a reporter told Braxton Berrios after his monster performance in UM’s spring game.
“You seem surprised,” he shot back, grinning.
But have you gotten measurably faster, the reporter asked.
“It is possible to get faster,” he mused.
Only if you’re healthy. For the first time in his college career, Berrios can say he is.
“For real? This spring” is when Berrios, a wide receiver entering his junior season, said he no longer felt the effects of two separate knee injuries that hampered his first two years on campus.
“Obviously I was able to play last year and I did, but it was one of those things you’re battling and battling,” he said. “Unconsciously it’s still there. You’re trying not to think about it. I’d say this spring I finally got to 100 percent.”
The results of that: eight catches for 147 yards and a touchdown, plus the longest play of the day when he ran away from cornerback Corn Elder on a 43-yard slant.
“This is the healthiest I’ve been since high school, honestly,” he said. “I feel great.”
2016 SPRING FOOTBALL
That’s been a long time coming. Berrios tore the MCL in his left knee in UM’s 2015 opener, missed two games and played the final 11. The injury limited him to a 12-catch, 86-yard season. Berrios also returned 11 punts for 46 yards and one kick for 20 yards. He showed flashes of health in a snowy Sun Bowl loss in El Paso, taking one of his three carries for 60 yards. It was the Hurricanes’ longest rush of the season. He finished with 72 rushing yards.
After fully tearing the ACL in his right knee in a Jan. 2014 high school All-American game (and playing on it), Berrios entered his freshman season without a full offseason of strength training. He caught 21 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns, and returned four punts for 20 yards.
Berrios, a former four-star recruit from Raleigh, N.C., was Brad Kaaya’s No. 1 target on Saturday in the absence of Stacy Coley (pulled hamstring). The junior quarterback, who has always had a connection with his classmate and off-campus roommate, recently addressed Mark Richt’s comments that his receiving corps lacked “blistering” speed.
“No, they aren’t slow,” Kaaya said on WQAM. “I think what coach is talking about is we need a lot more of them. We’ll get some depth in the summer. More depth means more speed,” he reasoned, because Berrios, Coley, Lawrence Cager, Darrell Langham and Malcolm Lewis won’t be called to run every deep route in practices.
Berrios, who will be pushed by incoming freshmen Sam Bruce, Ahmmon Richards, Dionte Mullins and junior college transfer Dayall Harris, said he knows his coach wants a faster group.
“I’ve heard him say that,” Berrios said. “He hasn’t addressed it really to us, but that’s something we’re working on. It’s something we have to work on. He’s been around football for longer than we’ve been alive, so you can’t really second-guess his opinion.
“I think we do have decent speed. We have a lot of attributes that are good. If he says we need to work on our speed, that’s what we’re going to do.”