CORAL GABLES — The heat index went well past 100 degrees in the afternoon sun. Players ran – not jogged – between practice drills. Some of them cramped up.
“That’s pretty typical,” coach Mark Richt said, given the heat and hurried pace.
It was atypical to see quarterback Brad Kaaya short of breath and dripping sweat.
It wasn’t because he was out of shape. When he spoke Thursday after Miami’s first practice, he just finished running post-practice sprints. That was the penalty for throwing an interception in 7-on-7 drills. Speedy graduate transfer cornerback Adrian Colbert got him.
“He tricked me,” Kaaya said. “It won’t happen again.”
He hasn’t been fooled too many times in his career. In two seasons as the starter for a middling Miami program, Kaaya has thrown for 6436 yards, 42 touchdowns and 17 interceptions – five of those last year. As a junior, he is the Hurricanes’ greatest hope for contention in an ACC Coastal where no team seems to have the edge.
“It’s not all on me,” Kaaya said. “I have a big impact in a lot of what happens around here, but at the same time, it takes a lot more than just me and coach Richt. It takes a lot of buy-in from everyone else. Even young guys, even freshmen like [wide receiver] Ahmmon Richards, who has to step up.
“A lot of guys have to grow up now. It can’t just be me. It can’t just be the scholarship guys. It has to be the walk-ons too. Everyone has to contribute.”
That includes the quarterbacks behind him, even though everyone who wears orange and green hopes they won’t play a meaningful down this fall.
Kaaya doesn’t discuss the NFL draft, saying he owes it to himself and his teammates to worry about improving as a player. But even if the potential first-round pick winds up staying for his senior year, UM will need to find a successor among redshirt freshman Evan Shirreffs, true freshman Jack Allison, and redshirt sophomores Vincent Testaverde and Malik Rosier.
“Everybody threw the ball pretty good today,” said Richt, who will rotate the four with the second unit until he’s pleased with one. Kaaya said he wants the search to end quickly.
“I’ve seen them put the effort in,” he said. “It’s just time for someone to take that next step. We still don’t know who the backup is. That’s a group that needs to step their game up. I’m don’t want to call anyone out, but someone needs to be assertive among those four guys.
“They all have it in them. No matter who it is, they all have to put it together.”
Shirreffs said it’s funny he’s in the competition at all. The Jefferson, Ga. native broke the thumb on his throwing hand early in his junior season and was lightly recruited. Former Miami offensive coordinator James Coley – now, incidentally, a Georgia assistant – saw potential and offered him a scholarship.
He signed to play for Al Golden, not Richt, whom he watched on Saturdays – “I attended most home Georgia games,” he said – and learned from as an elementary and middle schooler, when he attended Richt’s summer camps.
“It’s pretty wild,” Shirreffs said. “It’s pretty crazy when I think about it sometimes.”
He spends little time reflecting, though. He knows Kaaya is watching. More importantly, Richt and quarterbacks coach Jon Richt are dissecting everything he does.
“They’re definitely looking at consistency – who makes the best decisions, who knows the offense, who knows what to do every play and makes the least mistakes,” Shirreffs said. “Every practice, they’re charting every throw. After every handoff, they’re making sure we carry out every fake. They’re watching every aspect of our game to decide.”