KISSIMMEE — They were there for a charity function, so it’s good the verbal jabs between Miami and West Virginia players Monday didn’t escalate to a physical level.
Several Mountaineers, wearing their navy blue game jerseys, and a few orange-clad Hurricanes had to be separated on at least two occasions as they mouthed off to one another in Kissimmee on Monday, two days before the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando.
The smack talk was mostly between Florida-bred players. They made no physical contact, but made plenty of promises to settle the beef at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Camping World Stadium (ESPN).
They were donating their time to the Give Kids the World Village, a 79-acre retreat where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families enjoy a free getaway with “whimsical accommodations” and playgrounds, pools and rides, according to the resort.
Groups of players took pictures with kids and played games. That part of the day went well.
“You want to put a smile on their faces and try to get them to forget about everything that’s going on and be happy, just enjoy life,” senior cornerback Corn Elder said. “A lot of these kids look at us as superstars or role models. It’s great to be able to come do this.”
West Virginia offensive lineman Kyle Bosch said it “was very hard not to tear up” during an informational video they watched. “The kids that have come through here and had this experience, it can change their entire outlook on their life.”
Even though players knew they were there for that purpose, some couldn’t resist jawing at one another.
As the teams stood idly near each other in a courtyard with a DJ playing club music, several young kids danced, and players joined them. It seemed a dance-off between the teams might happen.
It did not.
One player, West Virginia star receiver Shelton Gibson Jr., was heard above the song “Cha Cha Slide” saying toward Miami’s defensive backs, including Elder and senior safety Jamal Carter, “You ain’t met me.”
West Virginia defensive end Adam Shuler, a wide-eyed Longwood native whose numerous tattoos include the “407” zip code and the “100” emoji, was among the loudest. He seemed to irritate Miami safety Rayshawn Jenkins by asking him loudly and incredulously, “You play?”
The irony there: Jenkins, a senior from Tampa, has played in 48 games, has nine career interceptions and was an honorable mention All-ACC pick. Shuler, a redshirt freshman, is listed as a backup. He has one sack in 12 games this year.
Two West Virginia players, Stuart native Xavier Preston, a linebacker, and safety Dravon Askew-Henry, stood next to and mimicked the poses of Miami players as the Hurricanes took a photo with a family.
For about five minutes, players on both sides stared at each other and kept talking. Teammates and staffers stepped in, helped draw the groups apart, and the tension fizzled.
It flared up again after the announcement was made that Miami’s buses were ready.
“Bye Felicia!” Shuler shouted as the Canes walked by a group of Mountaineers, toward the exit. “Hey, why you talking while you leaving?” a teammate called out. “Why you walking and talking?”
A few Hurricanes stopped and turned.
“Stacy!” Preston shouted to Stacy Coley. “You ain’t wanna tell me nothing.”
Miami staffers corralled Coley, and a few others who had stopped, and kept them moving. For several minutes after the Hurricanes departed, the Mountaineers were bubbling with bravado.
“We’re gonna make No. 29 drop out the draft,” an unidentified Mountaineer said in reference to Elder, Miami’s top defensive player. “Don’t even let him be a free agent.”
A cool-headed teammate advised him to save his energy for the game.
It wasn’t all heat. Several of the 14 Mountaineers from Florida renewed acquaintances with the Hurricanes. Miami sophomore running back Mark Walton and WVU freshman receiver Jovon Durante, two Miami natives, hugged each other. Walton chatted with WVU running backs coach JaJuan Seider, a Belle Glade native who recruited Walton hard. Elder spent time with West Virginia cornerback Antonio Crawford, who transferred from Miami in 2015. Both will play in their final college games.
“That’s my boy,” Crawford said of Elder.
Players and staffers from both sides were wondering why the teams were at the event at the same time. Good question, although it’s worth noting that Miami and Louisville players got along just fine in 2013, when they attended the same function. And there wound up being plenty of tension in that game.
Incidentally, coach Mark Richt commented Saturday — after UM announced the suspension of seven players — that in his experience, “18-to-22-year-old guys … tend to do first and think later.”
Though it occurred in the wrong setting, a little back-and-forth between the teams will certainly add a little spice to a clash of the 14th-ranked Mountaineers (10-2) and Hurricanes (8-4), the former Big East rivals.
Miami freshman linebacker Shaq Quarterman, who didn’t participate in the shenanigans, said he “had a blast” riding a carousel with kids.
“It’s really eye-opening,” Quarterman said. “I see it as a tremendous blessing, for them to get to make my day. They see it as us making their day. I’m just happy to do something for the community.”