CORAL GABLES – They faced each other once in high school: 2012, when Zach McCloud was a freshman at Santaluces and Charles Perry a sophomore at Royal Palm Beach.
Now that they’re on the same team at Miami, they’re battling harder than ever before.
“We’re always going at it,” Perry said. “We still love each other, but this is what we’ve got to do.
The Hurricanes have Palm Beach County products at several spots on the field this spring. There’s senior Kc McDermott, from Palm Beach Central High, currently lining up at first-string left tackle. Sophomore wide receiver Ahmmon Richards (Wellington) should be one of the ACC’s best. Another sophomore, Oxbridge Academy grad Travis Homer, is primed for a greater role at running back. A pair of true freshmen, safety Amari Carter (Palm Beach Gardens) and defensive end Jonathan Garvin (Lake Worth) have been praised by coaches.
And at strong-side linebacker, someone from Palm Beach is in line to start. It will likely be McCloud, the man for 11 of 13 games as a true freshman last year. Perry won’t anoint him, though.
“He’s ahead right now,” said Perry, who played in 21 games as a reserve in two years. “I’ll give it to him. We’ve still got two more scrimmages, we’ve still got the fall. We both can improve.”
How is the race shaping up in McCloud’s view?
“I definitely like to hit more, I’ll say that,” McCloud joked. “No, I don’t know. I really can’t say.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who also coaches linebackers, said McCloud’s “professionalism” is one reason he’s a step ahead. McCloud (6-2, 230) was cruising last year with Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, who became the first trio of true freshmen to start for UM.
“Zach’s a hard guy to catch,” Diaz said. “And not just because of his natural talent. He and Shaq, they’re guys that just want to do it. If you tell them to do it 10 times, they do it 11. … Their work ethic, their demeanor, their professionalism is extraordinary for their age.
“That can be frustrating for a guy like Perry, but he still knows he has a role to play,” referring to the strong second half Perry played last Oct. 1 at Georgia Tech, when McCloud hyperextended his elbow on a goal-line stand. “One thing we are for certain this year, especially in the front seven, is we are deeper. Our depth is experienced depth. I anticipate that being telling in the way we play in the fall.”
Perry, 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, feels he has to “pick it up a little” to push McCloud for playing time. “I know what he knows. He knows what I know,” Perry said. “I feel he’s got that slight urgency ahead of me, and I’ve got to get my motor running even more.”
When it comes to talk about his team, which finished 9-4, on a five-game winning streak and with the No. 20 ranking, Perry is already fired up. His spring optimism is so strong that he threw around the “U” word.
“Our chance of going undefeated is very high,” he said. “That’s what I see. We had a couple plays that hurt us last year. … We’re going to get that corrected.”
Yes, undefeated. He feels that way, even with a brand-new quarterback, likely to be Evan Shirreffs, Malik Rosier or summer arrival N’Kosi Perry, a four-star recruit from Ocala.
“I like my chances with them,” he said.
Both linebackers took a flyer on the Hurricanes in tougher times. McCloud committed to UM over Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and others, reconsidered his options amid Miami’s 2015 coaching change and hopped back on board when Mark Richt came to town.
Perry chose UM over Florida after attending a June 2013 camp in Coral Gables. As a senior running back and linebacker in 2014, he helped lead the Wildcats to a school-record 11-2 mark and the regional final berth in program history. Before the season, he won the Post’s preseason player of the year award in an online voting contest. He posed in a king’s outfit, complete with headwear, robe, jewelry and a scepter.
Now he’s coming for McCloud’s crown.