When you’re the starting quarterback of an undefeated team, all public spaces become a little too crowded. Malik Rosier used to be able to have a quiet pasta dinner at The Big Cheese, one of the hot spots near Miami’s campus.
Monday night, he was the most popular guy in the joint.
“I couldn’t even eat,” Rosier said. “I had so many people walking up to me. I took like seven photos. It’s so nice to see how much love this city has for us now. They’re saying that the Notre Dame game, they were hyped. I had a date with me — not really a date, a friend — and a guy sat down beside us and had a full-on, like, 20-minute conversation with us about football.
“Miami and Coral Gables are excited to see us play and see us win. It feels good to have that love. It’s been crazy, to be honest with you.”
This town falls head over heels for a winner, and no one is winning more than the Hurricanes. They’re No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings and bound for next Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against No. 3 Clemson. Friday at Pittsburgh (noon, ABC), Miami (10-0, 7-0 ACC) will try to clinch the first undefeated regular season since 2002.
Well-coached, talented teams don’t usually get this far without lucky bounces, and Miami’s certainly had those. They also don’t get this far – or much further – by basking in the glow of their own success. Alabama’s crusty coach Nick Saban has a blanket term for the positive press, friendly faces and other saboteurs, well-meaning as they may be, he feels can turn a steely program soft.
He calls it “rat poison.”
Richt, far less edgy than Saban but just as experienced, knows the concept well. “Some guys can’t handle you saying ‘good job’ to them,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you. For whatever reason, they relax. ‘Aw, man, Coach said I did good, so I can relax now.’ Some guys you just can’t do that to.”
Call it what you want – there’s a lot of it out there.
Lines are out the door at Canes retailers. Radio, TV, newspapers and websites are buzzing about the team. On campus, at home or on social media, players are flooded with fan encouragement.
“It’s been a little different than any other year,” senior wideout Braxton Berrios said. “Obviously. And it’s been fun. I can’t sit back and say it hasn’t. … Every guy on this team deserves every bit of recognition.”
“Everywhere we go,” senior defensive end Chad Thomas said, “people are like, ‘Y’all are doing a good job, keep it up.'”
Safety Jaquan Johnson is recognizable these days, as a five-time recipient of the Turnover Chain.
“Everybody’s excited about what’s going on around campus and in the neighborhood,” Johnson said. “I went to the mall yesterday and I see a bunch of UM paraphernalia. Everybody’s wearing it now.”
Johnson doesn’t mind being stopped for a moment. Another five-time chain-wearer, cornerback Michael Jackson, claims he’d rather not.
“I just want to be a football player and play football,” he said, drawing a ‘yeah right’ roll of the eyes from tight end Chris Herndon, standing nearby. “I’ll thank you, but I just want to focus on the game.”
Thomas said he’s fine with fans – but he wouldn’t trade places with his quarterback.
“I know people like to take pictures, but they aren’t stopping us while we’re eating,” said the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Thomas, standing next to defensive tackle RJ McIntosh (6-4, 293). “They can’t stop us while we’re eating.”
Center Tyler Gauthier (6-5, 300) would be Rosier’s bouncer, if called on – “That’s what I’m here for,” he said – but doesn’t necessarily need to share the spotlight.
“I’m a big kid, so people ask you if you play football,” he said. “But my face isn’t the one buzzing across ESPN all the time.”
The coaches, on the other hand, don’t have much time for social interaction. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said the only time he’s out about about is “sitting in traffic on US-1.” Richt also goes straight home from the office.
“When all the other students are gone on vacation, by [NCAA] rule, we’re allowed to do some activities for them. I can’t go out and do those things,” he said. “Just imagine, I’m at the movie one night, I’m bowling the next night and then I’m at the Miami Heat game. They’re like, ‘What are you doing, coach? You getting ready for the game or not?’ I stay home and watch film, is what I do.
“But it comes with the territory. You’ve got to learn to be very friendly and polite to everybody and all that, but just don’t let it get to your head.”
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