Canes Convos: Senior defensive leaders prepare for final home game at UM

Canes Convos: Senior defensive leaders prepare for final home game at UM

Stefan Adams
48 career games, 27 career starts.

Senior S Jaquan Johnson has played in more than a few contests in his time at Miami, but Saturday will be his final home game of his career when UM takes on Pitt at Hard Rock.

"Oh yeah, it's going to be a very emotional game. Last time playing with my brothers,” Johnson said. “I'm looking forward to it."

Johnson has made the entire journey with his high school teammate Sheldrick Redwine, who has started alongside him at safety in the Hurricanes’ defensive backfield for the past 2 seasons.

"It's going to feel like high school when we played our last game. I wasn't sure if Red was coming to UM, then he finally made that decision to come to UM,” Johnson said. “As far as playing our last game at Hard Rock, I'm pretty sure it's going to be emotional for us at the end of the game, during the game and all throughout the game.

"As soon as he made the commitment, we instantly got closer. It was like you can't really tear us apart basically. We're roommates, same type of classes and we're just together all the time. It's just amazing."

As the Panthers ruined the Canes’ perfect season in last year’s regular season finale, is there any thought on treating this as a “revenge game”?

"It's definitely in the back of my mind,” Johnson said. “We're looking forward to playing these guys. They were riled up last year to play us so we're going to be the same way.

“That game hurt. You still feel it. That could’ve been an undefeated regular season and who knows what happens in the ACC championship going in with that momentum.”

Things haven’t quite gone as expected for Johnson in 2018, who turned down the NFL Draft because he envisioned Miami competing for championships this season. Instead, UM has gone 6-5 and Johnson missed his first career game with a hamstring injury.

"The season didn't go how I wanted it to go, but I'm still happy I came back, got to see it out, see it through and play with my teammates,” Johnson said. “Of course, the injury is a part of the game, so you have to deal with that and take that in stride."

On his big hit last weekend at Virginia Tech: "You know Coach (Manny) Diaz called the play where I had to get over the top as like a deep third player and I just read the quarterback and saw him throw the ball and I took it down to the flats,” Johnson said. “Once he threw it, I knew it was going to be pretty devastating. I was just trying to excite the team and get us going."

What makes Diaz a special defensive coordinator?

“His passion, the love he gives us and care that he shows us makes us want to go out there and play for him, run through a wall for him,” Johnson said. “All these awards that he is up for, rightfully so.”

**With his time at UM coming to a close, senior S Sheldrick Redwine has a message for the younger players: enjoy it while you can.

"It's fast. I tell the young guys that all the time, ‘Make the most out of the time you guys have here because it'll go by fast’," Redwine said. “Me and MikeJack (Michael Jackson) we're just talking about it a couple days ago and we're talking about the first day we stepped on campus and where we took a picture. It's crazy. A lot of stuff comes at you. You blink, you look up and they’re talking about ‘it's time for you to go.’"

Miami is losing Johnson, Redwine, and Jackson to graduation from this year’s secondary and those younger players will have to step up and prove themselves in 2019 to help replace the trio.

"They come out and work hard. They look up to us and we try to provide a great role model for them," Redwine said of the young DB's. "We come out and work hard every day. We try not to slack because we know those guys are looking up to us. It's not about us, it's about the program. If we came out and slacked off and let them slack, the future will be slackers. We come out and work hard just so they see us to just keep the tradition going, really."

On Jaquan Johnson: “It's somebody who I've known for countless years,” Redwine said. “He's a great teammate, on and off the field. We're roommates, we have the same birthday and have the same interests and everything. Having that person who has been through what you've been through and has came from the same neighborhood, that's a blessing to me."

As UM has now qualified for a bowl game after the VT win, Redwine says all the seniors are excited to play and have never thought about sitting out, like some prospects across the country do to preserve themselves for the NFL.

"We're all playing. It's a brotherhood here,” Redwine said. “I would never hang any of them out to dry and just focus on me singularly. It's football and it's another chance to prove yourself."

Will Pitt’s upset win over the Canes in 2017 be a factor in Saturday’s rematch?

"I'm not thinking about that at all. It's another game,” Redwine said. “They run the ball very good. They have two running backs. That's the main thing we have to focus on. We have to stop the run… You know it hurt because we all felt there was more stuff we could've done to prevent it, but it's last year."

**Miami’s pass defense is second in all of college football, allowing 141.7 yards per game. A big reason for that is the play of senior CB Michael Jackson, who recorded 1 PBU against VT last week among a season-high 8 PBU’s for UM in the game.

"It meant a lot because we felt like we were the reason why we lost to Georgia Tech,” Jackson said of the secondary’s play. “We felt like we had to bounce back and have a real good game for us to win."

It will be Senior Day for UM’s seniors against Pitt on Saturday and Jackson will be playing in his final home game at Miami. With fellow secondary-mates Johnson and Redwine also graduating, Jackson says he still anticipates seeing his teammates around and doesn’t see Saturday as a goodbye.

"It's going to be our last game, but on the next level we'll either play against each other or play on the same team,” Jackson said. “It's not like a goodbye, I'll never see you again, kind of like in high school. It's kind of like, we might not be on the same team, but we still have Pro Day together, combine. We still have all this stuff together."

Does his still think about last season’s loss to Pitt in the regular season finale?

"Always, but you can't go into the game caught up in last year because you'll play the wrong way,” Jackson said. “Last year's over with. Don't forget it, but don't go into it like we have to beat them because they beat us last year, because if it was the other way around and we won, then what? We just have to go into the game like it's a regular game.

"They're going to the ACC Championship, so right now everything is their strength. We can look at it like, ‘They're good at this but not at that’. They won the Coastal this year so everything is their strength."

**With a team-leading 17 TFL, good for 12th nationally (first among interior linemen), senior DT Gerald Willis has had a breakout year after sitting out all of 2017 and will certainly be in line for some All-America recognition at the conclusion of the season.

"It's crazy. Sometimes I think about it and it's all just been a dream to me,” Willis said. “I’m just happy it's real. I'm just blessed, to be honest… To be honest, I didn't believe. I just kept working. I just kept working and stuff just kept coming to me. Blessings just kept coming and I kept working. I'm just grateful for the opportunity."

With Miami’s victory over Virginia Tech last week, the Canes are now officially bowl eligible and Willis’ goals for the postseason are simple.

"Just win,” Willis said. “We're just looking forward to winning and wherever God takes the team, we're going to play. Hopefully we get a better bowl."

Like the rest of the seniors, Willis will play his final career home game at Hard Rock against Pitt on Saturday and wants to go out on top.

"It's really important,” Willis said. “I want to go out with a bang. Go out with a win. I'm just looking forward to playing my last game at Hard Rock."

Behind Panthers’ senior RB Darrin Hall, Pitt is 15th in the nation in rushing offense at 247.5 yards per game and Willis is looking forward to shutting down Pitt’s bread and butter.

"They run the ball great. They run the ball most of the time on offense,” Willis said. “That's what they do great. Looking forward to stopping the run. We're up for the challenge."

What makes their rushing attack so hard to stop?

"Their O-Line. They have a great O-Line,” Willis said. “Probably one of the best O-Lines this year that I've seen on film that's more technique wise. Those guys are really good up front and we're looking forward to the challenge."

Comments (4)

"Miami is losing Johnson, Redwine, and Jackson to graduation from this year’s secondary and those younger players will have to step up and prove themselves in 2019. "

These guys came in 3 stars and the teaching of Diaz and their position coaches really made them very good players with NFL futures very possible.
gonna miss these guys, they gave it all for the U
Feel so sorry for these guys. They played their butts off all yr and this is their gift? FML.
They dont feel sorry cause they know they left a great standard for the young guns to follow, so they'll be able to call back and hold those players accountable cause they've earned that respect. SHOUTS OUT to coach rumph and banda for us having the #2 passing defense in college football, like coach rumph said after signing day "i like who we got in our room" basically forget who didnt sign. And i said back than, who cares who didnt sign with us, its the ones who did, those recruits knew they wasnt coming in taking #28's job, and bandy has proved himself this year yet again.

As long as coach rumph is here, we gone have dawgs back their in that secondary. Going to be some **** of a competition for them secondary spots come next year, the great news is, we got the talent on deck to do it. Blades jr. not playing, and he'll bring the mentality we're use to seeing our guys have back their, the defensive side of the ball had great leadership, right now, the offensive side of the ball doesnt have enuff.

The good news us this, reality has started to kick in with perry, and he's understanding now how important this opportunity he has in front of him is, and how being the leader and tone setter for the offense is important, SHOUTS out to coach richt for staying the course and holding the line, gus felder, its about to be your time with this o-line. This team is about to start clicking.