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Miami football focuses on the future

Part 2 of 2

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Friday, November 22, 2013

Updated: Friday, November 22, 2013 02:11

If you missed Part 1, check it out here

It’s 10:30 a.m. on game day morning, and everyone is huddled around a modern-looking common room with stone walls, a fireplace and several couches of varying colors and size. Dressed in their matching, all-red warm-up jumpsuits, the players are easily distinguishable from the drab grays and faded camo jackets of several of this house’s residents. The team huddles around the residents much like they would a coach in a pregame, listening to their stories. This is a house for homeless veterans in the Cleveland and Akron area, and the RedHawks are taking an hour out of their day to spend time with them.

Some players are shy and take a while to fully engage, while others jump right in and listen with keen ears to the stories of men ranging from 22 to their upper 80s. The residents are truly appreciative of their short time with the RedHawks, and it shows on their lit-up faces and in the laughter they share with complete strangers. Community service is something the team has engaged in every week this season, and their stop by the armed services homeless shelter fittingly came a few mornings after Veterans Day.

One of the players who was most notably active at the shelter was freshman cornerback Heath Harding. The 5-foot-10 Englewood, Ohio native likes to think of Darrelle Revis as the model for his game, and spoke at length with a grizzled vet with a smile on his face and an enthusiastic voice.

“He’s always smiling,” Smitty says. “I don’t think I’ve ever not seen him have a good day.”

Harding laughs. He insists that he’s not that happy, but he definitely tends to stay positive.

“I’ve always been like that, on and off the field,” Harding says. “I try not to smile too much on the field – you don’t want to look soft – but that’s just how I am. I don’t like to dwell on things too long, I just go out and make the next play.”

It’s an approach that’s now necessity at this point for a RedHawk that hasn’t yet tasted victory at the collegiate level. Though only 18-years old, the bench feeds off of his play. When Harding is having a good game, it clearly boosts the boys. And in turn, that support goes a long way for the freshmen, who look to the seniors for guidance. It’s just another example of a connection that these boys share that’s not readily noticeable from the stands, but is apparent through events like community service at the shelter. Given a glimpse of the locker room, the relationship between these young men is more easily ascertained, according to Marck.

“You bond so quickly and these guys become your brothers,” the senior explains. “You do everything together. Just sharing these experiences with this group of guys, creating those relationships with coaches and teammates that you’re going to have for the rest of your life, it really shapes you as a man. It’s an experience I wouldn’t change for anything.”

Harding couldn’t agree more.

“When I came on my official visit here, I felt that connection, a brotherhood,” the freshman explains. “That’s why I decided to commit, because [these guys] felt like an extended family that I hadn’t met yet.

“We just come out there and play hard and try to get a win for the seniors, because obviously they’re not going to be here next year; we are. We’re just trying to go out there and not take it for granted because they trust in us to go out there and perform, and being a freshman isn’t an excuse anymore.”

When asked about the winless season and if he would want to be anywhere else, Harding politely but firmly cuts off the question.

“No, I love Miami,” he interjects, flashing a quick smile. “The only thing on my mind is helping us to get to 10-0.”

Motivating the Men

The players file onto the buses like soldiers, stoic in appearance and identical in uniform. Not a word is spoken as the vehicles shove off, and each player is now lost in his own world of music blaring from giant headphones. This isn’t like the ride up; the focus is more intense now. There’s an air of confidence, tinged with minimal parts desperation and uncertainty. It’s not a business trip anymore. This is more like war.

The field is available to the players at 7 p.m., and the different units take the field in five-minute intervals. They reconvene in the locker room 25 minutes prior to game time. Some prefer to be vocal, like junior defensive lineman Mwanza Wamulumba. Others, like captains Austin Brown and Wes Williams, are more internal in their preparation.

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