The silver-clad kicker lines up 35 yards away from the field goal. He calls for the snap, and then rushes forward and launches the football into the air with a swift kick.
But a red jersey bursts through the offensive line and slams the ball into the ground. A volcano of cheers erupt from the red jerseys on defense.
This isn’t the final play of a bowl game. It’s a Sunday morning practice three weeks before the 2022 season starts for Miami football.
That’s the first thing an observer notices about the RedHawks practice. The practices feel tense and simmer with energy. Coach Chuck Martin said that is one of the strengths of the 2022 squad.
“[The players] come to work, they compete, they have energy,” he said.
Miami football is coming off a solid season. Last year, the team went 7-6 and capped off the season by winning the first Frisco Football Classic over North Texas.
The 2022 team has some improvements to help it climb back to the top of the MAC.
Star junior quarterback Brett Gabbert will lead the RedHawk offense. Gabbert is coming off a stellar year. In 2021 he threw for 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He was selected to the All-Mid-American Conference (MAC) Third Team.
Gabbert has been named to multiple prestigious quarterback watchlists including the Davey O’Brien award, Walter Camp award and Maxwell award.
Backing up Gabbert will be freshman Aveon Smith. Coach Martin said he’s excited to see what Smith can do.
“He’s getting better everyday,” he said.
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Nine starters from last season are returning on the RedHawk offense. This experience plus the returns of standout running backs Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton should make the RedHawk offense one of the most productive in the MAC. Both Bester and Shelton dealt with achilles injuries last season.
A few transfers will support the offense as well. Senior offensive lineman John Brekke arrived from Holy Cross and junior wide receiver Miles Marshall transferred from Indiana.
While the offense can be defined by its experience, the defense is more of a work in progress, according to Coach Martin.
“We’re inexperienced at defense, but we’re getting better everyday,” he said.
The ‘Hawks lost a few key players in the transfer portal including linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. to Cincinnati, linemen Lonnie Phelps to Kansas and Kam Butler to Virginia.
Some transfers to Miami will help take their place. Sophomore Corey Suttle and junior Brian Ugwu will shore up the d-line. Suttle played at Iowa State in 2021 and Ugwu at Rutgers.
Coach Martin said the strong offense will give the defense time to make adjustments.
“Early on our offense will have to carry us,” he said. “We'll have some growing pains on defense."
What makes this upcoming season so exciting for RedHawk football is the strength of its non-conference schedule. The team opens its season with an SEC matchup at Kentucky. Coach Martin said he’d rather start with a challenge than look for an easy win in the first game.
“Kentucky will expose us to everything we're doing wrong,” he said. “I don't mind playing the really good teams.”
The schedule doesn’t get much easier from there. After a game at home versus Robert Morris, Miami goes to Cincinnati in the annual Battle for the Victory Bell. The all-time record of that series is 59-59-7, so the RedHawks will look to climb back on top.
The final challenge of the non-conference schedule will be a Big Ten matchup at Northwestern. Coach Martin said this game stood out to him because of the many ties Northwestern has with Miami, especially with former coach Randy Walker.
However, the goal of the RedHawks is to make it back to the MAC championship for the first time since 2019. The team will have to battle familiar foes Ohio, Ball State and Bowling Green, among others once the MAC schedule commences. Coach Martin said winning the MAC championship is the ultimate goal for the team.
“What we're really here for is to try to win the league,” he said. “So you got four really cool opportunities before league play and then you got the conference schedule.”
The team kicks off the season Saturday, Sept. 3, at University of Kentucky.
Brett Gabbert (QB, Jr.) last season’s stats: 2,648 yards, 26 TD, 6 INT
Mac HippenHammer (WR, Sr.) 786 yards, 5 TD
Matthew Salopeck (LB, So.) 112 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss
John Saunders Jr. (DB, So.) 13 tackles, 3 INT
September 3, @ Kentucky
September 17, @ Cincinnati
September 24, @ Northwestern
October 8, vs. Kent State (Homecoming)
October 22, vs. Western Michigan (Family weekend/ Senior Day)
November 22, vs. Ball State (Fan Appreciation)