When Silas Walters woke up on Saturday morning, he never expected what was about to happen to him.
“I just thought he was pulling me up for the coin toss,” Walters said.
Miami University football’s spring showcase took place on Saturday at the Dauch Indoor Sports Center which is east of Yager Stadium. Before kickoff, Miami conducted a coin toss to see who would get the ball first in the scrimmage, which was open to the public.
“We’re gonna have a coin flip to decide who goes first,” Martin said. “Si is gonna call it. You got two choices now. If you win the flip, you either get to pick offense or defense, or whether you want to be on scholarship at Miami.”
There was no time for a toss. Michael Dowell, who was lined up opposite Walters for the flip, got to him first, and soon after, Walters was mobbed by the whole team.
“I think the scholarship award tells you what type of worker he is,” Walters’ dad Dan said. “For me, it was really just a solidification of what I’ve seen him doing and the work he’s put in. He totally deserves it and I’m just really happy for him. It’s all him.”
Nothing else that happened Saturday was quite as exciting as watching Walters’ dream come true, but there was insight to be gained. Here are some notes from around the Miami football spring game.
Gabbert is the guy
“Brett [Gabbert] doesn’t have anything left to prove to me or to anyone else who knows anything about football,” Martin said. “... we told him in January that we’re gonna put a lot more on his plate with in-play decisions … Brett’s at the stage of his career where he can really handle more … he had a monster spring.”
When asked to list a depth chart at quarterback at this point of the 2023 schedule, Martin was quick to name Gabbert his number one guy, followed by last year's backup Aveon Smith and then Colorado transfer Maddox Kopp.
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“Obviously Maddox just got here in January,” Martin said. “… He’s got a high ceiling. Aveon also, which we’d expect with all his game experience last year, is a totally different AV this fall. Took a giant step forward throwing, commanding our offense.”
Gabbert will be a redshirt junior this season.
“One [goal for the 2023 season] is obviously be a great teammate, be a good person, motivate other guys and be a good leader, bring other guys up, especially the younger guys … I don’t really care what my statistics are at the end of the day, I just want to go out there, go 12-0, Win a MAC Championship, win a bowl game. I just want to be available for my guys and win games.”
He’s played in 30 games with a record of 17-13. In 2019, he was Mid-American Conference (MAC) Freshman of the Year and led Miami to its first MAC Championship since 2010. He was the first true first-year to start a season opener at quarterback in Miami football history, which goes all the way back to 1888. In his career, he has completed 59% of his passes for 6,259 yards through the air and 45 passing touchdowns with just 14 interceptions.
In 2021, he had his best statistical season, finishing with 2,648 passing yards, 27 total touchdowns and just 6 interceptions, and Miami lost three conference games that year by a total of four points. If his two-point conversion attempt had been completed at the end of the last game of the MAC slate, a 47-48 overtime loss to Kent State, he would have at least made the MAC championship game in each of his two full seasons as the starter at Miami to this point. He also led the RedHawks to a bowl win that season, 27-14 over North Texas in the inaugural Frisco Football Classic.
All that to say, Gabbert’s resume is pretty impressive. Chuck Martin said his staff has put more on Gabbert’s plate this season, especially when it comes to post-snap reads.
“That’s been my job since day one,” Gabbert said. “It’s gonna be my fifth year; I’m gonna be 23. I have a lot of games under my belt; I’ve won a lot of games. I like having more on my plate. It gives me more chances to do more stuff and it helps take more pressure off the other guys.”
Last season Gabbert dealt with two injuries and only started four games. First, he sustained a clavicle injury in the final minutes of the first game of the year against Kentucky on September 3. That one required surgery. He returned to play on October 22, 2023 but sustained an anke injury three weeks later against Ohio.
RedHawk fans should certainly be excited about the prospect of Gabbert’s return. He was pegged by most as the best quarterback in the MAC before a disappointing 2022.
“Brett will put up really really ridiculous numbers for us next year,” Martin said. “That’s the goal: play good around Brett … I feel as good about our quarterback situation as I’ve ever felt in 31 years of coaching.”
Defense is coming along
Miami only allowed 22.6 points per game last season, good for best in the MAC. According to senior defensive back Michael Dowell, this year could be even better for the RedHawk defense.
“We’re in a better position than we were last year,” Dowell said. “A lot of guys got experience, with experience you learn not just what you’re doing but what their offense is doing.”
Miami’s defense expects to return nine starters from its MAC-best unit last season. Dowell isn’t the only person who’s optimistic about the unit.
“We’re trying to fill some holes,” Matt Salopek, a redshirt junior linebacker and one of the team’s leaders, said. “We’re in a good spot right now, and we’re gonna come back in the fall and see who steps up to fill those remaining spots. But we feel really good as a whole right now.”
Many players, one spot: the offensive line
“Even though we lost two guys, I feel like we’ve got four returners,” Martin said. “And then we’ve got a number of other guys that had really good spring.”
Miami lost two offensive linemen to power five programs this offseason. Last year’s starting center Rusty Feth transferred to Iowa, and the starting left guard Caleb Shaffer is now at Oklahoma.
But Sam Vaughan, who was slated to be the starting left tackle last year but got hurt in game one, will be back, along with the other three starters from 2022.
“I’m just really excited to put my helmet back on and get back out there,” Vaughan said “It hasn’t always been easy these last nine months, but I just can’t wait to get back out on the field. I’m blessed to have that opportunity in my future.”
The right side of the line, tackle Reid Holskey and guard Kolby Borders, are returning, as well as last year’s eventual left tackle Will Jados. Martin said he’s still not sure whether Jados or Vaughan will play left tackle, but he expects them both to be starters. That leaves one spot on the line open. Vaughan listed six players who he believed could be in the mix for that spot. Martin echoed his sentiment
“We have a lot of [offensive linemen] who want to play,” Martin said. “We have a lot of guys who had great springs. We’re in a good position.”
Skill positions are murky
For receivers, Martin said that sophomores Reginald Virgil and Javon Tracy had great springs. 6-4 senior Miles Marshall is the only returning receiver who caught a pass last season, and he’s expected to be the number one option.
Miami also brought in two transfers this offseason, senior Joe Wilkins from Notre Dame, and junior Gage Larvadain from Southeastern Louisiana (D1 FCS). He was the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year in 2021, and he was a Second Team All-Conference receiver and a first teamer for kick returns in both of his seasons.
“If you say, ‘Hey, which group had the biggest jump this offseason?’” Martin said. “The receiver group, no doubt.”
As for the running backs, last year, Miami had five non-quarterbacks rush the ball 10 or more times. Three of them are back, Keyonn Mozee (4.3 yards per carry (YPC) in 2022), Kevin Davis (5.3 YPC in 2022) and Kenny Tracy (4.1 YPC in 2022). Rashad Amos transferred from South Carolina this offseason, and Miami fans are buzzing about his speed and shiftiness. He had 99 yards on 18 carries in 2020 at South Carolina, including 39 yards on six carries against Georgia, who won the national championship in 2022 and 2023.
Jordan Brunson, who transferred in from Virginia Tech before last season, only played in two games last year, but he could be in the mix too. Overall, it’s a crowded running back room, and it will be interesting to see if Miami continues to do “running back by committee” in 2023.
Aveon Smith isn’t satisfied
Last year Aveon Smith helped bring Miami its first win against a Big Ten school since 2007 when his RedHawks beat Northwestern 17-14 on September 24. Aveon helped put together two consecutive scoring drives when after was 7-14 with just over eight minutes left in the game.
“It was a blessing,” Smith said. “I mean I didn’t play well. It was good for the team and everything, but I was really disappointed in the way I played. It was definitely a blessing though.”
Miami’s first game of 2023 is on Friday, September 1, against the other Miami, the University of Miami, in Coral Gables, Florida. Kick time and television details of the battle of the Miamis have not yet been announced, but it’s one of the most anticipated matchups of Week 1.