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Key takeaways from Miami football’s spring showcase

For Miami, the key next season will be to stay focused and not get too far ahead.
For Miami, the key next season will be to stay focused and not get too far ahead.

The Miami University RedHawks football team completed its spring practice season with the spring showcase on April 20 at the Dauch Indoor Sports Center. 

With the RedHawks looking to defend their Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship title, here were some of the key takeaways from the spring season.

A recovering quarterback 

Eyes turned towards the gray non-contact jerseys to see how redshirt senior Brett Gabbert was recovering from a season-ending injury he sustained last October.  He wasn’t able to play during the 11-on-11 section, but he completed some passes during a 7-on-7 section before heading back to the sidelines.      

“Recovery has been going well since I had surgery in October … Way ahead of schedule,” Gabbert said. “Just gotta keep it that way and try to get ready for the season.” 

For Gabbert, getting back to the field proved to be challenging.

“There was probably a month there where I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play college football again,” Gabbert said. “But at the end of the day you’ve just gotta have belief and perseverance.” 

A healthy Gabbert is critical to Miami’s success. Despite having multiple injuries, he is third in program history in passing yards (7,893) and touchdowns (59). 

Returning O-line

One of the strengths Miami will look to lean on next season is the offensive line. The O-line returns nearly everyone from last season from a group that helped the RedHawks rush for 158.1 yards per game and allowed just 24 sacks in 14 games. 

That provides a nice support system for a quarterback returning from injury. 

For Miami to have success again this year, the offense will have to lean on their experience to jumpstart the running game, which in turn leads to a more efficient offensive attack. 

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“Whenever we’re able to run the ball well, that just opens up the pass game,” Gabbert said. “[If] we’re able to protect and throw the ball, that opens up the run game. So it kind of works hand-in-hand.” 

Excellent returning linebackers 

On the other side of the field, Miami will look to a couple of returning linebackers to anchor the defense. 

Redshirt senior Matt Salopek led the MAC in solo (75) and total tackles (144) en route to winning 2023 MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was also awarded the Defensive Player of the Game honors in the MAC championship. 

Salopek is also the first RedHawk to compile 100 or more tackles in three consecutive seasons since Matt Pusater did it from 2002-2004. With another season like this, he will be the first player in program history to record 100 or more tackles in four consecutive seasons.  

Senior Ty Wise finished the season fifth in the conference in tackles (122) and tied for fourth in sacks (8). He also recorded nine tackles for loss as well as a forced fumble in the Cure Bowl against the Appalachian State University Mountaineers. 

Portal season

No college football offseason would be complete without players coming and going through the transfer portal. 

The spring game gave fans the first opportunity to see new transfers in the red and white. Notable incoming transfers in the spring game include running back Dylan Downing (Purdue), wide receiver Andre Johnson (Arizona State) and tight ends Connor Briggs (Southeastern Louisiana) and Preston Daniel (Florida State). 

However, while the transfer portal gives, it also takes. 

First-Team All-American and Lou Groza award-winning kicker Graham Nicholson was absent from the spring showcase after reportedly entering the transfer portal a day before. Since then, Nicholson has announced that he will be transferring to the University of Alabama for the upcoming season.

While the loss of Nicholson can be significant, it creates opportunities for new players to step up. 

Redshirt junior Dom Dzioban, who missed last season due to a leg injury, took most of the field goal attempts throughout the day. Redshirt first-year Kellan McLaughlin also took kicks at the showcase 

“As Graham moves on, Kellan and Dom can kick the ball,” head coach Chuck Martin said. “We have two other really, really good kickers that are dying for the opportunity to be the guy at Miami and be part.”

Can Miami handle expectations?

Perhaps the biggest question facing Miami isn’t injury, scheme or matchups. It could be handling high expectations after winning their 22nd MAC championship last season. 

“That is the question,” Martin said. “We’ll find out.” 

There hasn’t been a repeat MAC champion since 2011-2012, when the Northern Illinois University Huskies won back-to-back en route to an Orange Bowl appearance. 

For Miami, the key will be to stay focused and not get too far ahead. 

“It’s why most teams don’t repeat, most teams get to that championship season, and they rarely get back there,” Martin said. “It’s not that they don’t try, it’s not that they don’t compete, you just take your foot off the gas a little bit.”

Martin added that the RedHawks will have a target on their back and that each of their opponents next season will bring increased effort to beat the defending MAC champions. Miami will need to match that effort. 

“You have to bring more, and it’s hard for kids to do that, it’s hard for coaches to do that,” Martin said. “If you take your foot off the gas, it’ll go south in a hurry.”