CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Shaq Quarterman bounced from the practice field, hamming it up for a cadre of reporters with his typical grin plastered across his face. Two practices into his second spring, this was old hat, and he had plenty of reason to smile.
Quarterman is, in many ways, the face of this new Miami team. He’s young, he’s brash and he’s good. And from the day he first donned a Hurricanes jersey, he made it clear his goal was a national championship. So, even just a few days into spring practice, he was asked how close this team was to that lofty benchmark.
“We were one game away from going to the Coastal last year, and with a lot returning, and seeing how good we did off the first year, and how much better we can be -- we can be so much better,” Quarterman said. “So we definitely feel we’re closer.”
The bold sentiments fit nicely with Quarterman’s personality. He thinks big. And after a 9-4 season, a dominant bowl win and the return of so many talented freshmen, from Quarterman to Ahmmon Richards to Joe Jackson, there’s ample reason for enthusiasm at Miami.
But a national championship?
“You’ve got to break it down to smaller pieces of doing things right on a daily basis,” coach Mark Richt said.
This, after all, is a program that has yet to even play for an ACC championship, a team that hasn’t beaten rival Florida State since Quarterman was in the sixth grade. For all the returning talent, there are still big questions in the secondary and on the offensive line and, of course, at quarterback.
So Richt rightly will grimace at the notion of championship talk after two spring-practice sessions. But this does feel like a different Miami team -- not in terms of brash expectations, but in terms of the ability to actually back it up.
“Our biggest motivators are ourselves,” linebacker Zach McCloud said. “We have a standard to play to, and we’re trying to get to that standard.”
That Miami standard is something this team is keenly aware of, but McCloud also knows it’s a benchmark the program has fallen short of reaching for nearly his whole lifetime. That makes setting preseason expectations tricky.
Certainly this wouldn’t be the first time Miami talked tough during the spring only for that bluster to disappear come September. What encourages Richt, however, is that bluster isn’t the defining feature of this team -- at least so far. Yes, expectations are high, but the details remain the priority.
Beat Florida State? Sure, they can do it. But that can’t define Miami.
Win the Coastal? It’s possible, certainly. But there are plenty of smaller questions to answer first.
A national title? OK, Miami might be closer, but that can’t be the only finish line the Canes see.
“Just get better,” Richt said. “If everybody takes that attitude and puts in the work and trusts each other, I’m not going to put a limit on what can happen. But I’m not going to make some bold prediction, either. If you want to predict something, predict that we’re going to work hard to be the best we can be.”