When the season began, Miami receiver Darrell Langham was buried on the depth chart, with zero career catches and no real opportunities to make an impact on a game.
But that did not necessarily mean his cause was hopeless. And that is because receivers coach Ron Dugans saw the possibilities in Langham when he arrived with Mark Richt in 2016. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Langham stood out for his exceptional size as one of the biggest receivers on the roster.
So Dugans got to work, telling Langham the way to earn playing time was to learn how to use his body to his advantage. But more than that, he needed to work on building Langham’s confidence. As a four-star ESPN 300 prospect, Langham came into Miami full of potential, but he couldn’t find his way off the scout team.
“When I first got here, I told him I’d never give up on him,” Dugans said in a phone interview this week. “I told him I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him, but he has to have the confidence in himself. I saw a difference this training camp. He’d come in early, try to be the first one in meetings. He wanted to get better.”
His big break happened in the biggest game of the season. With top receiver Ahmmon Richards ailing and Miami driving down the field to try to beat Florida State, Dugans and the coaching staff evaluated their options. They put Langham into the game for the final two plays.
The last one etched him into Miami history as he beat cornerback Tarvarus McFadden to the ball for a 23-yard touchdown reception with 6 seconds remaining to give the Hurricanes the 24-20 victory. Langham delivered again last Saturday, making a catch off a tipped ball on fourth-and-10 on the final drive that allowed the Hurricanes to complete a 25-24 comeback win over Georgia Tech.
It’s remarkable that, until two weeks ago, Langham had never gotten into a game in such crucial moments. Yet without him, there’s a good chance Miami is 3-2. Instead, the Hurricanes are 5-0 and ranked No. 8 headed into their game against Syracuse on Saturday. Miami is now the FPI favorite to win the ACC, with a 39 percent chance.
The soft-spoken Langham says he just went into both games and did what he practiced so many times. But he also credits Dugans for trusting him to be in the game in the first place.
“For the first time, it felt like I had a coach that’s never going to give up on me, so I’m able to push and fight for him because I know if I give up on him, it’s not worth it,” Langham said in a phone interview this week. “He’s going to fight for me. I’m going to fight for him.”
Dugans had Langham go into the game against Florida State because, “I felt like the moment wasn’t too big for him. I knew what was being called, and I felt he had a chance to make a play because he’d done it in practice.”
The play against Georgia Tech required a higher degree of difficulty after it was tipped in the air and bounced off his face mask. “I was praying,” Dugans said.
“We’re always told to focus on the ball; our eyes can never leave the ball,” Langham said. “When I went up for the ball the first time I didn’t get it. I saw the ball bounce of my helmet; that’s when I was able to focus back on to it.”
Richt called the catch a “minor miracle.” Langham ended the game with five catches for 100 yards. He’s not only getting recognized on campus now, but his team has recognized his hard work, too. Langham was selected one of four game captains for Saturday.
“He’s earned the right as much as anybody on the offensive football team to be that guy,” Richt said.
Now the question is whether he’s earned the right for more playing time. Richards is expected back this week, so that could limit how much Langham plays. He’s still listed third on the depth chart, but the Langham we see this weekend is far different from the Langham who opened the season.
“I feel like my confidence has been boosted,” Langham said. “I feel like I can do more to help the team, just waiting for my time to help out.”