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Sunday, December 30
Kehoe driving force behind dominating line

By Bruce Feldman
ESPN The Magazine

PASADENA, Calif. -- As Miami's fireplug of an O-line coach Art Kehoe was hurrying to catch the team bus and leave Sunday's media day behind him, Joaquin Gonzalez, his brainy right tackle, pointed to a little red tent a hundred feet away from the Rose Bowl. "Is that where you held court, Coach?" Gonzalez asked Kehoe, underneath some snickering.

"Oh, you're a really funny guy, Joaquin," Kehoe said shaking his head, without breaking stride. "You're so funny."

The canopy of the tent stood about four-feet high. Waaaay too low even for the vertically challenged Kehoe, who's every bit of 5-foot-10, but nearer to 3-10 if you ask his linemen who just can't stop ripping on him. Sometimes, they dial him up at 4 a.m. just to let the coach know they love him. Or at least they love ripping on him. They even took the time and effort to research out some juicy personal stuff on him. "Yep, we found out in college he was in love with this chick named Ellen," says center Brett Romberg. "He was sooooo in love with her. And she dumped him. For his buddy. Oh, that Ellen. Man, did we get on him after we heard that story."

Between Kehoe, a former Miami offensive lineman and the one link to all four national championship teams, and his line, nothing is off limits. But the relationship has blossomed into a special one. The 'Canes feature the country's top O-line and have only surrendered a nation's best four sacks. Credit Kehoe because aside from reserve OT Vernon Carey, none of Miami's top seven linemen were heralded recruits. Under Kehoe's tutelage, LT Bryant McKinnie has developed into possibly the top pick in April's draft, while Gonzalez has gone from walk-on to two-time all Big East. Romberg and RG Martin Bibla, also lightly recruited prospects, are now considered sure-fire pros. Moreover, the group's camaraderie is a radical change from the last unit Kehoe led.

"The players that he had in the past, I don't want to say they were dicks, but they had no respect for him," says Romberg. "They made his day pretty much miserable. He was always catching heck downhill from Coach (Butch) Davis and the other coaches about them. They were pretty much a bunch of hoodlums. One guy was parking his car on the field at practice time and a bunch of guys were sleeping in meetings. They showed up whenever they wanted. They had no respect for him. It was like they didn't recruit for character.

"He called them his Dirty Dozen. They were here for five years, didn't graduate. It was pretty rough on him."

Romberg and his linemates saw some of that when they arrived and vowed things would be different. "We have more of a father and son relationship," he says.

Kehoe only smiles at his guys wisecracks. These days, he knows he is standing tall.

Calling out Big Mac
Speaking of the Miami line, massive Bryant McKinnie, UM's left tackle who has never allowed a sack in games or even a scrimmage in his college career, has been called out again. This time by Nebraska's sophomore DE Bernard Thomas.

Don't know him? Don't feel bad. He doesn't start and only has one career sack, but that hasn't stopped the loquacious 6-4, 255-pounder from getting all cranked up about a possible Rose Bowl showdown against the Outland Trophy winner. Thomas, a second-stringer left end, admitted Sunday he even asked Cornhusker coaches to let him flip-flop to the right side just so he could get off on McKinnie. Thomas explained to the coaches how the Rose Bowl brings out the best in him. The last time, he played in this stadium, he had three sacks. Of course, that was in the CaliFlorida All-Star game back in high school in July, 2000.

If he gets his shot, Thomas says he not only expects to get a sack on McKinnie, he's planning on three sacks. "I think I could do it again," he says. "And coming up with a three-sack performance against Bryant McKinnie would be nice, but the way things look, I'll probably be on the left side (against Gonzalez). But three sacks is three sacks. Still, I'd want to challenge McKinnie. He's a grown man, but I want to see just how good he is."

This looks familiar
Miami's All-American TE Jeremy Shockey won't announce his decision about whether he's turning pro until after the Rose Bowl, but when asked what else he could accomplish if the 'Canes won a national title, the junior just laughed. If he does leave, as sources say he will, he might be replaced by Kellen Winslow II, the son of Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow.

Teammates say the younger Winslow has made dramatic improvement since reporting this August. The speedy 6-5 Californian, who came to UM weighing 210 pounds, now goes 232. He has spent most of this season as a wideout, but credits Shockey for helping him progress as a blocker. "My dad showed me how to run routes, and Jeremy has taught me how to block and get my hands inside on a guy." Winslow, who says he can still run a 4.55, hopes to play next season at 240 pounds.

Booty call may land Berlin
After the Rose Bowl, UM is also expecting Florida's Brock Berlin, the top QB recruit in the 2000 class, to transfer in. Behind the scenes of the Berlin-to-Miami business has been the third party networking between Miami's old regime of Butch Davis and former Miami Director of Football Operations Pete Garcia (both now with the Cleveland Browns) and Browns QB Josh Booty, Berlin's mentor.

The sophomore QB who also has been rumored to be interested in Texas Tech, says he doesn't want to make an announcement publicly till after the Gators play in the Orange Bowl. But Thursday night he tipped his hand a little, when he told Booty, "If you're going to sit out a year, wouldn't you much rather do it in Miami than Lubbock?"

Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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