CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami/AP) — The University of Miami football team has been dealing with a hurricane of bad news over the past week.
The top cornerback is grieving the sudden death of his mother. The quarterback is concussed and at best questionable to play this weekend. The coach was fired. The staff faces a most uncertain future. The program is reeling.
Miami calls this adversity.
It's more like an avalanche.
The Hurricanes returned to the practice field Tuesday after three painful days. Interim coach Larry Scott led practice for the first time, replacing the fired Al Golden. If the day wasn't daunting enough, the workout was with injured quarterback Brad Kaaya absent and hours after cornerback Artie Burns' mother died unexpectedly.
"We have their hearts and we have their minds," Scott said. "We can overcome anything if we stay together. And I think this group will."
They are tested now, in ways that almost certainly weren't imaginable.
The dominoes started falling Saturday when Miami lost to Clemson 58-0, the largest defeat margin in Hurricane football history. Kaaya's injury came in that game when Clemson rushed two defensive ends against five offensive linemen and still got a sack, one that means the Hurricanes (4-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) could have redshirt freshman Malik Rosier backed up by true freshman Evan Shirreffs this weekend at No. 22 Duke (6-1, 3-0).
On Sunday, Golden's firing was announced, followed by a teary team meeting with the now-former coach who was revered by many players. Then on Monday, Burns' mother was stricken and coaches — also dealing with the funeral of a staff member's relative — gathered and kept vigil at a Miami hospital before word came that she succumbed.
Golden was even there, still concerned for his former player and staff.
"It's been real difficult," said defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio, a longtime friend and confidante of Golden's. "But we have a team, we have unity, we have everybody together and we're all rallying together like we said we would from the beginning of the season. ... Our No. 1 thing right now is we support our players and we support Artie and his family. It's been a lot to deal with."
Burns, Kaaya and receiver Rashawn Scott — also injured in the loss to Clemson — were not practicing Tuesday. Burns' status for this weekend is obviously unknown, given his family situation. Scott has not been ruled out, and the Hurricanes have some receiver depth.
But not having Kaaya would be a massive blow.
Kaaya has made 20 consecutive starts for Miami and thrown for 1,846 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in 229 attempts this season. Rosier has completed 9 of 28 passes for 66 yards with two interceptions in limited duty this season. Shirreffs has not made his college debut.
"For me to be starting because he's hurt, it's awkward," Rosier said.
Miami has one of the most in-depth policies in college sports when it comes to monitoring recovery of concussed athletes. Part of the evaluation process before Kaaya can be cleared to return to the field includes having his balance and basic cognitive abilities tested, and how he responds to physical and mental exertion.
"It feels like we haven't gotten good news in a while," safety Dallas Crawford said. "But we have to battle through adversity. This right here will define us as a team, and at the end of everything it'll make us better young men."
This Miami roster has already faced plenty of adversity. Last year's team watched offensive lineman Hunter Knighton suffer a heatstroke on the practice field in an offseason workout that left him in a coma for 12 days. Earlier this season, linebacker Marques Gayot was airlifted from practice with a neck injury. There were locker-room squabbles last year, waves of criticism from fans, plenty of booing and plenty of losses.
And now this season seems on the brink.
Miami's final five opponents currently have a 23-13 combined record, and the team with the worst ACC record in that group at this point — Georgia Tech — just beat Florida State.
"It's so hard right now for us," offensive coordinator James Coley said. "But the relationships we have with our players make getting through all this possible. We derive strength from each other."
Listen to the Miami Hurricanes take on the Duke Blue Devils this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. on Sports Radio 560 WQAM, your official radio home for the Canes!
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