The silver kicker lines up 35 yards from the basket. He calls the snap, then swoops in and kicks the ball up in the air with a quick kick.
But a red jersey bursts through the offensive line and slams the ball into the ground. A volcano of cheers erupts from the red jerseys in defense.
This is not the end game of a bowl game. It’s a Sunday morning practice three weeks before the start of the 2022 season for Miami football.
This is the first thing an observer notices about RedHawks practice. Practices are tense and simmer with energy. Coach Chuck Martin said that’s one of the strengths of the 2022 squad.
“[The players] come to work, they compete, they have energy,” he said.
Miami football is coming off a strong season. Last year the team went 7-6 and capped off the season by winning the inaugural Frisco Football Classic over North Texas.
The 2022 squad has a few upgrades to help it climb back to the top of the MAC.
Star junior quarterback Brett Gabbert will lead the RedHawk offense. Gabbert has just had an exceptional year. In 2021, he threw for 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He was selected to the All-Mid-American Conference (MAC) Third Team.
Gabbert has been named to several prestigious watch lists, including the Davey O’Brien Award, the Walter Camp Award, and the Maxwell Award.
Gabbert’s backup will be freshman Aveon Smith. Coach Martin said he’s excited to see what Smith can do.
“He’s getting better every day,” he said.
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Nine starters from last season look back on the RedHawk offense. That experience along with the returns of standout running backs Jaylon Bester and Tire Shelton should make the RedHawk offense one of the most productive in the MAC. Bester and Shelton struggled with Achilles tendon injuries last season.
A few transfers will also support the attack. Senior offensive lineman John Brekke arrived from Holy Cross and junior wide receiver Miles Marshall was traded from Indiana.
While offense can be defined by experience, defense is more of a work in progress, according to coach Martin.
“We lack experience in defence, but we are improving every day,” he said.
The Hawks lost a few key players in the transfer gate, including linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. to Cincinnati, linemen Lonnie Phelps to Kansas and Kam Butler to Virginia.
Some transfers to Miami will help take their place. Sophomore Corey Suttle and junior Brian Ugwu will bolster the d line. Suttle played at Iowa State in 2021 and Ugwu at Rutgers.
Coach Martin said the strength of the offense will give the defense time to make adjustments.
“At first our attack will have to carry us,” he said. “We will have growing pains in defence.”
What makes this upcoming season so exciting for RedHawk football is the strength of its non-conference schedule. The team opens its season with an SEC matchup at Kentucky. Coach Martin said he’d rather start with a challenge than go for an easy win in Game 1.
“Kentucky will expose us to whatever we do wrong,” he said. “I don’t mind playing against very good teams.”
The calendar doesn’t get much easier from there. After a home game against Robert Morris, Miami travels to Cincinnati in the annual battle for the Victory Bell. The all-time record in this series is 59-59-7, so the RedHawks will be looking to climb back to the top.
The final challenge on the non-conference schedule will be a Big Ten game at Northwestern. Coach Martin said this game stood out for him because of Northwestern’s many ties to Miami, especially with former coach Randy Walker.
However, the RedHawks’ goal is to return to the MAC Championship for the first time since 2019. The team will face familiar foes from Ohio, Ball State and Bowling Green, among others, once the MAC schedule begins. Coach Martin said winning the MAC Championship is the team’s ultimate goal.
“What we’re really here for is to try to win the league,” he said. “So you had four really good opportunities before the league game, and then you have the conference schedule.”
The team kicks off the season on Saturday, September 3 at the University of Kentucky.
Brett Gabbert (QB, Jr.) last season stats: 2,648 yards, 26 TDs, 6 INTs
Mac HippenHammer (WR, Sr.) 786 yards, 5 TD
Matthew Salopek (LB, So.) 112 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss
John Saunders Jr. (DB, So.) 13 tackles, 3 INTs
September 3 @ Kentucky
September 17 @ Cincinnati
September 24, @ North West
Oct. 8 vs. Kent State (Homecoming)
Oct. 22 vs. Western Michigan (Family Weekend/Senior Day)
Nov. 22 vs. Ball State (Fan Appreciation)