‘This was an awesome day’ -- Miami football wraps up spring season

Miami football held itsannual Spring Showcase at the David and Anita Dauch Indoor Sports Center on Saturday, April 23, 2022. Miami Athletics photo

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Miami football held itsannual Spring Showcase at the David and Anita Dauch Indoor Sports Center on Saturday, April 23, 2022. Miami Athletics photo

OXFORD -- While replacing the bulk of Miami’s defense was a focus of this year’s spring practice session, it wasn’t the only focus.

The transfer of A.J. Mayer, Brett Gabbert’s backup each of the last two seasons, to Arkansas State left RedHawks coach Chuck Martin hoping to identify a potential second-string signal-caller.

After Saturday’s 15th and final spring practice session – the Spring Showcase – redshirt freshman Aveon Smith would seem to be the frontrunner for the job.

Unofficially, since no stats were kept, the 6-foot-1, 206-pound Lexington, S.C., native went 2-for-5 in three series. His first completion converted a third down into a first down, and he also scored a rushing touchdown.

“Obviously, it was a luxury to have Brett and A.J.,” Martin said after the 75-minute session on Ben Roethlisberger Field inside the David and Anita Dauch Indoor Sports Center. “In 30 years of coaching, I’ve never had two guys who could play at that level. Aveon had to make jumps, and he did.”

Redshirt freshmen Henry Hesson and Karnell Smith also got snaps on Saturday. The 6-2, 200-pound Hesson went 4-for-8 in two series, while the 6-4, 194-pound Karnell Smith in his only series went 2-for-3 with a third-and-seven touchdown pass to third-year sophomore Austin Jackson from the 35-yard line.

Jackson was hurt on the catch, but walked off the field with minimal support. Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Ben Jackson also was injured. He was helped off the field and later was seen on the sidelines on crutches with ice strapped to his right ankle.

Under the detailed scoring system established for the game, the defense came away with a 444-424 win over the offense. Points were awarded for everything from winning the coin flip – the defense started with an 8-0 advantage – to forcing incomplete passes.

Martin, overseeing his ninth showcase, served as in-game master-of-ceremonies. Wearing a microphone, he kept the crowd involved and oversaw on-field activities during breaks such as a dance contest involving players, linemen catching punts and a children’s target-throwing contest with footballs.

“It’s an NCAA violation for us to be talking to young players like this, so congratulations,” he said jokingly to the throwing contestants. “You’ve had your first NCAA violation at a very young age.”

Martin felt the day’s most impressive play was redshirt freshman offensive lineman Charlie Nank’s over-the-shoulder catch of a punt, which led to a win for the offense.

“That was a Willie Mays-type catch,” Martin said. “That was the highlight of the day.

“This was an awesome day.”

Fans lined the north sideline and east end zone and started staking out seats in bleachers at the west end of the field 45 minutes before the Showcase. Children clambered over a play area behind the bleachers that included a cornhole set and two bouncy houses.

While Aveon Smith seemed to have gained ground in the backup quarterback competition,  Martin seemed to be most pleased with the progress displayed by his youthful defense.

“We have a really young team, and the kids took advantage of the opportunity,” he said. “They’ve come a long, long way. Right now, the offense is still ahead of the defense, but not way ahead. The offense makes less mistakes, but the defense makes up for it with the level at which they compete.

“Fifteen practices, they got after it every day,” he added. “It was awesome. It was fun every day.”

Miami, coming off a 7-6 season that included a second-place finish in the Mid-American Conference East Division, including a 27-14 win over the University of North Texas in the inaugural Frisco (Texas) Football Classic, will open the 2022 season on Sept. 3 at Kentucky, followed by the home opener against Robert Morris on Sept. 10.

Fall practice is projected to start on Aug. 4.

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