Ask Miami RedHawks wide receiver Rokeem Williams about the school’s new indoor practice facility and the first thing you will get is a big smile.
He’ll quickly follow that with observations on how/why the facility is such a big hit with coaches and players. For the most part, it can be condensed into two things: comfort and means – as in means to an end.
Williams said it feels like the winters have been worse since his arrival back in 2012. He’s adapted for the most part, but he still isn’t a big fan of the cold. So going through spring workouts this year has been a quantum leap forward in terms of comfort.
Comfort, of course, allows for more focus on the task at hand – getting better, both on an individual level and at a team level. According to Williams, both are proceeding well.
In the past, he pointed out, “if it was too cold to be outside, they either cancelled practice or we would be in the gym. … I hate running in the gym. The gym is bad on your shins and everything.”
Now, “you don’t have to worry about the weather. It’s ‘go’ all the time. … Just from being in here and working out, everybody has gotten so much better already. We can come down here on the weekends (or) any time of the day. The weather is not an issue. … It’s the best thing to happen to Miami for a while, if you ask me."
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Among the possible replacements are redshirt senior Drew Kummer and Redshirt freshman Gus Ragland. “Either one of those guys could be the guy, and I like both of those guys a lot. We’ve (also) got a freshman coming in. I haven’t seen him play, but I’ve seen his highlight tape, and he looks good. Whoever can get the ball to me, I’m happy for him,” Williams said.
That positional battle will likely carry on into fall camp, when they will be joined by high school recruit Billy Bahl, a pro-style quarterback out of Illinois.
Martin isn’t inclined to make any quick decisions. Ragland was redshirted last year and Kummer saw very limited action. Both have had their moments during the early days of spring practice. Whoever ends up taking snaps, he should have some pretty good targets.
Leading receiver David Frazier, also a South Carolina native, has departed. But Williams is part of a potentially solid receiving corps. He was second behind Frazier in receiving yards with 682, third in receptions (35) and first in yards per catch (19.5).
Jared Murphy was second in catches (42), while then-freshman Sam Martin tied for the team lead in touchdowns with five TDs among his 22 receptions for 321 yards. Several other targets return, as well. “All of us play at a pretty high level out there,” said Williams, who hauled in a 70-yard TD pass from Kummer on Tuesday.
Williams was focused on gaining weight and getting stronger in December and January. “Last year, I felt like there were a couple times I got pushed round maybe a little bit,” he said. “I’ve put on a couple pounds and put on a little bit of muscle.”
“Right now, going through the spring, everything with me has been about technique – learning the craft of a receiver,” he added.
That should be a little easier this year, since last year was a whirlwind with new coaches introducing a completely new system.
“Everything is clicking now. We’re able to adjust quicker,” Williams said. “We’re with the same coaches this year, so we’re going to be that much better. We know the system, so we’re going to be that much better. We’ve been working out tails off.”
Williams, like other RedHawks, is quick to point out, “We’re no longer that 0-12 team” of two years ago. “That’s dead. That’s no longer exiting here.”
Opponents quickly noticed a difference in 2014. While the RedHawks were marginally better in the win column (2-10), they were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter of most losses. According to Williams, a major focus has been getting over the hump to get some wins. They are, in fact, sporting t-shirts that read “Close is not good enough.”
“We’re all about trying to get wins,” Williams said. “After the last game of the season was over … (we said) we want to get better, and we want to get better now”
He continued, “The attitude this team is taking is like nothing I have ever seen before. Everybody wants to win. Everybody is competing. Right now I feel like we could play against any school in the MAC and be right there at the top. The intensity (is there). It’s been like that since Day One.”