FORT LAUDERDALE — Bill Young has coached for 39 years, 27 at colleges such as Kansas, USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Tulsa. But the Miami Hurricanes' new defensive coordinator said Saturday that he has never had three freshmen equal to what he has seen at UM.
Young was referring to linebackers Sean Spence and Arthur Brown, who combined for three interceptions in Saturday's annual spring game at Lockhart Stadium, and defensive tackle Marcus Forston. All three graduated from high school early so they could participate in spring drills.
"I am surprised at how good those three are," said Young, who last season helped lead Kansas to a stunning 12-1 mark. "It's rare that you see three guys who should still be in high school step up so quickly at this level. They are going to play (this fall). I won't be afraid to put them in the mix."
The freshmen haven't shown any fear, either. Brown was credited with a team-high eight tackles, an interception and a pass breakup as the defense beat the offense 32-29 in front of 11,000. And he saved a touchdown when he ran down speedy running back Shawnbrey McNeal.
"I am glad I am here early because there is so much to learn," said Brown, from Wichita, Kan. "I couldn't imagine showing up in the fall and being ready to play right away."
Spence, from Miami Northwestern High, got both of his interceptions off former Plant star Robert Marve. The first bounced off the helmet of a defensive lineman. Spence collected the ball and weaved in and out of traffic for a 33-yard return.
"Those guys are incredible," Marve said of Spence and Brown. "They are two 17-year-old guys just out there destroying guys."
Young has stressed forcing turnovers all spring, Spence said.
"Coach told us that we could lead the nation in takeaways," he said. "That's our goal."
The defense had two goal-line stands, holding the offense to field goals both times. Linebacker Darryl Sharpton had three of UM's six sacks. Asked who is the team's best blitzer, Young mentioned Spence first, then Sharpton.
"Spence has a way of getting home," Young said. "He can slither in there and make people miss."
Although the 'Canes offense did not play as well as it did during its previous public scrimmage, there were some highlights, including McNeal's 68-yard catch and run on a screen pass.
Sophomore running back Graig Cooper scored the only two touchdowns, on runs of 27 and 44 yards. He finished with eight carries for 103 yards.
Junior running back Javarris James dropped two passes but had four catches for 60 yards and one run for 25. Marve, the apparent frontrunner at quarterback, went 10-of-22 for 95 yards and two interceptions. Freshman Jacory Harris, expected to be his main challenger, went 9-of-17 for 65 yards with no picks.
Offensive coordinator Patrick Nix declined to talk about any single quarterback, but Marve said he was pleased overall.
"You take what the defense gives you, and they gave us a lot of flat routes today," Marve said. "There were some weird things like the ball that hit off the helmet. That's never happened to me before."