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Small-town hero fits in at Miami

Nerves visit most first-time starters. Rusty Medearis was no different before Miami's trip to Texas Tech last week.

He said he'd have to be inhuman not to be nervous. Well, Medearis turned in a superhuman performance _ tackles on the first two plays of the game and quarterback sack after sack. By the end of the day, he had nine tackles and a team-record 5{ sacks out of a record 13 team sacks.

Coaches whispered, "the next Greg Mark," comparing the undersized redshirt freshman defensive end with the former Miami undersized All-America defensive end. Like Mark, he's small for a defensive lineman, weighing just 238 pounds, and he has a knack for finding the quarterback (7{ sacks in the two games he has seen considerable playing time).

But Medearis is definitely an original. Most Hurricanes either developed in heavily populated South Florida or blew in from big cities like Dallas, Atlanta, Tampa, Chicago or New York. Medearis is a rarity on the Miami roster. He was a small-town hero, a two-time all-state linebacker from tiny Ozark, Mo. (approximate population: 1,500).

Medearis spent most of his youth growing up on a farm where his family raised cattle. Each of the five Medearis children had a horse.

"It's a lot different from Miami. It's a different way of life," said Medearis. "Things happen a lot slower there."

Unlike Miami, where things happen faster. Things like a relative unknown stepping into the lineup and the record books when an injured starter, Eric Miller, was lost for the season.

"There was absolutely no way that I thought I'd have a game like that. I thought I'd play well, but nothing like 5{ sacks," said Medearis. "It was amazing, the sacks kept coming. I could've probably had more if I didn't make a few mistakes. (Defensive tackles) Russell (Maryland) and Shane (Curry) were getting a lot of pressure up the middle, and the quarterback was just running right into my lane."

That humility will serve Medearis well. The Hurricanes aren't any easier on their teammates than their opponents, and his different background is ample material for abuse. Miami players tease Medearis about being a cowboy or a farmer.

"A cowpoke makes good in Miami," former Miami tight end Dennis Kelleher chided Medearis after Monday's practice.

"They're always giving me a hard time about being from the country," said Medearis. "It's different from the way people back home treat me. They can't believe I went to Miami. They think Miami's like a prison. They remember all the hype that this place got back in the mid-1980s for crime and drugs. It's not that bad, though. I like the different cultures.

"But still back home, people think I went to another country."

But Medearis knew what he was getting into. He and his high school coach sought out Notre Dame and Miami after other schools offered him a scholarship as a linebacker. Medearis thought to be his best he needed to play end because of his speed (only 4.94 seconds in the 40-yard dash). And he wanted to play for the best.

"A lot of people thought I should've stayed close to home," said Medearis. "But I wanted to accept the challenge of playing in the big time."