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Davis, Hurricanes aim high for 2000

Butch Davis understands Steve Spurrier's anxieties about his No. 1 quarterback disappearing from campus in spring, going to play pro baseball and not returning to football business until a month before the season opener.

Doug Johnson was a discomfort zone for his Florida Gators coach, watering down QB dedication with midyear pursuits of fortunes in the Devil Rays organization.

Spurrier's pitcher became erratic, a problem Doug never overcame, even as a UF senior, despite resigning his third-base job to devote all skills to football.

"I felt a similar strain with Kenny Kelly," said University of Miami football coach Davis. "Your entire program all but rests with a young man who is spending several critical months on another athletic project. It came to fish-or-cut-bait time with Kenny Kelly."

Pick one, son.

Kelly, like Johnson, was Devil Rays moonlighting. "If it's a Deion Sanders, a defensive back, a mixture of college football and pro baseball might work," Davis said. "But not with your quarterback, who needs enormous preparation. All summer in 1999, we didn't have Kenny to play catch with our wide receivers, getting in tune."

Kelly made a choice in February, relinquishing football. He would have been a UM junior in 2000. Kenny cut bait. Now, as a baseball-only guy, he is a Double-A outfielder batting .233 for the Orlando Rays.

Davis is relieved. Lucky for the 'Canes, a dynamic option was evolving. Ken Dorsey sizzled as Kelly's backup last year. As a freshman, the Californian completed 74 of 120 passes (.617) for 10 touchdowns, throwing just two interceptions.

"He's not the athlete Kenny is, but I would classify Dorsey as a young Bernie Kosar with more ability," Davis said. "More of a pocket passer than Kelly.

"I'm slow to put tremendous stock in high school stats, but one number that captivated me was Dorsey, while throwing over 400 passes for 30 touchdowns as a senior, suffering no sacks. An apparent knack for avoiding rushes."

Miami could challenge for the Top 10 next season. Making up ground on the Gators. Moving up on the most prodigious 'Canes rival, national champion Florida State. Davis, with dignity and moral strength, has hoisted UM from '90s travails.

Butch's sixth season nears. He paid heavy for sins of UM predecessors, enduring NCAA probation. Miami's roster is deep again. Talented kids from Coral Gables to Seattle have shown eagerness to help reconstruct an Orange Bowl colossus that won four national championships.

D.J. Williams, from the San Francisco area, was the country's hottest prep prospect this year. A linebacker and running back so sensational he mesmerized John Madden, a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Oakland Raiders who became a larger legend as a TV commentator. John lives in the neighborhood.

Chased hard by 50 schools, including just about every national power, Williams chose UM. "Madden immediately called me to say D.J. might be good enough to become the first teenager to make the jump from high school football to the NFL," Davis said on a recent visit to Tampa.

Williams is a 6-foot-2, 236-pound phenom who shattered O.J. Simpson schoolboy rushing records. But who knows if he'll ever carry the football for the Hurricanes.

"D.J. will be a linebacker, which is his preference," Davis said. "We're already loaded with runners. Williams has a chance to start immediately as a 'backer.

"A big reason he picked UM was our linebacker tradition over the past 20 years Micheal Barrow, Ray Lewis, Nate Webster, George Mira Jr. and others."

Oh, about Webster, a motor-always-revving chap just drafted by the Bucs, the UM coach says Tampa Bay got a steal.

"First thing you'll notice, in Nate's rookie season in the pros," said the former Dallas Cowboys assistant to Jimmy Johnson, "is stunning ability as a special-teams player. Just follow Webster down the field on kicks and your eyes will be led to where the action is.

"Nate is a workaholic. He's only 5-11 but has enormous power. Big hitter. He had some personal problems, but I see that as being totally in the past.

"Playing under Tony Dungy, with such a solid linebackers coach as Lovie Smith, should be a perfect setting for Nate Webster. It's going to be fun watching him in the NFL."

It's impressive, seeing all the old UM silverware, including those No. 1 trophies won during the coaching times of Howard Schnellenberger, Johnson and Dennis Erickson, but the 'Canes are operating on a higher moral plane than ever in the Davis era. He is close to making an early 21st century run at such extreme excellence.

Former players are rallying, not only with basso voices but with loaded pockets. Edgerrin James, as a whopper of an NFL rookie year as a tailback with the Indianapolis Colts, has donated $250,000 toward an $8-million project to enhance UM sports facilities.

"That's to be only the start," Davis said. "Edgerrin, who overcame many childhood hardships, has vowed to give another quarter-million in each of the next three years. Kosar tells me, "I'm not about to let James be the biggest contributor.' It's catching on."

Extraordinary idea. Millionaire pros, taking just a smidgen of their professional riches, to help the old school. "Russell Maryland, Steve Walsh and others have made significant grants," the coach said.

"We're working to expand. Getting new, first-rate facilities is a larger challenge at private institutions." Butch is hoping Warren Sapp, Vinny Testaverde and many other rich, famous old 'Canes catch the spirit.

Davis has two obvious targets on his 2000 schedule. Both teams from last season's national championship game, FSU and Virginia Tech, are coming to the Orange Bowl.

"We're excited; really hopeful," he said. "But those two games will be tough, meaningful measuring sticks for how close Miami is to being all the way back."