Golden Honors Seniors at Annual Awards Banquet
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Football Awards Banquet held at Parrot Jungle Island. While I usually start every recap of a Hurricane Club, etc. event in this manner, I cannot emphasize enough how attending this event was a true pleasure. From start to finish, this normally fun event was transformed into a touching, thought-provoking, and inspiring 3 hours spent with ‘Canes family.
For those of you who haven’t been to an awards banquet before, please let me enlighten you on the norm: a brief reception with food that football players like (read: junk food) where you are crammed into a small space staring in wonder at how many plates of fried chicken the offensive linemen can eat, and then herded to another room where you sit in folding chairs and hear the beloved Don Bailey Jr. rattle off the winners of the awards while you observe certain coaches looking around awkwardly (Nix), quarterbacks who don’t associate with the rest of the team (Marve), and an athletic director (Hocutt) unceremoniously announce the new head coach that is promised to bring the ‘Canes back to prominence (Golden). While I have attended this event every year that it has been held since I was a student, I rarely walked away with the “warm fuzzies.”
Enter Al Golden. Like so many events and [new and old] traditions in the last year since he was announced as the new coach of the ‘Canes, Golden has taken things that we have complacently learned to accept about our beloved football program and turned the average into extraordinary. If how he transformed this event is any indication of what he will do to our football team, we are truly in for the best years ever, ‘Canes fans.
Instead of having this event on campus or in a hotel where a quinceanera is simultaneously taking place, Golden moved this event to the Tree Top Ballroom at Parrot Jungle, the same place where the UM Sports Hall of Fame holds its induction dinner. Instead of fried chicken, we had passed hors d’oeuvres for the reception and a sit-down three-course luncheon featuring two-carving stations.
Instead of the players simply receiving their awards and rushing out, those in attendance were treated with a series of videos, one being a really touching video featuring the team set to a country song that everyone knew but me, clips compiled of the players goofily singing the song “Build Me Up Buttercup” (this was my favorite part of the luncheon, absolutely hysterical and made me fall in love with our team all over again), and a video recap of every game this season.
Instead of huddling at a table with friends from the Palm Beach ‘Canes Club, I was directed to a table. When I first arrived at my table, I saw a [stunning] girl and I asked if she would watch my purse and hold my seat while I walked around and took pictures of the framed jerseys [which I later learned were gifts from Golden to the seniors]. While I was up, I had the chance to meet Travis Benjamin’s proud family posing with his jersey and I was so touched by how excited they were to be there to honor “The Blur” that I asked if I could take a picture for this article.
When I returned to my seat, I started making small talk with the girl who was watching my purse. It turned out that this smart and funny girl who I was talking to is Sean Spence’s girlfriend, Dekilia. Moments after, a member of my ‘Canes fam (whose duct tape saved my tent for the FSWho tailgate) Sherri, arrived at my table and Brandon Washington came over to say hello and give us hugs. Soon, we started chatting with the ladies across the table. I learned that one of the charming ladies we were speaking to lives right outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas, where my mom is from and we started chatting about that part of the country and how much of an adjustment it is coming from there to Miami – and then I realized I was speaking to Tyler Horn’s mom Dawn, aka, my new tailgate buddy for the 2012 season, and his lovely girlfriend.
I tell this story not to brag or name drop, but rather, as an illustration of how special the ‘Canes family is. We are not a fan base with barriers to accessing the coaches, the players, their families, etc. We are a fan base that can all sit at a table together and break bread and laugh and cry and share what the 2011 season meant to us. My experience is not special or unique in any regard. Anyone who takes the time to support this program in the same manner will be rewarded with the same types of special experiences. I think Al Golden knows this about our ‘Canes family, and that is why tables across the room had players and their families interspersed. It is hard not to feel a connection to these players when you are sitting with them and their families and it is that connection that keeps fans coming back, to live vicariously through these young men Saturday after Saturday, season after season.
After we finished our tasty lunch, the awards ceremony got underway. First, young men who participated in a mentorship program were presented with an award and the mentees told the large crowd how people like Chase Ford and Luther Robinson gave them meaning to their lives and a reason to keep going. I think that was the 3rd time tears came to my eyes during the event. It was truly touching and inspiring to know that with all these young men do on the field and in the classroom, they are also taking time to better the community and enrich the lives of other young people. I wish THAT was the kind of stuff that Mark May would bring up about the University of Miami, because actions like those truly embody while I love the school and the team so much, and it is a side that few people know.
Next, my brother from another mother, Don Bailey, Jr. announced the individual recipients of each award [listed below], which was accompanied by a brief video presentation about that player (also new). It is no secret that the entire senior class was awarded the MVP award because, as Al Golden explained, each one of them has helped lay the foundation for what the Miami Hurricanes football team will evolve into with the coming years. Each player was awarded his framed jersey.
To conclude the luncheon, Al Golden took the podium and personally and individually thanked everyone involved with the team this year, including wives and children. Then, and this was especially touching, Coach Golden individually spoke about each one of his seniors. Between hilarious Jersey Shore references, calling Joel Figueroa the “Patriarch” of the team, which was met with much laughter, and learning that John Calhoun (who is entering law school in the fall) earned the name “The Juice Box” by always riling the players up in the huddle by asking “Who’s got THE JUICE?!!?”, you could tell the love and admiration that Golden and these players share. In contrast to coaches like Nick Saban who step over a convulsing player to sit alone in his office, you could see that Golden and these young men share all sorts of private jokes and that they have a relationship that will last beyond the University of Miami. I only wish that every recruit could see that.
In the end, I reluctantly left, looking back several times at these senior players that would never wear the orange and green (on the field anyway) again. I thought about all the promise many of these players had, the pressure we put on them to resurrect our team, and how much of the criticism we laid upon them in the last couple of years wasn’t really fair given the cards they were dealt at UM. Although I am very excited for the future and new blood like Randy “Duke” Johnson to be scoring touchdowns at Sun Life with only one shoe on, the 2011 seniors will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you for dedicating your lives over the past few years to our common love. I wish all of these young men the best of luck wherever their paths may lead, whatever their futures hold. May they always have the orange and green blood pumping through their veins as they do now, and never lose sight of the lessons they learned in Coral Gables.
2011 Football Awards Banquet Winners:
- Hard Hitter Award: Harland Gunn
- The Mariutto Family Scholar Athlete Award: Spencer Whipple
- Community Service Man of the Year Award: Joel Figueroa
- Strength Training Athlete of the Year Award: Mike James
- Albert Bentley Most Valuable Walk-On Award: Chris Ivory
- Nick Chickillo Most Improved Player: Tommy Streeter
- Walt Kichefski Hurricane Award: Tyler Horn
- University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame Unsung Hero Award: Eric Lichter
- Training Room Comeback Player of the Year Award: Shayon Green
- Hurricane Media “Good Guy” Award: Laron Byrd
- 2011 Captains Awards: (1) Jacory Harris; (2) Tyler Horn; (3) Jo Jo Nicolas; (4) Sean Spence
- Plumer Award for Leadership, Motivation & Spirit: John Calhoun
- Melching Leadership Award: Jo Jo Nicolas
- U Respect Award: Marcus Robinson
- Scout Team Player of the Year Award: Ben Jones & Dallas Crawford
- Newcomer of the Year Award: Denzel Perryman
- Defensive Most Valuable Player: Sean Spence
- Offensive Most Valuable Player: Jacory Harris
- Special Teams Most Valuable Player: Andrew Swasey and Jake Wieclaw
- The Jack Harding Team Most Valuable Player Award: the 25 members of the senior class
To compare this year’s winners with the 2010 class, click here.