This was no on-campus recruiting event, no informational session with highly coveted prospects weighing their college football options.
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Instead, hours after the Hurricanes had wrapped up their final practice ahead of their first scrimmage of the spring — the first scrimmage in the Diaz era at Miami — the coach trekked north from Coral Gables to Coral Springs to speak at the annual Brian Piccolo Awards. There, some of Broward County’s top football scholar-athletes were honored not necessarily for what they had done on the field during their high school careers, but what they had accomplished off of it.
Most of the 41 honorees recognized Thursday night had posted GPAs well over 3.5. Many had notched impressive SAT and ACT scores while putting together resumes that included hundreds of hours of community service and participation in a plethora of varied extracurricular activities.
See ya there! pic.twitter.com/Ykx4mekeV0
— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) April 5, 2019
One honoree is preparing to enter the Naval Academy. Another, to start a career as a firefighter. Some will go on to play Division I football, while others know their playing days are over. None of the 41 honorees recognized Thursday night had signed to play for Diaz at Miami, but still, that did not matter. The coach felt it important to be at Thursday’s dinner, his speech equally praising the young athletes’ accomplishments while encouraging them to build on what they’d already achieved.
“Never lose your team, never get discouraged and never forget the muscles — not the physical muscles — but the mental muscles that got you where you are today,” Diaz said. “You do that, as crazy as it sounds, and you trust God, like I did, you’ll be amazed. One of you might have the chance to speak at this exact banquet, here, in who knows what time. And I hope I’m here to watch you do that.”
For Diaz, Thursday’s speech was the latest reminder that while he’s working to reshape a Hurricanes team that struggled to a 7-6 season last year, he’s also an ambassador for the University of Miami and the face of the program.
In the three months since being named Miami’s coach, Diaz has been a fixture in the South Florida and UM community.
Another day to get better. pic.twitter.com/hEpHNrYVWP
— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) April 4, 2019
A week ago, he and his staff hosted more than 200 high school football coaches as part of an instructional clinic and fellowship luncheon. Last month, he was in the front row of the student section as Miami’s women’s basketball team hosted a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. He’s been spotted cheering for the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena and for Roger Federer at the Miami Open, which last week was played at Hard Rock Stadium, the Hurricanes’ home field.
After throwing out the first pitch at UM’s baseball game against Florida State on Friday night, he’ll meet with donors and fans at a fundraising event in Miami on Wednesday. This summer, he’ll host a women’s football clinic. More events are on tap, too.
Getting Miami’s message out to the community is one of his biggest goals, of course. Making sure high school coaches and players know who he is matters.
But, Diaz said, there’s a lot more than that at stake.
— Manny Diaz (@Coach_MannyDiaz) April 2, 2019
“I enjoy this. And it’s part of all of our jobs. Everyone in our program has a responsibility to help do anything that supports football in South Florida,” Diaz told the Sun Sentinel. “Whether it’s an event like this, camps or youth clinics, coaching clinics, the more we can do to try and advance the game of football in South Florida, that ultimately benefits everyone.
“You want [these high school football coaches]to know they’re appreciated and their work doesn’t go unseen. Their work goes well beyond what happens on Friday nights. Their work at times is dropping kids off after practice, picking kids up before an early-morning workout, bringing kids to school. Those are the unsung acts that so many different coaches down here do? Why? For the betterment of some young man. Who knows how that will affect him later in life? South Florida high school coaches are a special breed. And these young men are champions in all the things that they do. Ultimately, really successful people, anything they encounter, they want to win at. And so, this group that you see [Thursday night], they’re very well-balanced. Great on the field, great off the field, everything they attack, they want to win at.”
So how did Diaz’s efforts Thursday resonate with those in attendance?
Piccolo winner Emanuel Villatoro-Fuentes — a defensive lineman and linebacker at Fort Lauderdale High who has a 4.9 GPA and aspires to be a football coach — couldn’t stop smiling as he noted that Diaz quoted a part of his speech, which he’d delivered just before Diaz spoke.
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And Western football coach Adam Ratkevich, who coached Piccolo winner John Panchookian, said Diaz’s outreach Thursday wasn’t unexpected.
It’s part of what he’s done since joining the Hurricanes three years ago, then as former coach Mark Richt’s defensive coordinator.
“Everybody in South Florida, from the players to the coaches to the community, we’re all so excited about him being the head coach at Miami,” Ratkevich said. “Anyone who knows him knows he’s a quality guy, which makes him a great person to speak to these outstanding young men. It was an interesting tie-in that Bobby Bowden once spoke at this and he started his career coaching under Bowden as a GA. What an amazing circle.
“He’s a genuine, character guy. He’s a guy that impresses me as someone who cares about kids. This past year, when we beat Atlantic in the playoffs, UM was on their way to go play at Georgia Tech. At 7 o’clock that morning, with all the things that Manny had to worry about, he took five seconds to text a high school coach and congratulate him. That means a lot to people. He’s a genuinely good person and I think he said a lot of positive things that will resonate with these young men. The University of Miami has the right person at the helm.”