Braxton Berrios’ worth to the Miami Hurricanes was on full display last weekend against Virginia Tech. He threw the ball, caught the ball, ran with the ball and even had a huge downfield block to set up another big play.
All that happened on the first series.
Sometimes an afterthought in his first three years at Miami, Berrios — who stands 5-foot-9 — has come up big this season for the seventh-ranked Hurricanes (8-0, No. 7 CFP). And when Miami puts the nation’s longest current winning streak on the line against No. 3 Notre Dame (8-1, No. 3 CFP) on Saturday, there’s little doubt that Berrios will be a major part of the game plan.
“Braxton Berrios is the engine to that offense, no doubt about it,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “But he’s also extremely productive. So it’s one thing to be the emotional leader but you know, he averages I think close to 15 yards per catch and I think he’s somebody that you have to game plan for in the special teams game as a punt returner.”
Berrios had five touchdown catches in his first three seasons; he has a team-best seven so far this season. Berrios also leads the Hurricanes with 36 catches and 474 receiving yards, and the seven TD grabs have him tied for second among all Atlantic Coast Conference players.
The Hurricanes are savoring their start. Berrios, in turn, is savoring the moment.
“It’s the reason I came to Miami,” Berrios said. “It’s the reason I’m here in the first place. This is what I’ve wanted to do, these are kind of the positions I’ve wanted to be in for the last three years, since I committed. This is what I came here for. To finally see everything I’ve done for the last three years, all the silent work where nobody is around, to see all that start to pay off … it’s indescribable.”
He thinks that work was done in secret. It wasn’t.
Coaches have long raved about Berrios’ work ethic. The North Carolina native is the football equivalent of a gym rat; when he’s not studying — Berrios has a 3.96 GPA and put together 33 consecutive “A” grades to start his academic career at Miami — he can usually be found studying tape by himself or working out in the weight room.
It’s paying off. He had a career-best eight catches, and a career-best two touchdowns, in Miami’s rivalry game win at Florida State. The Hurricanes have been carrying themselves with much more confidence since, and Berrios’ effort that day seems like a major catalyst.
“He’s been awesome,” Miami coach Mark Richt said. “I mean, really and truly, as it was happening, it was pretty awesome, but then after the fact and watching the tape and even watching some TV copy of it, you can just see what a gutsy performance it was and really what a dominating performance it was. Guys that are 5-9 and 180 or whatever he weighs, usually they can’t dominate a game the way he did.”
Berrios has been an emotional leader as well.
When he scores or makes a big play, he’ll let the fans know that it’s time to make noise — something like posing with outstretched arms in the end zone. In past years, when Miami was at home and he’d make such a gesture, Berrios would see plenty of empty seats. Now with the Hurricanes unbeaten and back in the national picture, Miami’s attendance and buzz are both surging.
“In a city like Miami, you’ve got to win,” Berrios said. “This isn’t Alabama. This isn’t West Virginia. People in Miami have so many other things to do. You look at the Heat, before they started winning, before they got D-Wade and Shaq and LeBron. Nobody would go to their games. You look at the Dolphins when they’re not winning, there’s not very many people there.
“To get fans to come, to get fans excited, you’ve got to win. I’ve always said that.”
He was right. And he’s a big reason why they’re showing up again.