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December 20, 2005

Coker hopes Miami juniors stay

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Miami is losing at least 11 starters to graduation. Hurricanes coach Larry Coker hopes that list doesn't get longer in the coming days.

It's become an end-of-season rite at Miami, the saga of which underclassmen will forgo their final season and enter the NFL draft. This year is no different, with kick returner Devin Hester, wide receiver Ryan Moore and defensive lineman Baraka Atkins thinking about going pro.

None is expected to announce any decisions until after ninth-ranked Miami's season-finale against No. 10 LSU in the Peach Bowl at Atlanta on Dec. 30. But Coker sounds like he's deep into the recruiting process, trying to convince each to return for one more year.

"I just want them to make the right decisions for them," Coker said. "And obviously, selfishly speaking, you'd love to have those players for an additional year."

Over Coker's first four seasons, 10 Miami players left early for the draft. Seven of them - Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow and Vince Wilfork in 2004, Andre Johnson and Willis McGahee in 2003 and Jeremy Shockey and Philip Buchanon in 2002 - were first-round picks.

Clinton Portis was a second-round pick in 2002. Last year, Roscoe Parrish was a second-round selection, and Frank Gore went in the draft's third round.

Most draftniks don't identify any of Miami's current underclassmen as a certain first-round pick, meaning each could enhance their status and earning potential with a strong senior season.

"Ask Frank Gore if he wished he would have stayed. No question he does," Coker said. "All the things we told Frank were true, that you go, you're a bargain-basement sale. They bought new merchandise at a garage sale. ... It takes a long time for a garage sale item to get worked up to $47 million."

Hester has given mixed signals in recent weeks about his draft plans, at times insisting he'll return for his final college season, then last week saying he's leaving the decision "in God's hands."

Hester, who's returned six kickoffs and punts for touchdowns at Miami, has played cornerback for the past two seasons - but Coker is moving him to offense for the Peach Bowl and plans to keep him on that side of the ball in 2006.

"I think, without question, his intent's to stay," Coker said. "But there'll be a lot of conversation, I'm sure, from outside sources that'll maybe speak differently. The only thing I say is this: listen to people you trust and make the right decision for you."

So far in his Miami career, Hester has only 21 touches on offensive plays, gaining an average of 12.7 yards on those opportunities.

"I kind of took it to heart when he left offense last year, so I'm glad to have him back," said quarterback Kyle Wright, who wants Hester to stay. "Devin and I have been buddies since we got here. To have him back and the type of big-play ability that he has ... I think it's going to be a fun game to watch because he's going to have the ball in his hands a lot."

Atkins has 125 total tackles in his three seasons, including a career-best 49 this year, and said he will apply to the NFL advisory committee to try and gauge where he could be picked.

"Yes and no," Atkins said when asked if he had a specific round in mind as a benchmark for his decision. "I'm just going to see what happens after this is submitted."

Moore, who hasn't spoken with reporters since the end of the regular season, played in only six games because of injury as a sophomore, making nine catches. This year, he has 28 catches - third-most on the team - for 464 yards and four touchdowns.

"A lot of things sound nice, but you never know how things are going to work out," senior cornerback Kelly Jennings said. "There's so much stuff that goes into the whole process. You really don't want to put yourself out there in a bad situation that you can't get out of."

For more coverage of the Miami Hurricanes, check out CaneSport.com.

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