A.J. Highsmith getting thrust into UM football spotlight
CORAL GABLES - Quarterback A.J. Highsmith might have been the easiest recruiting victory in Miami history. His father was on Miami's 1983 national title team. His grandmother works in the school bookstore. His little league football team was the Hurricanes. His high school is on Hurricane Lane in Missouri City, Texas, and its teams are called - of course - the Hurricanes. Really, was there ever any doubt that he'd spend his college days as a Miami Hurricane? Not in his father's eyes, anyway."He was 8, 9 years old and when my friends who played with the Hurricanes would be in town, he'd just sit and listen to the stories," said Alonzo Highsmith, A.J.'s father, a running back for UM from 1983-86 and now a scout for the Green Bay Packers. "Then as he got older, he put it in his mind that he wanted to be a Division I player and wanted to play at the University of Miami. That was it." Now, the freshman is getting a crash course in the Hurricanes' offense. When Miami opens its season Sept. 7 at No. 18 Florida State, Highsmith will be the backup to Jacory Harris. Two other contenders for the backup job, Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith, asked for and received permission to transfer to new schools last week - giving Highsmith the role essentially by default, although some within the team say he would have won the No. 2 spot regardless. The Canes say he's ready for the challenge. "He's getting more work than he did before, because there's only two quarterbacks," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "But he does a lot of good things." Highsmith threw for 28 touchdowns last season, leading his team to the Texas Class 5A state championship game. There were plenty of questions about whether he was best suited to play quarterback at the college level - Shannon said even Alonzo Highsmith asked him about potentially moving his son to safety - but Miami never seriously considered a switch. In turn, A.J. Highsmith never truly considered any other college, either. "They were always my favorite school," Highsmith said. "Ever since I was born, pretty much, I've lived UM. ... I've always wanted to be here." He's made a quick impression on Harris. When Miami held its first practice of fall camp, Harris spent some time working individually with Highsmith, reminding him about how to set his feet on certain throws, about arm angles and other nuances of playing football's marquee position at the college level. A week later, Harris could back off from the tutoring. Highsmith, he said, was catching on faster than anyone expected. "He was up there every day, watching film, learning the plays, doing good things in order to get better," Harris said. "He's learned pretty quick. A.J. is a good quarterback. He's somebody I love to have here." Alonzo and A.J. speak by phone just about every day, but the father says he's almost past the point of giving his son any advice. Shannon even quipped about it once, noting that Alonzo Highsmith was a bruising fullback and his son is a strong-armed quarterback - so there isn't really any similarity in their playing experiences. "He is a very, very mature young man and he understands that I played the game of football where he's played, but that's it," said Alonzo Highsmith, who played in the NFL with the Oilers, Cowboys and Buccaneers. "He went through this in Little League. He went through this in high school. He stands on his own. The way I've always approached him about it is, 'A.J., you do what you do best.' And he does." Next Monday night, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Alonzo Highsmith will be in the stands, waiting for his son to run through the tunnel and onto the field. For the kid, it'll be an unforgettable moment, his first game for the school he's worshipped for so long. For the dad, it'll be equally unforgettable, and years and years of preparing will finally get their payoff. "I'll think of a young man that didn't mind getting up at 5:30, 6 o'clock in the morning to go run," Alonzo Highsmith said. "A kid whose mom had to tape all his high school games so after the game he could watch the DVDs. I'll think back to all that and to a kid who did what it took to get to the University of Miami. He'll understand what I went through because he's paid the price."