After five years at Purdue University in his home state of Indiana, 6-2, 285-pound standout defensive tackle Branson Deen’s sixth year was going to be in a place he savored.
Palm trees, the Atlantic Ocean, sunshine, lush landscapes, a kaleidoscope of cultures and pretty much everything else about South Florida wowed him — especially the chance to play football at the University of Miami.
“I love it so far,’’ said Deen, battling for a chance to plug up the Hurricanes’ middle, as several UM defensive linemen are sidelined for spring, and former star defensive tackle Darrell Jackson transferred to Florida State. “Man, the weather, the people, the scenery, everything is 100 times better than Indiana. I’m loving it.’’
Deen was a three-star prospect out of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, the same high school of Hurricanes basketball star Nijel Pack, who transferred to UM from Kansas State. He spoke to the Miami media for the first time this past week.
When asked why he chose the Hurricanes, Deen, who turned 23 last month, praised coach Mario Cristobal’s penchant for developing linemen on both sides of the ball, and his own belief that UM, despite finishing 5-7 last season, can win immediately.
“This is giving me the best shot for winning a championship,’’ said Deen, who already has his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering technology. “I love the people, I love Coach Cristobal. He’s building this program from the linemen up and I thought that was a really big thing. He spends a lot of time with us and I just loved his vision for what we got going on here.”
Deen said it was “amazing’’ to be coached by Pro Football Hall of Fame member and former Dolphins great Jason Taylor.
“You can go to him with any question,’’ Deen said. “Nine times out of 10 he’s got the answer. If he doesn’t, he’ll find it. He has us well trained, too. I can’t wait to keep learning from him.”
What is Indiana (still getting 30-degree weather at night) like?
Said Deen: “It’s a bunch of nothing — factories, fields, just a little bit of nothing. So, this is a whole lot better.”
Last season, Deen played in 12 games, garnering 28 tackles, four tackles for loss, 2 1/2 sacks and four quarterback hurries for the 8-6 Boilermakers (6-3 Big Ten). In 2021, he had 26 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4 1/2 sacks, four quarterback hurries and a forced fumble in 12 games.
New UM defensive coordinator Lance Guidry told reporters recently that “probably four of the starters on paper,’’ including tackles Leonard Taylor and possibly Jared Harrison-Hunte, were not practicing during spring. “We’ll add them in the summer when they’re healthy,’’ Guidry said. “The good thing is the guys that are backups fighting for jobs are getting all the reps right now, so you’re really building depth.’’
Sophomore defensive end Nyjalik Kelly, who changed his jersey from last year’s No. 90 to No. 9, also spoke to reporters this past week. The 6-4 Kelly said he has gone from 240 pounds to 250, and that he’s been taking his weightlifting “more serious.’’
“Doing bench press, squats, just going with the program,’’ the Fort Lauderdale Dillard graduate said.
Kelly, still only 18, played in 12 games last season, with 11 tackles, 4 1/2 tackles for loss and four sacks.
He said the biggest thing he learned in his first season was that “high school is slower than college and I had to move faster and adapt quicker.’’
“I had to really look over film, watch the O-linemen steps and hands and really study. In high school, I just went out there and played. ...I’m getting better. Last year I felt like I was moving scared because it was college and I was a little slower. I’ve gotten more confidence so I’m able to notice stuff faster.’’
What would Kelly tell recruits thinking about Miami?
“I would tell recruits, ‘All the coaches are going to love you on and off the field. It ain’t just about on the field. They going to take care of you off the field no matter what. They going to make sure you good on the field mentally, physically and emotionally. So, Miami is the spot to be at.’”
The Hurricanes had their first spring scrimmage on Saturday morning. It was a controlled format and lasted about an hour, including special teams plays and goal-line packages.
The scrimmage was closed to the media, but one source said linebacker Francisco Mauigoa, defensive end Chantz Williams and nickelback Te’Cory Couch had good days, as well as tight end Jaleel Skinner, among others, on the offensive side. All three scholarship quarterbacks played. There were evidently no injuries, which was the best news of the day.