Miami Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz started his Thursday afternoon pre-training camp web conference with reporters expecting his whole roster to be with the team for Friday’s first practice.
By the time he was done taking questions, he received word that standout redshirt sophomore defensive end Gregory Rousseau, a possible top draft pick in the 2021 NFL draft, has opted out of the season due to coronavirus concerns.
“While we were speaking, Greg Rousseau just let me know that he is not going to play football this fall. He’s opting out,” Diaz said. “We’ve had a great relationship with Greg, discovering him years ago when he was at Champagnat (High in Hialeah, Fla.), an outstanding young man. We want to thank him for everything he’s done for the Miami Hurricanes.”
Added Miami defensive coordinator Blake Baker: “I couldn’t be happier for Greg. We support him 100 percent in his decision. We had some conversations with him in the previous days, and knew that it was something on his mind.”
Rousseau, at 6 foot 7 and 253 pounds, was second to only Chase Young in the nation with 15 1/2 sacks as a redshirt freshman last season, which led the Atlantic Coast Conference. He totaled 54 tackles, 19 1/2 for loss, forced two fumbles and recovered another.
Rousseau likely will declare early for the NFL draft next season and is considered to be a first-round pick. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him as the draft’s No. 24 overall player and top defensive end.
“We’re going to support him in every way we can with him looking to achieve his dreams of becoming a great part of the NFL,” Diaz said.
Rousseau joined other prominent college football names such as Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman and Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley to opt out.
Rousseau was set to team up with Temple grad transfer Quincy Roche to form one of the fiercest pass-rush tandems in the NCAA. Roche will now lead Miami defensive ends, a group that also has redshirt junior Jaelan Phillips, redshirt freshmen Jahfari Harvey and Cameron Williams and true freshmen Chantz Williams, Elijah Roberts and Quentin Williams.
“It’ll be next man up, and our guys will be excited to play. I’m sure they’ll be supportive of Greg in his decision, as well,” Diaz said.
Said Baker: “Guys got to step up, and obviously, you sign a guy like Quincy Roche. Obviously, Jaelan Phillips from a year ago and Jahfari Harvey — it’s, by far, the deepest position probably on the defensive side of the ball. Definitely excited about the guys that are going to be playing this season, as well.”
Phillips, who is up to 6 foot 5 and 265 pounds, is a former five-star recruit that sat out last season after transferring to Miami from UCLA.
“I feel really good about him,” Baker said. “He did a standing back-flip the other day from a standstill position, so those kind of guys don’t really exist very often. Obviously, athletically, brings a lot to the table. Very, very smart young man.
“I think his best football is in front of him, knocking some of the rust off. He hasn’t played in a while. Athletically, it’s like creating a player on NCAA Football when they used to have that video game. … He’s got all the tangibles and intangibles. You just got to put it together on the field.”
Phillips tweeted on Thursday, shortly after Rousseau’s decision, “No need to fear … ”
Baker called Harvey “the forgotten one” who may be most athletic of all of Miami’s defensive ends. He also said UM must figure out who will be fourth and fifth at the position.
Baker added that defensive tackles Jason Blissett and Jared Harrison-Hunte can also line up out wide.
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