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Miami's senior sendoff indicates turnaround

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Miami senior offensive tackle Reggie Youngblood shook his head and let out a sigh. It was the only thing he could come up with since he was at an utter loss for words to describe just how much the Canes' 16-14 win over Virginia Tech meant to the seniors.

"You can't, you really can't," he said. "It's just something you've got to experience. I believe everything happens for a reason and now everything seems to be paying off."

So much attention has been paid to this year's freshman class -- and deservedly so -- but they weren't on the field for last year's embarrassing senior sendoff at the historic Orange Bowl. The 48-0 loss to Virginia in front of so many former Miami greats punctuated a miserable season in which the Canes won only two league games and were denied a bowl bid for the first time in a decade.

This season's home finale, though, was different.

This team is different.

This time, in front of a crowd that included former Hurricanes Jim Kelly, Cortez Kennedy, Jim Otto and Gino Torretta, the bowl-eligible Hurricanes knocked off the defending ACC champions and won their fifth straight game. This is the same team that was predicted by the media to finish fifth in the Coastal Division and appeared headed in that direction with its 0-2 start in the conference. Now, for at least 48 more hours, the Hurricanes can enjoy sole possession of first place by a half game over North Carolina.

"It feels real good," Youngblood said, "especially after last year's senior night, how those seniors went out."

Miami coach Randy Shannon hesitated to call it a statement win, but acknowledged the significance of it.

"I think it's a big win for us because it's our last regular-season game playing in Dolphin Stadium, and I think for these seniors and this football team that was tremendous because we have a lot of seniors on this football team who have been through a lot," Shannon said. "For us to come out and win this football game the way we did and played hard for the senior class was tremendous for us."

Most of the 28 freshmen in this year's signing class know nothing but winning, and that attitude has been infectious. It seems like every week a true freshman is making his "first collegiate" catch, or tackle, or touchdown. Against the Hokies, true freshmen defensive linemen Marcus Forston and Marcus Robinson earned their first sacks.

They're not ahead of schedule, Shannon insisted, because the young players are only 10 games into their career. They're still making mistakes. But far fewer than they make plays.

"The thing that I like about them, they won't quit," Shannon said. "They're going to keep fighting and keep trying to do the things that we put them in situations to execute and get us better all the time."

Miami still needs to beat Georgia Tech and NC State in order to have a chance at its first ACC title, and the Hurricanes need North Carolina to lose.

Regardless of how the season plays out, though, Youngblood and the other 19 seniors on this roster can leave knowing they at least gave themselves the chance for one more game in Dolphin Stadium.