After seeing thousands of fans awash in Hurricanes orange and green last spring, University of Miami football coach Al Golden knew he was on to something.
Golden brought his team to Southwest Florida last year for an intrasquad scrimmage that drew an estimated 6,500 fans to Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers. The popularity of the event prompted the Hurricanes to come back to the area this spring, and this time they’re coming to Naples.
Miami will conduct a free public scrimmage Friday at Naples High School’s Staver Field. Golden said the Hurricanes are eager to give Southwest Florida a taste of their brand of football.
“The response was overwhelming a year ago,” Golden said. “It was a great way for the University of Miami and our football program to reach out to fans.”
In three years under Golden, the Hurricanes have hit the road in order to broaden their fan base and build goodwill toward the program. The efforts have been focused in South Florida, and last year’s trip to Fort Myers was the first for the area.
Fans will get a chance to cheer on one of their own at Friday’s scrimmage, which lasts from 7 to 9 p.m. South Fort Myers graduate Dallas Crawford will be a redshirt sophomore at Miami in the fall.
Last spring Crawford’s mother, Gina, said nearly 200 family and friends showed up at Bishop Verot to see the scrimmage. For many, it was the first chance they had to see Crawford play.
In a phone interview from Miami’s Coral Gables campus Wednesday, Crawford said he expects another big turnout of supporters Friday at Naples.
“It’s very exciting,” Crawford said. “It gives my family an opportunity to come see me play and lets people back home see the Hurricanes play. We get to expand our fan base, and the players get to see something new.”
Crawford saw extensive action in last year’s scrimmage. Though he starred at quarterback in high school and committed to Miami as a defensive back, the 5-foot-10, 196-pound sophomore was used a variety of ways last year.
He played receiver and tailback during the scrimmage. Crawford played in 12 games last season, mostly on special teams. He had six rushing attempts, two passing attempts, 10 tackles and an interception on defense.
At Friday’s scrimmage, Crawford hopes to see another large crowd out in Hurricanes shirts and jerseys.
“Last year was a lot of fun,” said Crawford, whose former South Fort Myers teammate Nate Dortch is a redshirt freshman cornerback for Miami. “I didn’t know there were that many Miami fans (in Fort Myers) until I committed my senior year. It was nice to see that many people support us.”
After the scrimmage, Golden will stick around Naples for Saturday’s Hurricanes golf outing at Treviso Bay. The event, which is sold out, is run by former Miami player Darin McMurray, who works for Lennar Homes in Southwest Florida.
Friday’s scrimmage will be about more than football, Golden said. It will be about fun. A fan zone outside Staver Field will feature games for kids, and T-shirts and posters will be given away all night.
“It’s going to be a great weekend,” Golden said. “We have a rather large contingency of support in place in Naples. We’re excited to bring the program to the west coast. There’s great football over there and excellent coaches. We’re excited to give them a chance to watch Canes football.”