Braxton Berrios can cap breakout season with an ACC title in his home state

Oftentimes when Braxton Berrios has stepped to the podium following Miami victories this season, he’s been there to speak about a play. It happened after some of the Hurricanes’ signature November wins vaulted them into the College Football Playoff conversation. If Miami can pull off a win Saturday in the ACC Championship Game, it will almost certainly happen again.

It first occurred, however, after the Hurricanes scored a lopsided non-conference win in September. Miami kicked off its unprecedented run of 11 games in 11 weeks with a lopsided win against Toledo, and Berrios was asked about a personal accomplishment.

“This is my first 100-yard game here,” Berrios said at Hard Rock Stadium, taking a quick pause to collect his thoughts. “I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say it felt incredible.”

Berrios’ journey to stardom for the Hurricanes hasn’t always been smooth. After a promising start to his career as a freshman, the wide receiver faded into the background during his next two years. His total of 264 receiving yards during his second two seasons only barely surpassed the 232 yards he put up during his debut season.

This fall, he leads Miami with 45 catches, 583 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns to help the Hurricanes return to glory. On Saturday, back in his home state, Berrios will lead No. 7 Miami out on to the field for the ACC title game in Charlotte, N.C. In all likelihood, an upset of top-ranked Clemson would vault the Hurricanes into the College Football Playoff and, at least offensively, Berrios is arguably the biggest reason Miami is in this position.

“He’s factored into their offensive plan quite a bit this year,” said Chad Smothers, Berrios’ coach at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, N.C. “It’s really exciting to see some of the things he’s doing on the field now are some of the things we used to see in his high school days.”

Berrios has become more than just a No. 1 receiver this season – a role he now unquestionably holds with star wide receiver Ahmmon Richards out for the year with a torn meniscus. Berrios is a fan favorite as a senior leader. He’s arguably the current face of the program as a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, commonly referred to as the “Academic Heisman.” He’s even become a meme with the distinction of “future Patriot” being worn out on social media, during game day conversations, and in the mouths of broadcasters and analysts.

None of this is a particular surprise to Berrios’ hometown. He was a star at Leesville Road right away, earning all-conference honors as a freshman and, befitting the stereotypes of grittiness, he wasn’t satisfied. He went to work in offseason camps, hoping to prove his on-field production wasn’t a fluke — trying to prove his 5-foot-9 frame wouldn’t be a limitation.

“Braxton came in with a plan to achieve his goals to become a Division I football player. He put a plan together that put together training in school and out of school, going to combines and making sure he was ready to perform when the time comes,” Smothers said. “Once he got the attention at the combines, things of that nature, he had the on-field performance to back it up.”

Berrios picked up his first offer from North Carolina during the spring of his sophomore year and it only snowballed from there. The wide receiver ultimately picked the Hurricanes from a loaded offer list, which also included the Tigers and Ohio State.

He earned just about every accolade a player in his position could, even catching a touchdown during the Under Armour All-American Game. Befitting the reputation he’s earned, it came despite tearing an ACL.

As a freshman under former coach Al Golden, Berrios started strong. He caught 14 passes for 149 yards during Miami’s first four games less than a year after his knee injury. Because of his stature and his most prevalent skill – catching the ball in the middle of the field – Berrios gained a reputation as a possession receiver, which Golden tried to erase. Even then, Berrios was a legitimate burner with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash and, according to USA Today, the nation’s best time in the 20-yard shuttle in high school a year earlier.

“He’s legitimately fast,” Golden told Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald in 2014, “so I don’t want to label him a possession receiver.”

Throw in a vertical leap measured at more than 40 inches and a reputation as one of the Hurricanes’ best weight-room performers, and Berrios has finally been able to shake some of his labels this fall. This time, the on-field production was the last thing to come along.

College GameDay-Miami Hurricanes-Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Braxton Berrios was a popular topic when College GameDay came to Coral Gables this fall. David Wilson/DieHards

Berrios was mostly a non-factor in the Hurricanes’ offense a year ago. However, as one of Miami’s few seniors – and with Richards battling a nagging hamstring injury – Berrios provided the ideal weapon for Malik Rosier.

Rosier has been up and down during his first year as the Hurricanes’ starting quarterback, and has without question been at his best when throwing to the middle of the field. Berrios and tight end Christopher Herndon IV are Miami’s two leading receivers this season, both in terms of catches and yardage.

The biggest change for Berrios this fall, though, is that he’s become much more than a middle-of-the-field possession receiver. He goes deep, pulling in a season-long reception of 55 yards against Toledo. He makes plays on the sideline, particularly around the goal line where Rosier can find him in the back corners of the end zone.

Still, the most important work he does comes in the middle of the field. Rosier has never been able to consistently get his outside receivers involved like Brad Kaaya, last year’s quarterback, could. Berrios’ best skill has never been more important.

“It feels great,” Berrios said after catching a touchdown during the Hurricanes’ win against Virginia Tech. “It’s been three years and it feels incredible to finally be producing to the team like this.”

The senior has been at his best during Miami’s biggest occasions. He scored twice to help the Hurricanes end their protracted losing streak to Florida State. He hauled in another touchdown against Virginia Tech. Even against Notre Dame, when the Fighting Irish held him to 2 catches for 10 yards, Berrios managed to find the end zone.

Although Charlotte isn’t next door to Raleigh, it will be a final homecoming for Berrios. Smothers will be there and so will be a big section of supporters, he said.

“Anyone who can afford a ticket.”

The post Braxton Berrios can cap breakout season with an ACC title in his home state appeared first on Diehards.

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