They were two nationally coveted recruits from South Florida who ultimately took their talents to the Miami Hurricanes.
Now, the two freshmen — running back Mark Fletcher and defensive end Rueben Bain — will be flaunting their gifts at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee when Miami (6-3, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) and No. 4 Florida State (9-0, 7-0) meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ABC) in one of college football’s most intense rivalries.
“This one is special,’’ the 6-2, 225-pound Fletcher, a former four-star prospect out of Plantation American Heritage, said Tuesday. “It’s a rivalry, big-time rivalry, biggest rivalry in college football in my opinion — especially for a kid growing up in South Florida. When it’s Miami vs. FSU, you stop whatever you’re doing and you watch that game.”
“It’s a game I’ve been growing up watching since I was a kid,’’ agreed the 6-3, 270-pound Bain, who faced Fletcher in last year’s Class 2M state title game and was another four-star prospect rated the nation’s 10th best defensive end when he graduated Miami Central. “Real excited.’’
Fletcher’s first career start last week in Miami’s 20-6 loss at North Carolina State was a mixture of exhilaration and disappointment. He had a career-best 115 yards on 23 carries for a 5-yard-per-carry average to earn ACC Rookie of the Week as the Hurricanes’ lone offensive bright spot. But he couldn’t get the 1 yard he needed most at fourth-and-1 from the Wolfpack’s 3-yard line, getting stopped for no gain.
“This past week, Mark Fletcher certainly showed something different because that is a very difficult team to run the ball against,’’ UM coach Mario Cristobal said Monday. “You saw some of the contact... Some of the arm tackles he’d run through, I mean, he was flat-out impressive.’’
Fletcher, only two weeks removed from sitting out four weeks with what he called a “tiny” stress fracture in his foot, was the hero in UM’s last win Oct. 28 against Virginia. In that game, his three consecutive rushes in overtime included the game-winning 11-yarder that clinched bowl eligibility. Saturday, he’ll be going against FSU’s 33rd-ranked defense (332.6 yards allowed a game) and 57th-ranked rushing defense (140.2).
“Physical team,’’ he said of the Seminoles. “They have a good secondary, good front four. They’re in the right spots, veteran guys who know what they’re doing. Great defense.’’
Fletcher ran for 4,124 yards on 7.7 yards a carry and 114.6 yards a game his last three years of high school, winning a Class 5A state title in 2019 and again leading American Heritage to the Class 2M title game in December.
“Why not the U? It’s home,” Fletcher said last December on early signing day. He was asked again Tuesday why he chose Miami despite its 5-7 struggles last season. “I always loved Miami as a kid and I had the opportunity to come here and help them.”
He said he “worked very hard’’ to get his first start and was elated to showcase his talent. But FSU is on another level, and Fletcher has never been to Tallahassee.
“I always just watch it on TV with my family,’’ he said. “Now I’m in the game, so it’s better than watching it. ...To beat FSU is what you come to Miami for.’’
He sat at Hard Rock Stadium last season when the Seminoles humiliated UM 45-3.
“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder and I haven’t even played those guys yet. So, yeah, we’re ready,’’ he said, before quickly adding, “We’re getting ready.’’
As for Bain, the all-everything rookie, in nine games and seven consecutive starts he has a team-leading 6 1/2 sacks, with 8 1/2 tackles for loss, one pass breakup, three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
Bain said Tuesday that he grew up watching his cousin (former UM national champion cornerback Tolbert Bain) play for the Hurricanes, but that he also had family members play for FSU.
“I was at the games,’’ Bain said. “I was always in that environment. Now I get the chance to play in it. It’s amazing.’’
His take on the Tallahassee atmosphere?
“It’s definitely exciting,’’ he said. “I played in Tallahassee myself in the state championship game. I think it was 2021 [that] UM went up to Tallahassee and I seen that game in person. It was a nailbiter [31-28 FSU] at the end.
“The atmosphere is amazing and it’s something I’m looking forward to playing in.’’