Bouncing back and staying strong

With the arrival of the fall semester Wednesday, students will make their long-awaited return to the classroom after enjoying a summer of traveling, working, interning or studying.

Five University of Miami football players are also looking forward to getting back to school as well with high expectations of making an impactful return to the gridiron after frustrating 2009 campaigns. Below is a list of the top-five comeback players for the UM football team:

5) Redshirt junior defensive back JoJo Nicolas:
The 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound Homestead native played in just three games in 2009 recording 10 tackles before being sidelined with an upper extremity injury. He is a safety who has a chance to start alongside redshirt sophomore Vaughn Telemaque. UM has had trouble creating plays in the secondary the past couple of years. Expect Nicolas to be hungry and a ball hawk as he looks to prove the doubters wrong.

4) Junior linebacker Sean Spence:
Spence is an undersized linebacker who was highly regarded coming out of Miami Northwestern High School in 2008. He was named 2008 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. That year he had 9.5 tackles for a loss and an essential interception returned for a touchdown against Florida State. Spence had nagging injuries last year and missed three games. During a sophomore slump he struggled to make tackles and got burnt badly by eventual first-round draft pick CJ Spiller in the Clemson contest. Expect Spence to get back to freshman form. If he makes better reads, he should be able to put up respectable statistics.

3) Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Marcus Forston:
Like his best friend and roommate Spence, Forston will look to bounce back from an abysmal sophomore season. The former five-star recruit was granted a medical redshirt after a shoulder injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season after the Oklahoma game. He played in three games and recorded more offside penalties (three) than tackles (zero). He was tabbed with the nickname “Big Boom” for his bone-crushing hits at the line of scrimmage during his freshman year. Bottom line, he is too talented to not perform well. He will provide tons of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and will have a solid 2010 campaign.

2) Redshirt senior fullback Patrick Hill:
Hill is vital to UM’s success in the running game. He injured his ankle against Virginia Tech last year and was awarded a medical redshirt that allowed him to return this year. Fans call him the “Human Bowling Ball” because the 5-foot-9-inch, 255-pound player is sturdy and knocks down defensive linemen like they are bowling pins. He is the unsung hero because he does what you will not see in the box score the next day. He sacrifices his body to pick up blitzes and keeps Jacory Harris upright. He was dearly missed last year and teammates will welcome him back with open arms.

1) Redshirt junior defensive end Adewale Ojomo:
Ojomo broke his jaw last August during training camp when he was “horsing around” in the locker room one day after practice. A walk-on punched him in the jaw and the punch immediately ended Ojomo’s 2009 season before it even started. Ojomo lost 30 pounds when his jaw was wired shut after surgery. He regained the muscle he lost and added back the weight this spring. Ojomo is expected to start at right defensive end, opposite preseason All-ACC selection Allen Bailey. Ojomo has a great motor and if Bailey draws double teams, Ojomo could easily tally double digit sacks.

Justin Antweil may be contacted at