Giv­ing due props for turnovers, de­fenses re­ward big-time plays

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - LIFE - Jay Can­non

Univer­sity of Mi­ami cor­ner­backs coach Mike Rumph was look­ing for a spark from his sec­ondary head­ing into the 2017 sea­son.

In 2016, the Hur­ri­canes forced just eight in­ter­cep­tions, rank­ing near the bot­tom of all Divi­sion I schools. With a tal­ented ros­ter and high ex­pec­ta­tions for the sea­son, Rumph’s de­fen­sive unit needed a jolt.

So he called A.J. Machado, owner of A.J.’s Jewelry in the Mi­ami area.

Rumph was look­ing for some­thing to give his play­ers af­ter they forced a turnover. Machado sug­gested a rope-style gim­mick, but that didn’t seem to fit the team’s iden­tity.

“We were like, ‘A rope? We wear Cuban links in Mi­ami,’ ” Rumph told USA TO­DAY.

Machado de­liv­ered with a mas­sive Cuban-link chain that fea­tured an el­e­gant Mi­ami “U” pen­dant, stud­ded with 850 stones. The chain made its de­but in Week 1 of the 2017 sea­son, and pic­tures of play­ers wear­ing the chain spread over so­cial me­dia.

“The play­ers love it. What other sport can you get na­tional recog­ni­tion like this?” Rumph said. “Your hel­met’s off ... and 60,000 to 70,000 fans can see you and cheer you on.”

Who knows whether the chain helped the Hur­ri­canes dou­ble their in­ter­cep­tion out­put from 2016 to 2017, but it cer­tainly was a hit in terms of pop­u­lar­ity. So the pro­gram up­graded for 2018.

“The sec­ond (chain) is where we said, ‘You know what, let’s step it up,’ ” Machado said. “Univer­sity of Mi­ami called us and was like, ‘Hey, is there any chance we can beat that? It was such a suc­cess.’ I said, ‘Well, why don’t we do Se­bas­tian the Ibis, and we’ll go with a lit­tle big­ger (chain). In­stead of two ki­los, let’s do three ki­los.”

De­fen­sive play­ers now wear a turnover chain with a daz­zling pen­dant de­pict­ing Se­bas­tian the Ibis. The new piece weighs over 8 pounds and fea­tures more than 4,000 stones.

“Now the ques­tion is, can we top this one,” Machado said with a laugh.

Gim­micks are noth­ing new to col­lege foot­ball. Vir­ginia Tech has given a bat­tered lunch pail to its best de­fen­sive player ev­ery week since 1995, while Alabama in­tro­duced the idea of a turnover prop in 2015 with its “Ball Out Belt,” which re­sem­bles a cham­pi­onship wrestling belt.

See­ing the pop­u­lar­ity and so­cial me­dia ex­po­sure that th­ese props have brought along, sev­eral other pro­grams have jumped on the gim­mick band­wagon in re­cent years:

❚ Ken­ne­saw State’s de­fen­sive play­ers re­ceive a wooden plank that fea­tures goo­gly-eyes and a smile, an ode to a char­ac­ter from Car­toon Net­work’s early-2000s show, “Ed Edd N Eddy.”

The plank’s story be­gan when wide re­ceiver Tan­ner Jones stum­bled on it dur­ing a 2015 spring break trip. The plank later ap­peared on the side­line and the locker room. Fi­nally, when safety Tay­lor Hen­kle picked off a pass against Mon­tana State in 2017, he went to the side­line and hoisted the plank above his head, start­ing a new tra­di­tion. The plank has since been pre­sented to any player who records a turnover.

❚ In­spired by pro wrestler Ric Flair, Mem­phis’ turnover robe is some­thing to be­hold. Fea­tur­ing royal blue feathers and white-and-black tiger-print fab­ric, the robe looks like some­thing out of a 1990s wrestling match. Be­tween the robe and a wrestling-style turnover belt, Mem­phis is pay­ing trib­ute to the city’s rich wrestling his­tory af­ter ev­ery fum­ble re­cov­ery or in­ter­cep­tion.

❚ Boise State un­veiled a turnover throne this sea­son, switch­ing from 2017’s wrestling belt. The throne is on the side­line dur­ing games, but the Bron­cos have re­wards for prac­tice as well. A gold-and-white bi­cy­cle, fea­tur­ing a “King of Chaos” em­blem on the side, awaits the de­fen­sive player who dis­rupted the of­fense the most in prac­tice, ac­cord­ing to the Idaho States­man.

❚ SMU un­veiled a turnover crown and chal­ice com­bi­na­tion in its Week 2 game against TCU this year.

❚ Mis­sis­sippi State has dou­bled down on the prop idea, in­tro­duc­ing an in­dus­trial-style chain in 2017 to sig­nify the team’s bond. This year, it added a turnover dog col­lar, which goes well with the school’s bull­dog mas­cot.

❚ Ten­nessee and Austin Peay use a turnover trash can, where they dunk the ball af­ter an in­ter­cep­tion.

Be­tween the so­cial me­dia ex­po­sure and the en­joy­ment that play­ers get from them, it is easy to see why turnover props have caught on so quickly over the last few sea­sons.

“The main fo­cus is just em­pha­siz­ing get­ting the ball back, so that’s why we do it. We have fun with it,” said T.J. Carter, start­ing de­fen­sive back for the Mem­phis Tigers.

“That’s the whole pur­pose of the take­away robe, hav­ing fun while we han­dle our busi­ness at the same time.”

JASEN VINLOVE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Mi­ami Hur­ri­canes de­fen­sive back Sheldrick Red­wine cel­e­brates with the turnover chain against Sa­van­nah State af­ter mak­ing an in­ter­cep­tion.

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