Miami (OH) is one of the most stable MAC programs. Chuck Martin holds the title for longest-tenured head coach in the conference, having manned the sidelines in Oxford, OH since 2014. The RedHawks are a staple to bowl season, having reached the 6-win mark in each of their last four full seasons, and they haven’t finished below .500 in MAC play since 2015.
With a MAC championship in 2019 and a bowl victory in 2021, Martin has established a stable competitor in Oxford. Thus from offseason to offseason, changes are typically minimal within the program. Still, here is a rundown of what’s new on campus for the 2023 football season.
Additions to the field
Quarterback Brett Gabbert is set to be Miami’s Week 1 starter for the fifth consecutive season, but there was a brief period in late November and early December when Gabbert tested the transfer portal. Three days after Gabbert withdrew from the portal and returned to the RedHawks, Miami added depth behind the seasoned veteran. Colorado transfer Maddox Kopp joined the program after starting one games for the Buffaloes last year. The former Elite 11 quarterback was thrust into the lineup for a 63-21 loss to Utah where he completed 15-of-28 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown — all without committing a turnover.
The redshirt sophomore will likely be a backup or third-string quarterback on a crowded depth chart which not only features Gabbert, but also Aveon Smith who started nine games for the RedHawks in 2022. But if depth is needed, Kopp’s arrival gives Miami the benefit of three different QBs who have started an FBS game.
At the running back position, Miami adds Rashad Amos from South Carolina. Amos’ main utilization transpired in 2020 as the secondary back to Kevin Harris. Across a two-week stretch that season, Amos logged 18 carries and three receptions and converted those reps into 112 yards from scrimmage. The 6’2”, 227 pound tailback was seldom used last year, fielding one handoff vs. Charlotte and another vs. Notre Dame in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Miami’s running back room returns several familiar faces including Keyon Mozee, Kevin Davis, and Kenny Tracy, but Amos could still carve out a role in his first year in Oxford. But he also was a standout on special teams in the SEC, blocking a punt which was returned for a touchdown in the Gamecocks’ opener last September.
Transfer receivers have worked wonders in Miami’s offense in recent history, with names such as Mac Hippenhammer and Miles Marshall carving out larger roles for themselves in Oxford. This year’s notable haul from the portal was Notre Dame wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. In the 2020 and 2021 seasons combined, Wilkins registered 11 catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns. His on-field action was limited to special teams last fall, but after the departure of Hippenhammer, Wilkins could sneak into a major receiver role from the get-go. Operating as a punt return is another possibility as he fielded several punts as a freshman in South Bend in 2020.
Gage Larvadain is another piece which could provide an immediate boost to the receiving corps. At Southeastern Louisiana of the FCS, Larvadain tallied 731 yards on 59 receptions, in addition to his impressive feats as a kick returner. He was distinguished as the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year in 2021 and his extensive starting experience at the FCS level could be leveraged into a first team role at Miami. The final transfer addition to the receiving corps was Cade McDonald, who caught four passes for 44 yards at Michigan State in 2022.
Elsewhere on the offense, landing Kentucky offensive tackle John Young from the transfer portal could be a significant offseason addition. The 6’6”, 317 pound tackle was a former four-start recruit who spent the past two seasons as a reserve and special teams component for the Wildcats. Young could potentially start, but the RedHawks retain both starting tackles from the 2022 season in Will Jados and Reid Holskey — as well as left tackle Sam Vaughan who started the opener at Kentucky before a season-ending injury — so Young might have to transition to the interior in order to get first team reps this fall. Miami lost two linemen on the interior due to the transfers of Rusty Feth and Caleb Shaffer, leaving several vacancies there.
On defense, Miami landed Mississippi State cornerback William Hardrick. Hardrick’s playing time in Starkville was limited to one game against FCS competition, but the cornerback spent two valuable years working in a secondary featuring All-American Emmanuel Forbes. One factor contributing to his transfer decision was possibly the allure of a larger role, which he can be provided in Miami’s transfer laden secondary.
Miami also beefed up its defensive back depth with the addition of Jayden Williams from USC. Williams last took the field in 2021 and across three years with the Trojans, he recorded eight tackles as a mainstay on special teams. He also has one career interception under his belt, which transpired during a 2021 blowout win over Washington State. The defensive back room also expanded with the addition of Louisville transfer Jeremiah Caldwell, who redshirted his true freshman campaign in 2022.
Cincinnati native Jackson Kuwatch joins a linebacking corps which lost longtime contributor Ryan McWood this offseason. Kuwatch comes from reigning College Football Playoff qualifier Ohio State, but the former walk-on did not register a snap in two years with the Buckeyes. Cameron Williams is another incoming linebacker with Big Ten roots. Williams recorded one tackle on special teams with Indiana in 2021, but he took a brief respite from the FBS level with a one-year stint at Garden City Community College last year. Now, he arrives in Oxford with more in-game reps under his belt after a 21-tackle season.
In terms of MAC recruiting, Miami was situated in the middle of the pack for 2023. The RedHawks landed the seventh best class in the conference and the 103rd on a national basis, according to 247Sports.
Blake Lichtenberg was the lone freshman addition at quarterback, thriving as a dual threat option for St. John’s Jesuit in Ohio. Wide receivers were an emphasis of the 2023 recruiting cycle for Miami, which landed seven newcomers at the position — Lynel Billups-Williams, Tommy Gallagher, Que Williams, Will Bradley, Ryan Sims, Cole Weaver, and RJ Dent. Billups-Williams and Sims were among the notable standouts, both garnering three stars prior to commitment.
Andrew Lowry, Michael Popov, Gregory Smith Jr., and Ben Decker all join forces on the offensive line. It’s been standard for Miami to prefer tall linemen in the Chuck Martin era, and this class is no exception. All four freshmen are at least 6’5”, including Lowry who stands a towering 6’8”.
Colin Schultz, Roosevelt Andrews III, and Ethan McDowell were the 2023 defensive line recruits for Miami’s 4-2-5 base defense. True freshmen linebacker additions include Malcolm McCain, Christian McKinney, Malik Ray, Brock Uihlein, and Tyler Dikos. The influx of linebackers may come as a surprise considering Miami typically only trouts out two at a time, but there is plenty of potential in this group. McKinney was one of Miami’s biggest gems in this recruiting class a three-star from Homewood, IL.
Rounding out the true freshmen on defense are five members of the secondary — Raion Strader, Mychal Yharbrough, Daisjuan Mercer, Steven Favazzo, and Kohl Jarvis. Yharbrough is the headliner of the bunch as a three-star commit from Belleville High School in Michigan, where he earned first team all-state as a senior.
While it’s unlikely he unseats two-year starter Graham Nicholson this year, Miami added Kellan McLaughlin at kicker after he attained all-state honors in Kentucky with an 18-of-25 senior season.
Additions to the sideline
Chuck Martin is the longest-tenured head coach in the MAC, which suggests continuity in the staff. For the most part, that assumption holds true. Defensive coordinator Bill Brechin is in his 10th season with the program, as is offensive coordinator Pat Welsh. However, Welsh is in his first season as Miami’s offensive coordinator, as he spent the previous nine years coaching tight ends — a role he will continue to operate in, alongside his OC duties.
One of Miami’s biggest splashes this offseason was the hiring of program legend Gus Ragland. Ragland reunites with Martin after serving as his starting quarterback from 2016-18, sitting at fifth all-time in program passing yards and third in passing touchdowns. The recent Miami alum spent the past four seasons as an analyst and assistant quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame, and he’ll step into a larger role as the RedHawks’ primary quarterbacks coach.
Miami also brought on another alumnus to coach the running backs room in Jason Simmons. He will hold his first collegiate position after decades of success as a high school football coach in Indiana.
There was one primary change among the defensive assistants. Defensive line coach Corey Brown was hired in February after spending the past two seasons coaching South Dakota’s defensive line in the FCS. But Brown is not an unfamiliar face to the program by any means, as he held the same position from 2014-17 on Martin’s staff.
Compared to most MAC programs, Miami’s offseason coaching carousel was rather minimal. Overall, the theme of continuity reigns supreme in Oxford, OH.