CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) _ Walking off the field after Miami's first game this season, NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin greeted Leonard Hankerson and shared a quick word or two of advice.
Nothing too specific. Nothing more than a pep talk, really.
Whatever it was, it made a clear impact on Hankerson, who's on the cusp of something he never considered possible.
Very quietly, Hankerson is nearing one of Irvin's Miami records, most touchdown catches in a season. Irvin had 11 in 1986; Hankerson's last-minute game-winner to beat Maryland on Saturday was his 10th score of 2010, tying Lamar Thomas, Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson for second-most by a Miami receiver in any season.
And Hankerson should have at least four more games to pad his numbers.
“I don't think about the record at all,'' Hankerson said. “I just think about going out and making plays, making plays for my team, doing what I have to do for us to win games. It'd be very nice to have and I know the record is there, but I've just got to go out and focus on my game. Whatever happens, happens.''
Here's one thing that's happening: Hankerson's draft stock is rising.
The 6-foot-3 senior had a total of nine touchdown catches in his first three seasons with the Hurricanes, one of the many reasons why the decision to return for his final year was an easy one. Hankerson's 10 scores currently rank him sixth in major college football this year, and only one other Atlantic Coast Conference player has more than five TD grabs, Maryland's Torrey Smith with seven.
Hankerson has caught more touchdown passes than 28 major college teams have thrown, total, this season.
“Tremendous for him, for us,'' Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “I mean, he's a better football player than he was last year. And the better he is, the better we are as a football team.''
Miami (6-3, 4-2 ACC) visits Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3) on Saturday needing a win to remain in the league title picture. And while the Yellow Jackets are more known for their triple-option running offense, their pass defense can be big-time as well, opposing teams have thrown for only two touchdowns in Georgia Tech's last five games.
“We know it's a big game,'' Hankerson said.
On the game-winning score against Maryland, Hankerson managed to get one step ahead of two defenders. It came moments after he was inexplicably called for a false-start penalty, but those five yards were quickly forgotten. Hankerson lined up on the left side, caught a well-thrown pass from Stephen Morris at the 1 and stepped into the end zone for the biggest score of Miami's season.
Of Hankerson's 10 touchdown receptions, five have either tied the game or given Miami leads. His 48 catches this season are already a career best, three more than last year.
Morris said offensive coordinator Mark Whipple called the play, a formation that the Hurricanes usually run out of, which apparently caught Maryland off-guard. And even before the ball was snapped, Miami's freshman quarterback had more than a hunch it would decide the game.
“We worked on it in practice and I knew when he called it, the play would work,'' Morris said. “The rest was just Hank doing what he does best.''
Shannon was more succinct.
“Great run, great catch,'' Shannon said.
It's not just the single-season touchdown column where Hankerson is getting his name in the Miami record books.
He's on pace to break Willie Smith's 26-year record of 66 catches in a season. He's 53 yards shy of becoming just the second Miami receiver ever, Irvin is the other, with two 800-yard seasons. With 19 career touchdown grabs already, he's matched Santana Moss for No. 5 on the Hurricanes' all-time list, one away from matching Wayne and Johnson. Only Irvin (26) and Thomas (23) have more than that.
“My season has been OK,'' Hankerson said. “I know I could have more touchdowns. I've had some drops. I've got to work on those. That's why I always say I've got to keep working hard, keep doing whatever I can to make plays.''