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Barely a mile from the University of Miami campus, Palmer Park is smack-dab in the heart of Hurricane country. But college students working off their latest hangover with a jog past the playing field are in for a strange sight this fall: scores of neighborhood kids scampering around in University of Kentucky uniforms.
In the cult of college football, wearing another team's jersey is a mortal sin — an act of apostasy punishable by warm beer, cold nachos, and a bowl-less season. So how in hell did three dozen Wildcats end up in South Miami?
"We're die-hard Canes fans. Orange and green all the way," swears Johnny Zeigler, head coach of the South Miami Grey Ghosts. "But we're representing the University of Kentucky now with our new jerseys. I can't complain."
Turns out Zeigler's team of 90-pounders won a grant for new uniforms from the NCAA Football Youth Initiative, but the jerseys had to match the Grey Ghosts' colors of blue and white. Zeigler settled on Kentucky — a decision that has ruffled some feathers among parents and players.
"Honestly, I don't want to be representing the Wildcats," says Axel Rizo Jr., a 10-year-old lineman who, at five feet tall, towers above his teammates.
"I would have took it one better. I would have took UM," echoes the team's tiny, cherubic quarterback, Justin Diaz. "In fact, Kentucky's on my list of ten worst teams. They always think they're going to upset everybody, but they don't."
Even parents wince when seeing their kids dressed as Wildcats. "His father might have an issue with the jersey when we get home tonight," admits Angela Burns, mother of 10-year-old Xavier.
Not everyone bristles at pulling on the new uniforms. "Oh, they're good 'cause we look like a real team now," says leggy running back Frank Ladson. The donation also helps reduce fees for the players. "Some of these kids come from indigent families," says Axel Rizo Sr. "In this tough economy, we'll take all the help we can get."
But doesn't it irk him to have to wash a Kentucky jersey every weekend? Doesn't some tiny part of him want to douse the uniform in gasoline and set it on fire? "As long as the kids are happy, I'm happy," Rizo says, hands clenched around an orange and green folding chair.