Junior and his Key West friends are out on the flats in two boats that skip like stones across water so clear and calm it can only be seen as spray. Along for the ride are Janet, Mira's cousins Alan and David Averette, fellow Conch and Miami teammate Danny Mariscal, two other local friends and a dog. The boats race through tiny azure channels, past diving cormorants and a dazed hippie in a canoe that nearly capsizes from the motor-boat's wake.
The group anchors off Harbor Key at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, and everyone dives in. Mira, who is called "Georgie" by his pals, can free-dive to 45 feet. Carrying a spear gun that looks like an automatic rifle, he searches the bottom for prey. He hops back into the boat after a while, complaining about how cold the water is, and puts on a wet suit. The water temperature is 81�, and one can't help being amazed at different people's notions of pain.
It was in the ocean near Key West that Mira learned his first serious lesson about fear. "I was 13 and David, Alan, me, my mom and my Uncle Peter were out on the Sand Key reef. My uncle speared a bunch of yellowtail and stuck them in his pockets. Then he started feeding barracuda with them, and then sharks. In 15 minutes we were surrounded by sharks. They were swimming through my legs, bouncing off me. Little sharks, but big to a 13-year-old. I got so scared that when I got in the boat I got an awful cramp in my hamstring. My uncle was crazy. He put me through hell. But it was good because I'm not afraid of anything now."
He considers the similarity between that shark-and-barracuda fest and playing middle linebacker in the Hurricanes' 4-3 defense. "Looking at it now, it is similar. Guys coming down, across, pulling from everywhere, getting double-and triple-teamed, getting surrounded. I was scared back then, and I'm scared now when I take the field, because you never know what is going to happen. But the difference now is that my biggest fear is of being embarrassed, not hurt."
Mira has an uncanny ability to read defensive keys and calmly, almost casually, home in on the ballcarrier, then explode like a grenade in the man's face. He rarely takes a fake. He doesn't even make those nervous, twitching stutters almost all linebackers make before they react. He has worked on his first step maniacally.
His father and mother are divorced now and both live in Miami, and George makes the most of their proximity to campus. From his dad he gets insights into offensive theory. From his mother, Regina, he gets practical assistance. "I'll practice with her in the house," he says. "We face each other and she takes one step sideways and I react. Again and again."
The following morning George and his cousin Alan eat Cuban steak sandwiches at the open-air 5-Star Sandwich Shop on a quiet Key West back street. A young man comes out of the house next door, a rooster tucked under his arm. He climbs on a moped behind a woman and they drive off.
"Going to fight him," says Alan.
"My Uncle Mundy used to raise roosters, and I helped him," says George. "They had fights up on Key Largo." Did Mira watch the fights?
"I saw them. People say it's cruel because one rooster dies, but I liked it. It was like boxing. To train the roosters Mundy put boxing gloves on them and let them spar. Sometimes he would have parties at his house and bring two out in the yard and let them box and there would be friendly betting."