Just 49 days before the Mario Cristobal era officially kicks off at FIU when the Golden Panthers open the season at Penn State on Sept. 1. So here with the help of you faithful GPP readers is the first of a four-part question and answer session with the new FIU football head coach. You asked it, he answered....
MC: Dustin Rivest was the kicker here last year. Also competing for his job are a couple of guys. John Paul Fraites has shown a real strong leg. We have to see what he can do. Then we have Chris Abed (Weston Cypress Bay) coming in. He was a guy that clearly was impressive in his workouts. We're going to heat up that competition as much as we possibly can by making it completely open. We're also bringing in two guys to compete for the long snapping position as well just so that there is no comfort zone. We have to let people know that seniority, hype doesn't guarantee you a thing. Special teams here last year were a little too comfortable. FIU was last in special teams last year. Last in return yardage, everything that had to do with special teams. We're going to make sure we bring in as many bodies that are capable of competing for special teams. Every freshman will long snap, anyone that has a leg will be tried out at kicking.
NYPanther: How do you size up the Sun Belt Conference and how many recruiting classes do you need to win the Sun Belt? What conference do you see FIU joining next?
MC: The Sun Belt is loaded with some pretty good talent. Your goal every year and everyone's goal is to win your conference. But truly we're recruiting to beat everyone in the country -- that's our philosophy. People might raise an eyebrow or might be skeptical, but truly we don't give a [darn]. Every single one of our coaches are resilient sons of a gun. We really don't care who we're recruiting against whether it be Ohio State, Miami, Florida, we're still going to go after that kid. We need a couple of recruiting classes to make sure when we break that huddle we look like a big-time, legitimate college football team. It's hard to put a number on [recruiting classes] because we haven't played a single game yet. First and foremost let's make the Sun Belt great, because the way these teams are beating these out-of-conference opponents it might take a turn where a BCS bid is granted to the Sun Belt. But those are the type of issues right now that I don't even worry about, because that's out of our control.
gpantera: Is having so many tough out-of-conference opponents the best strategy for such a young FIU program? Will you seek to play an aggressive OOC schedule or a more balanced one?
MC: The OOC schedule was something we inherited and it probably increases the difficulty for a growing team. The flip side is there's that much more hype, energy and exposure. FIU has made a decision to be a big time Division I program and what better way to do it than be on the big stage. We're going to build a monster here and it's just a matter of time. If we catch a big monster a little bit before we become a monster and we're in for the fight of our lives, so be it. We're playing ball, let's go! I think we're going to have trouble scheduling opponents, because when we're in year 4 of our plan you're going to throw in an FIU tape and you're going to see a team that's been lifting, running in a program that has been geared to developing the finest in the country. People are going to see a program that they might want to pass on instead of playing FIU, especially in our stadium when the place is rocking. We're not going to shy away. I would like to go out west and play one of the big boys out west. I would like to play in the Northeast. Play some of the teams that come down here and try to recruit South Florida so we can let our South Florida boys know, "Hey, what are you doing?"
FIUmom: What is being fundamentally done to shore up the O-line?
MC: The offensive line -- just like anything else whether it be football or the ultimate fighting challenge -- the guys who are in the best shape usually win out. We have to develop our core, lower body and our explosiveness better than anybody else. With that comes discipline, toughness and the ability to recognize and think on the run. More than anything it's the attitude. Just committing to becoming nasty and smart. You can only increase someone's athletic ability by so much, but you certainly can increase their toughness, awareness and their freakin' attitude to get after it.
MC: I see no scars on his head like Dusty Rhodes. [MC says laughing] I haven't seen a head butt yet. He is an intense son of a gun and he has not changed since the days that he and I played side by side in Columbus [high school].
CJ: How's Mirabal doing with the tight ends?
MC: The tight ends, let's just say they leave practice and they want to be carted off the field on a stretcher. He grinds them. He works them. They've taken to him, because they know that dude lives and dies for this thing. He's doing awesome!
FIUGolden: Yes, I think the number of FIU license plates have definitely been on the rise. They're almost becoming as prevalent as those kids stickers people have on their rear windows -- just not annoying like those stickers.
FIU Fanatic: Post on any GPP blog, no problem. Bryan Mann is not eligible for this season and same with Shaquan Hicks. Jermaine Malcolm still has a chance to be eligible.
CJ: The Northwestern issue was a joke. How could the leaders of that school let that go on? Meanwhile, Antwan Easterling is in Southern Miss without a care in the world. A lot of people missed the boat on that one starting with the schools superintendent, Rudy Crew. Are those the kind of coaches you want at FIU -- heck no!
Congrats to Antwan Barnes on signing that 3-year, 1.4 million dollar deal with the Ravens. Speaking with some friends in Baltimore, the word there is that El Monstruo may even start.
Hey, everybody is welcome on the GPP as long as it's G-rated material.
NY Josh: Hadn't heard from you in a while, thought you fell asleep. Thanks for the FIU Top 4 sports figures plug, but I haven't done anything, yet. However, you could nominate me for the top 4 pitchers in my 4-team Sunday softball league!