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Camp Preview: Offensive Line and Kickers

With its array of playmakers, the FIU offense has a chance to be pretty good this season, but like is the case in all levels of football, the offense will only be as good as its offensive line.

For this coming season, at least on paper, FIU's offensive line starts off on the right foot with all 5 starters Cernius returning and all 5 starters being upperclassmen.

The last time FIU had that scenario (5 returning OL starters and all being upperclassmen) the Panthers O-line led by center Victor Cernius (left) -- the only FIU player to play in every game during a 4-year FIU career -- went on to set a program record allowing just 9 sacks in the 2004 season. FIU was just 3-7 in 2004, but that Panthers team (then Division I-AA) did knock off No. 5 (Div. I-AA) Stephen F. Austin 31-24 in Texas.

The FIU line that allowed 9 sacks in 2004 featured five juniors in: Cernius, Tim Dierks, Patrick Mullen, John Shanahan and Ed Wenger.

The 2009 projected starting O-line for FIU features 4 seniors (Ula Matavao, Andy Leavine, Mario Caraballo, Joe Alajajian) and 1 junior (Brad Serini).

Three-fifths of the current FIU o-line played in all 12 games last season, while Leavine and Caraballo played in 8 games due to injuries. Entering camp, all 5 starters are healthy and staying so will go a longAla way toward building that cohesiveness needed in an OL throughout the season.

Leavine and Alajajian made some noticeable gains in the offseason setting team highs in the weight room with Leavine cleaning 365 pounds and squatting 500. Alajajian (right, thanks Alex J. Hernandez photo) might be the strongest player on the team with his 500 pound bench press and 575 squat. Serini (below, left, thanks AJH photo) dropped from being 305 pounds to 280 pounds so that he could be quicker off the ball.

Among the other offensive linemen that could really help out this season are Chris Cawthon, who was having a solid freshman season last year until tearing his knee at North Texas. Cawthon has been rehabbing this summer and according to MC is "getting close" to returning to form.

Serini Stephen Bailey, who redshirted last season to put on some pounds, enters his redshirt freshman season this year with 25 pounds of muscle added on going from 255 to 280. He could figure into the OL play.

MC expects all the freshmen OL to "be in the mix" for playing time. Dave Istanich, Giancarlo Revilla, Austin Tottle, Derek Wimberly and Rupert Bryan. However, if I was a betting man and I'm not -- unless you count a lottery ticket every once in a while -- I would say Bryan could be the first freshman to see the field. Physically, he looks ready, but it will all depend on how quickly he gets La Pierna's offense.

MC also had good things to say about Curtis Bryant -- "he's going to be good" and Luis Pena, who has "been working hard".

Kenny White is not ready to return from his knee injury last season and MC says Cedric Mack at 350, has to drop to 310.


There are no free agent acquisitions in the college game, but if there were FIU got a very helpful one when punter Carlos Munera (right, thanks Sam Lewis photo) was granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA.

Some might think of a punter being an afterthought on a football team, but if you have a good one like theMunera Panthers do, the punter can be a pretty effective weapon helping out with hidden yardage -- such as pining a team deep in their own territory. Munera averaged 41.1 yards per punt last season.

With Munera returning, freshman Jack Griffin and senior Dustin Rivest just have to concern themselves with the placekicking duties. Regardless of how talented a leg you have, you can only either kick or punt effectively and not both. It would have been tough for either JG or DR to both punt and kick if that were the case this season.

Griffin arrives at FIU as the No. 3 rated kicker in Florida and No. 14 in the nation. Now he has to prove those rankings were correct. Griffin and Rivest, who set an FIU single-game record with 5 field goals against Arkansas State last season, will duel this month for the kicking job.



My mistake leaving off Marquis Rolle from the receivers preview. I had him written on my notepad, but the name never made it on to the laptop keyboard. Of course, MR deserves to be mentioned among the FIU receivers, especially after some of the catches he made during 7-on-7s this summer.

Apaw You have 7 chances to see your Panthers practice before all camp practices are closed to the public. The first 7 practices are open to you beginning with the first one next Monday, August 10 at 9 a.m. The rest of the first week schedule goes: Tuesday through Friday with 8:30 a.m. starts and Saturday is two-a-day with practices at 8:00 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. All practices are at FIU Stadium.

Apaw Chris Cawthon cracked the starting offensive line as a freshman last season and did a good job in the first 5 games of the season before getting injured. Cawthon could possibly regain the starting job this month. Freshmen don't normally see much playing time on an OL, but which one of the 2009 frosh OL class will see the field first?


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(First again)

Thanks Pete...I figured missing Rolle was just an oversight. Spoke to him last week and he is ready to step it up big time this year.

Istanich looks like the real deal and has the size, Rupert might need to put on some weight, unless he is already up to 280+ ??

Football cannot get here soon enough !!!

Looks like the media guide has been posted on the website....looks good by what I've seen so far :)

Pete, haven't posted in a while but have been keeping up, great preview so far. Keep up the good work. Any news on a big home game for the basketball team this season?

Looking forward to seeing what our O-Line will do this season. They are now beefier veterans, I hope the days where we'd see FIU QBs run for their lives are over!

Also glad to see this much improved kicking team. While Munera proved himself last season, I'm kind of stunned to know that Jack Griffin isn't receiving starting duties considering his rankings. Maybe as the season goes on...

rankings dont mean Jack SPIT, in the words of Jim "Mad Dog" Mandich. He's got to perform in practice and then on the field to earn the respect of the coaches and his team.

Good post pete, do you know if Mack will play this season at all? I highly doubt it since dropping 40 pounds is no easy task.

He (Mack) would have to play this year, as he was "redshirted" last season, since he didn't play. That would mean this is his Junior "playing" year, with next year being his last opportunity to play. In short, he better get in playing shape, and lose weight, in a matter of 1 month, so that he can get some meaningful playing time.

Perhaps he could be "eased" up into playing time, as he works out with the team and gets into better playing shape. Who knows?...he might get ready for the opener in September...or perhaps in October or November....

I can't wait for FIU Football!!!

Anybody here going to the Panther Preview?....Don't let it drop...we need to start this year with a bang...

I think Stephen Bailey could make the most impact this season. Can't knock on his size, especially after gaining 25 pounds & being on the scout team for a year.

FIU Fanatic, I thought Mack wasnt even on the team.? He wasnt practicing or working out with them... I dont think last year counts against him football-wise. To my understandind he hadn't been cleared by the NCAA to participate.

Pete, can Cmack redshirt this season?

And for the last post, Doesn't Larvez run a low 4.5? Didn't Mallary reportedly run a 4.3? not a 4.55?

I'm interested in knowing Times' actual 40 time too.

Thanks pete! great stuff!

As far as I know, (from reading Esteban's posts), he was a student at FIU last year...wasn't he?. If so, he was registered as a student at a college, so his elegibility years are used up, from what I understand the rule. Also, I believe I read he was part of this year's team...his name is included in this year's pre-season roster.

Again, from what I understand...unless he had a medical reason to "redshirt", went on to armed forces-type (Army, Navy, Air Force) institution, or was totally out of academics for some reasons I'm not clear (there are reasons the NCAA allows), there's no way he can stay longer than the "5 for 4" years that the NCAA allows for student athletes.

JSuarez, I guess they (FIU staff) timed their own way and found out these new players are either slower than billed out to be (for some reason in many ocassions HS kids' times are "exaggerated" a tenth or two), or just simply didn't have a good day running their 40's that day...or (most likely) a combination of both factors.

Mack never red-shirted before last year, so 2008 was used as a redshirt year for the clearing house issues. If you are not cleared by NCAA, you are on your own. If I recall, he had to pay his expenses and worked. He was not on an athletic scholarship with FIU in 2008.

He has 2 seasons of football remaining.

Yeah, he was taking classes as an FIU student, but he wasn't under his Athletic Scholarship... in other words we was just like any of us non-athelic students... he wasn't recieving aid. But im not themst read-up person on NCAA rules, but im sure there are lophol an optons presented to he coaches and players. I'm think Cedric will probably be eased into playig time. But now that he is active it will be a much quicker process. He is no longer working to raise money, so hes entirely devoted to football and school.

Thats good to hear esteban, Man C-Mack deserves to get on that field after going through so much NCAA BS last year. Im hoping he can get in shape quick and be able contribute big time to the O-Line.

Curtis Bryant to the OL? I like the way the coaches will move guys around if they aren't going to get into the 2 deep. Good to hear we'll be adding more depth to the OL.

Pete, I noticed that Wendy Napoleon isn't on the spring roster. Is he still cleared to play health-wise?


Two quick questions:

1 - Is the Season Opener on TV?
2 - Is Sports Grill going to be ready for the Blue and Gold Invasion that day if the game is on TV?


HEY EVERYONE!!!! I haven't posted in a while, and this is not on the current topic, but I wanted to let you all know that it looks like Chandler Williams has an EXCELLENT opportunity to make the Atlanta Falcons active roster this year. Unfortunately they Falcons have lost starter Harry Douglas to an ACL tear. This opens a door for Chandler. Atlanta's WR depth was already down because of trades and a hold out by Roddy White. With Douglas being lost Chandler is being looked at as one of the top 5 guys. Say a prayer for him and for Douglas' speedy recovery.

Wendy Napoleon hurt him self a couple times in spring practices (stingers) and decided that it was not in his best interest to return health wise.

Enjoyed reading the commentary and the take you all have on the various aspects of your team. I listened in on the Coach Nick Saban press conference and just wanted to share a few things from the Tide perspective. I am stationed overseas and always good to get football updates on the upcoming games--and opponents views. No other agenda on my part. Here are some thoughts from reading your posts:

First---Coach Saban (and the players) will enter this game with great respect for the FIU football team and program. This is great praise to see such emphasis on this--which of course means it is not only well deserved but true that FIU is on the way up in talent and in fielding a very competitive team capable of winning conference titles and challenging some big programs--like Alabama, Florida and others.
Also: FIU has talent and speed that will be a challenge to anyone.
FIU has entered big time recruiting--and becoming a force in Florida recruiting circles against FSU Miami and Florida (USF, UCF and FIU being overtaken). Talent is what its all about and speed is the most desired talent, along with big mobile linemen. FIU is getting a share.
FIU will challenge Bama--especially the offense. Look for some big plays and some long gainers. I see your defense secondary taking the Tide to some tests in staying with Julio and with the speed.
FIU will be challenged to maintain tempo on defense and staying keeping the defense off the field. Bama's strength will be to grind out the yards and pressure into bringing the secondary up closer to stop the run. This will be interesting--FIU must have turnovers.
FIU will just not have the depth to hang for the game. Alabama is at a point where they can go 4 deep at RB and many deep in the Defense alignment. Weakness is still at QB and in cohesive offensive line development. This game is being planned to allow these two areas to gain lots of experience and development. Over the course of the game, that will probably happen. At least the coaches and fans hope.
FIU is up and (quickly) coming to be a Sun Belt champion and a team that can go places in the bowl picture. I join many TIde fans in saying that we admire any young program to tackle the job of playing on the road in Tuscaloosa. It is an awesome atmosphere of rabid fans who want huge numbers this Saturday. This may turn into that type of game and many will be happy--but I thank you for your insight and sanity in your postings. As you win, you gather in many fans who become obsessive. I wish you lots of luck in the future and if you journey up our way--make sure you arrive early in Tuscaloosa and get some great BBQ. We take a lot of pride in that, too. Be safe and most everyone will be hospitable. We Welcome you--but will want to send you home with a solid thumping. IT is just the Alabama way and Coach Saban is a natural fit for that mentality. He will never run the score up but will certainly play everyone he can and work on a 50 plus score. The problem is that Florida established the early ante--with a run-up last week and this will continue all year--so look for Bama 50, FIU 13 (just my take). If the game is closer than that, FIU should walk away with a feeling of competitive accomplishment. Alabama fans, for the most part will want blood (huge margin of victory to impress the polls). Many of us will settle for a win and a chance to play many.

Finally, The Sun Belt is also coming on and I think that North Texas may be the team to beat--along with Troy, which many of you suggest. Bama gets to play FIU and NTex; I am looking forward to seeing the FIU team and the exciting AY and the team talent, speed and how well you challenge a very hungry team. The Sun Belt really has some talented young coaches that will probably be lured to other schools (in so-called power conferences). Dodge at NTex is prime example. I am also interested in seeing how Wesley Carroll performs if he has the chance to play. Your Panther offense seems to really be loading up with some players---and the future is bright. I think you should have our total respect for taking on Bama this year---a year that the team is on a mission. I think this game also really helps to prepare for the Ole Miss, LSU and Florida games--with all the speed and playmakers that you have. Again, good luck and safe travels up to TTown. This will be only time I post--this is your site and I really enjoyed the great postings you have here.

Army active duty Soldier (listening on the AFN and ESPN networks).

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