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16 posts from July 2011

July 31, 2011

Ellingson signs with Jacksonville

Missed this a few days ago. The Jacksonville Jaguars came to terms with former FIU wide receiver Greg Ellingson on Thursday. I'm going to try to track down Greg on Monday and put together an interview for the blog.

Justin

July 29, 2011

FIU hires new softball coach

FIU announced the hiring of Jake Schumann to head to it's softball program on Friday. Formerly of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Schumann brings a 120-104 career record to the Golden Panthers.

“First, I want to thank Pete Garcia and Julie Berg for this opportunity,” Schumann said in a statement released by FIU. “I’m very excited to continue to develop the program that Coach [Beth] Torina has built, and I feel as if I’m in a position to have success immediately. I’m very excited to be in South Florida and I’m looking forward to a new season of Panther softball.”

July 28, 2011

Rick Sanchez to announce FIU football on radio

So I'm standing in Target with an armload of leggings for the kid, wondering if she'll like the Sinestro or Abin Sur action figures when my cellphone exploded with News of the Say What? Rick Sanchez will be doing color on FIU's football radio broadcasts this season.

"Are you sure it's the same Rick Sanchez?" I asked the first caller. I've been in South Florida 22 years, so I don't assume any Sanchez, Garcia, Gomez, Fernandez, Hernandez or Gonzalez the other person's speaking of is the one that comes to my mind.

Yep, that Rick Sanchez, I was assured. The Rick Sanchez who epitomized Channel 7's stylized, highly dramatic, semi-apocalyptic news delivery that ruled the local news timeslots in the late 1980s and early 1990s (I've always thought some were riveted by their state-of-the-art graphics, scary teases and great video while others watched it as a parody of TV news, a sort of nightly Weekend Update). The Rick Sanchez who kneeled over a map of Cuba the same way he kneeled in the streets of Miami over chalk outlines or blood stains as a Channel 7 crime reporter in the Cocaine Cowboys era.

The same Rick Sanchez who rose to CNN, got his own show, then got booted when he went OFF during a radio interview. He claimed he was picked on by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart because he was a Latino and then brushed off the idea that Jewish people were an "oppressed minority" by saying that those who run CNN and many networks are just like Stewart.

The Rick Sanchez with 137,221 Twitter followers, some of whom might tune in just to hear how he does the games. And FIU AD Pete Garcia definitely had that on his mind.

I got home, threw some turkey marsala down my neck and called Jorge Sedano (follow him on Twitter, http://www.twitter.com/SedanoShow), the former football color guy. Sedano couldn't stop laughing. It actually made his life easier because he's got a weekend show on Channel 4. As he said, it's hard to have a weekend gig and have to ask for multiple weekends off.
"I had a great time going it," Sedano said. "It was fun. I want to thank all the guys over there. It was great. But the reality is, I would be a tough position because I would have to juggle my weekend show on CBS-4 and games."

FIU told Sedano they were dumping Jeremy Marks-Peltz (http://www.twitter.com/jmpeltz on Twitter) as play-by-play man, but wanted to know if he wanted to stay on to do color. Sedano, the morning drive host on 790 The Ticket, tried to argue for keeping JMP. When that didn't work, he said he'd stay on the broadcasts only if he could do play-by-play. Next thing Sedano had heard, FIU had brought Sanchez on board.

A couple of hours later, Sanchez called. I spent about an hour on the phone with him, easily the best hour of my afternoon/evening.

We yakked about myriad topics: the media, his image, hard wood floors vs. carpet for pets, the Dolphins, FIU, not necessarily in that order. Some of that wound up in the story that'll be in the Local section of Friday's paper or online now.

When he talked about what happened, he said the general point of his radio rant was there were too many people in the national media who came from the same ethno-economic background. There needed to be more diversity.

He laughed off the idea of any tension with FIU President Mark Rosenberg over his comments about Jewish people in the media by saying he and Rosenberg have talked often and have a great relationship.

I knew he had an affinity for FIU, but he truly adores the school. It's one of the reasons he's working for free. And he's a football nut -- played in high school, partial scholarship to Minnesota State Moorhead, still calls folks he knows in the Dolphins organization to obsess about the team. He went to several road games last year, including the Christmas Day bowl game.

(Now, that's a fan. I've never loved any team enough to want to be in Detroit on Christmas Day. That's like spending Easter in Chernobyl. My mother lived in Detroit for almost 24 years and once said from her hospital bed as I walked in, "Hockey and me in the hospital -- that's the only things that'll get my son to Detroit.")

Why Sanchez loves FIU is obvious: he's a proud Cuban-American and feels FIU's the South Florida campus that reached out the most to minorities, particularly Hispanics. That Mario Cristobal is head coach and Sanchez's longtime friend Garcia is AD only further bursts his buttons. He loved doing the CNN piece on FIU, with its roster of white kids, black kids and "kids with last names ending in Zs," he said, going to play mighty Alabama.

And when it comes to football, I think that pride in Miami and being raised a Cuban-American in Hialeah plays a role in his zeal. That's me saying that, not him.

Young Cuban-Americans reading this blog -- especially the ones juggle three fantasy football teams or have the NFL and college dish packages or spend their down time arguing T.Y. Hilton vs. Leonard Hankerson -- might be shocked to hear what I heard when I first got down here in 1989.

"Cubans can't play football."
"Cubans don't want to play football -- they're too into cars and they're not tough enough."
"The Dolphins will be in trouble in 15 years because there's going to be so many Cubans in South Florida and so few white and black people, there won't be anybody to be Dolphins fans."

Those folks, some of whom were high school head coaches, ignored one fact: assimilation happens.
So imagine the stuff Sanchez had to hear in the mid-1970s playing what's still the most American of the three team sports we truly love. As a black guy who grew up playing hockey, I can tell you that sometimes when you hear stuff like that, it just makes you embrace the game/activity even more almost to rub it in the face of the prejudiced. And, then, it's not just in your blood, it's in your bone marrow and you're embracing it so much because you can't let go.

It'll be interesting to see how this works out on the air with Sanchez and play-by-play man Tony Calatayud. As I said to Sanchez, he was always so "earnest" when delivering the news at Channel 7, the pauses and phrases weighed down with such gravity. That actually would be funny as play-by-play. As color, it would be a disaster. Seeing as how he's doing color instead of play-by-play, I'm betting we'll see more of the fired up show-hosting Sanchez rather than the anchorman Sanchez.

Garcia said no matter how this works out this year with Sanchez, the former broadcaster will be part of the FIU program going forward. I'm sure. Sanchez has one son at FIU with another getting ready to enroll. Being on the broadcasts gives him a chance to spend about the perfect amount of time with his college-age kids (perfect for the kids.)

I asked Sanchez if he would move back here. He now lives in Atlanta with his wife and a dog that pees on the floor (hence the earlier floor topic). He said from a business standpoint, though he's not chasing on-air jobs now, he insisted, LA, New York and Chicago would be better.
"But the heart says get back to your roots," Sanchez said.
He recalled a recent drive around Miami with someone and how every other streetcorner retained a memory for him -- personal or professional from those years on the crime beat.
"I do think within the next year, I'm probably going to make a move."

Anchoring an extended shift while covering natural disasters or big stories isn't easy, but live sports is an animal that's constantly yapping at a broadcaster's heels like the product of a Marvin Gaye night between a greyhound and a Doberman. Sanchez hasn't done sports before. Some days, it won't be pretty.

But, like those Channel 7 newscasts of yore, it'll never be boring.

 


July 24, 2011

FIU women's basketball associate coach named to Hall of Fame

Longtime FIU women's associate coach Inge Nissen (right, photo courtesy FIUsports.com) will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame,Inge the WNBA announced on Saturday.

An Old Dominion graduate, Nissen was part of a six member Class of 2012 that includes coach Nancy Fahey, players Nikki McCray, Pan McGee, Dawn Staley and contributor Robin Roberts. The class was introduced during Saturday's WNBA All-Star game in San Antonio, Texas.

Nissen and FIU head coach Cindy Russo have a long relationship on the court, dating back when Russo recruited Nissen to Old Dominion. Russo was an assistant coach for the Monarchs at the time, recruiting Nissen, who was one of the top European amateurs. A native of Denmark, Nissen was part of five national championships in Europe before joining Old Dominion in 1976.

Nissen finished her career with the Monarchs as the All-Time leader in points (2,647) and rebounds (1,459), both marks have since been eclipsed.

Nissen has been with FIU for 22 years (20 as associate coach) and has been an integral part of recruiting.

July 20, 2011

FIU vs. George Mason and (probably) Motor, er, Monmouth in NIT Tip-Off

FIU says the rest of the men's basketball schedule should be out in early September. For now, we'll just have to be satisfied with the organizers of the 16-team Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off throwing a bone -- or an anvil -- FIU's way by inviting the Golden Panthers to play George Mason at Virginia Tech, in picturesque Blacksburg, Virginia on Nov. 14. In the East Regional's other semifinal, Va. Tech plays Monmouth.

The losers of those games play a consolation game. Considering Va. Tech's at home and the No. 4 seed in the tournament and No. 5 seed George Mason is coming off a 27-7 season that included an NCAA tournament win, odds are FIU's next game will be against Monmouth. Monmouth is in West Long Branch, New Jersey, approximately one-hour from New York and Philadelphia and walking distance from the Atlantic Ocean.

But, hey, it's early season college-affiliated basketball. Who knows? a couple of upsets and FIU would head for the semi-final round at Madison Square Garden, a place head coach Isiah Thomas knows well. Seeing as how the NBA might still be in lockout mode, there's a slim shot we could see the irony of a Thomas-coached FIU team playing in The Garden this season before the Knicks. 

The tournament's No. 1 seed, Syracuse, opens at home against Manhattan in the North Regional. If it was Dr. Manhattan, Syracuse would be in trouble. Instead, the Orangemen should romp happily into a second round game against the Albany-Brown winner, then skip merrily along to The Garden to face the East Regional winner.

In the Midwest Regional, No. 2 seed Oklahoma State gets to feast on Arkansas-Pine Bluff before a second round game against the Oral Roberts vs. Texas-San Antonio winner. Out in Palo Alto, where hopefully my daughter will be enrolling in 2023, No. 3 seed Stanford starts with Fresno State and No. 7 Colorado opens with SMU. 

The preseason NIT invited FIU once before, 1998-99, as fodder for North Carolina. The Golden Panthers dutifully took a 65-44 pounding.

Now, back to MickeyD's 49-cent hamburger Wednesday...

Hilton, Heismans & Sun Belt Media Days, Part II

Up from a brief tryptophan nap following two platefuls of the wife's turkey marsala, still unsure what I wrote down as the name of the Marcus Valle jam the Sushi-Samba DJ laid out a few Saturdays ago, here's a few things from Day 2 of a videoconference/teleconference virtual tour of Sun Belt football.

Oh, wait, not yet. For now, let's put aside all those optomistic coaches and players declaring he and his teammates just are hunkering down, working hard, not paying attention to anything anybody says, becoming a family, blah, blah, bland. Let's focus on a piece of shamelessly quixotic promotion: FIU's Hilton4Heisman campaign on Twitter and Facebook, surely coming to a t-shirt near you.

Unless T.Y. Hilton has a Barry Sanders 1988 season -- Sanders, who had run for about 800 yards his first two years at Oklahoma State behind Thurman Thomas, exploded for 2,628 rushing yards, 3,249 all-purpose yards and 39 touchdowns -- Hilton has about as much shot at the Heisman as I do at Wednesday's Lotto. Or, as Uncle Junior said when the FBI told him they wanted him to flip against Tony, "I want to (spend time with) Angie Dickinson. Let's see who gets lucky first."

But it's still about "Look at what we can do!" at FIU and in the Sun Belt, so why not start a grass roots online Heisman campaign that quickly drew several Twitter followers among media who don't cover/talk FIU reguarly? Why not show some dreamy recruit, hey, this isn't an automatic bid BCS conference, but the NFL finds guys everywhere and if you tear it up here, we'll put you out there for the college hardware? Besides, the star system left Hollywood in the 1950s, but it's alive and well in professional and college-affiliated sports. All Hilton has to do is live up to some of the hype to feed more hype and it all works for FIU.

(By the way, bringing up Sanders 1988 Heisman makes me recall a moment from ESPN's The Sports Reporters that shows how unheralded he was to some even during that phenomenal season. It was the day after Sanders had been awarded the Heisman. USC quarterbcak Rodney Peete and UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman had been contenders, but Sanders had won in a clear rout. In what's now called "Parting Shots," Jackie MacMullan, then of the Los Angeles Times, ripped the Sanders selection with: "Sally (Jenkins, another scribe), let's see if in 10 years, you're going to be able to tell me who won the Heisman the year Rodney Peete and Troy Aikman didn't." Jackie MacMullan's a truly great reporter and writer, so respected that Bird and Magic chose her to write their joint book a couple of years ago, but she had one of those regional bias moments that happens to everyone.)

As for FIU being unheralded last year, Troy coach Larry Blakeney said they might've been to some people, but not to him.

"I paid attention to them. I knew they were going to be good," Blakeney said. "I might've picked them to win last year. I picked them this year. They put a woodshedding on us up here (52-35) and that doesn't happen very much at our place."

He called it a "solid win, they won't ever forget and we won't ever forget." He also said, though, "we were in a state of disarray on defense. We weren't chemically together, whether it was coaching, playing, personnel, whatever." The following weeks, he said, one player quit, one player was kicked off the team and another player wasn't allowed to practice for a week. In the three-game stretch that saw the FIU game sandwiched between a win against North Texas and a loss to South Carolina, Troy gave up 156 points. They gave up 42 in the final two regular season wins and the bowl game, granted, against lesser competition overall.

Blakeney also opined that once the conference adds South Alabama, they need to figure out a way to get a conference championship game together. He believes that's a step toward the Sun Belt, one of the 11 BCS conferences, being one of the six that gets an automatic qualifier into a BCS bowl. It gives a definitive champion and the money could keep teams from having to be jobbers, taking the paid beatings such as FAU's early schedule of Florida, Michigan State and Auburn on the road.

FAU's Howard Schnellenberger admitted they took those games for the money, but also had hoped at some point to win a couple of those games to give a huge boost to your program and the conference. As he said, that's what the University of Miami had to do (most famously, upsetting Penn State in 1979) and what he had to do at Louisville. It hasn't happened yet at FAU, "because we had to come from a further distance away."

What's not so far away is the a.m. herding of the kittens, otherwise known as getting my daughter out of the house in the morning. Night-night.

July 19, 2011

Report: OL Delmar Taylor commits to FIU

According to ESPN, former University of Miami signee Delmar Taylor committed to FIU. Taylor, listed as 6 foot 4, 295 LB, signed with UM in 2010 but decided on going to Navarro Junior College in Texas to gain more experience. Taylor, a native of the Bahamas, had limited high school experience, playing in only a handful of games at Miami Beach High School before signing with Miami.

I was on hand at Beach in 2010 when Taylor signed in front of a standing room only crowd. NFLers Chad Ochocinco and Samari Rolle, both Beach high grads, were on hand to watch Taylor commit.

Taylor moved from defensive end to the offensive line. Taylor is FIU's second commitment of the 2012 recruiting class.

Video below was done on Feb. 3, 2010. Excuse Taylor being decked out in UM gear. He's committed to being a Golden Panther now. I've been having trouble with the video playing. Click here for direct link.

Justin

Sun Belt Media Days, Part I

Now that I'm back from The Jetsons' Publix, where I seemingly willed the PA to play Joni Mitchell's "Help Me" by thinking it was time for the White Woman playlist on my iPod, then had this post wiped out once, I shall ruin a good night of sleep by reconstructing stuff from day 1 of Sun Belt videoconference/teleconferences.

Second out of the box Monday were FIU head coach Mario Cristobal and wide receiver/kick returner/blood pressure raiser T.Y. Hilton. Predictably and smartly, Cristobal dismissed FIU being chosen as the Sun Belt's Most Likely to Succeed by the conference's coaches. You can read most of it here:

http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/7/19/2319950/coaches-choose-fiu-to-win-the.html

As I said, the big shrug is the only proper response. Even so, I've lived down here long enough and covered sports long enough that part of me wished Cristobal would channel his former University of Miami teammates' tendency for talking brash trash. Media from anywhere else might've hated those teams and the NCAA is still creating killjoy rules to stop college kids from enjoying the game the way those teams did, but everybody who covered them day-to-day misses them at least a little. All you had to do was ask the right question, have the pen or tape recorder ready and shut up.

When I asked him what he expected to see this year from defenses targeting him more so than last year, Hilton said he expected teams to bang him around more on his way into pass patterns with the outside linebackers and defensive ends.

Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill came up with an interesting solution to the question of paying players. Usually, coaches preach the NCAA gospel of hypocrisy or do a Michael Jackson Motown 25 moonwalk away from the subject. Stockstill, instead, said, "I'm in favor of players getting something. Whatever it is, we should put something on the player. Not just "You're on the football team, you get $1,000.""

Stockstill didn't think it would be fair for a player who just sucked up campus air and resources elsewhere to get the same jack as a player with a 4.0 and good citizenship. So, he said, maybe schools could tell players they have to pass all their classes, maintain a 2.0 average, stay out of trouble -- no arrests, dorm fights, discplinary problems -- and at the end of the semester, they get, say, $1,500. Then, do the same thing for the second semester.

"That's a way to give them $3,000 or so," Stockstill said.

Yes, Stockstill's plan has holes that invite even more extortion and overall corruption than already occurs. But it's a better alternative to a system that's increasingly unfair based on the mushrooming profits created by some programs on the backs of labor paid with tuition for classes football programs all but discourage them from attending.

First-year North Texas coach Dan McCarney invoked the "Troy Davis" name when talking about Lance Dunbar, the preseason co-Offensive Player of the Year with Hilton. McCarney's first two years as Iowa State head coach, he stacked the offense on Davis' stocky legs and ran the Miami Southridge High graduate enough for two 2,000-yard rushing seasons. Dunbar, who at 5-9, 203, looks like he could've grown up at the Davis' family dinner table, ran for 1,553 yards on 274 carries last year.

And guess who'll be the first one to test FIU's suspect defense?

Give McCarney candor points when discussing North Texas' standing in most preseason rankings. "Who are we kidding? When you have one NFL player drafted in 15 years; eight wins in four years; and no player here has experienced a winning season, what do you expect? That those guys are going to pick us in the top 20?"

To close this post at such a late hour, a video from a song I used to hear on WIBC 1070 AM when my 12-year-old butt stayed up into the wee hours each summer 1980 night listening to the radio. 

 

 

July 18, 2011

From Underdogs to Overcats?

Back from a sort-of vacation and being randomly selected by the TSA for bag search -- they're batting 1.000 when I'm wearing a dashiki or kente cloth hat. Coincidence? -- and about to jump on the Sun Belt Conference preseason media teleconference. One thing we know we'll hear from the coaches today: pumping up of FIU, the coaches' preseason pick for Sun Belt champions.

The Sun Belt's assumed to come down to FIU or Troy with the standard preseason publication line about FIU being "they won't catch anybody by surprise this year." In other words, underdogs no more. Bringing to mind something from the days when Saturday morning television schedules were previewed with two-hour prime time shows on Friday night...

 

T.Y. Hilton shared Preseason Offensive Player of the Year with North Texas running back Lance Dunbar. Along with Hilton, left tackle Caylin Hauptmann, linebacker Winston Fraser, defensive end Tourek Williams, and safety Jonathan Cyprien were Preseason All-Sun Belt selections.

On to the conference calls...

July 12, 2011

Getting Big Ups from The Belt for Cracking Some Books

Sorry about the lateness of the post. Herding the kid through a shower -- why does our room's shower and bathtub look like a Toys R Us junkyard? -- while making her dinner kept me from getting this up before the wife came home from checking her computer into the nearest Geek Squad hospital. Once home, I offered up my Dell to be her T computer. Long-winded reason this all didn't get posted in time for you to digest it before The Wheel/Jeopardy Hour.

The Sun Belt Conference threw out a bunch of academic hoorays Monday that will land on both true student athletes and athletes who can fake it (sometimes with professorial help) better than Sally in the deli  .

 

Thirty-four FIU student-athletes made the Sun Belt Commissioner's List for having a 3.5 or higher GPA during the 2010-11 academic year. Women's soccer led the way with six. By sport:

Baseball: Mason McVay, Jose Velazquez

Men's Basketball: Steven Miro

Women's Basketball: Elisa Carey, Fanni Hutlassa, Liene Jekabsone, Carmen Miloglav

Football: Wesley Carroll, Michael Davies, Joshua Forney

Women's Golf: Katie Mundy

Women's Soccer: Carlan Jones, Victoria Milliucci, Julietta Morano, Melanie Raimo, Kelsey Rene, Paula Zuluaga

Softball: Kasey BArrett, Kayla Burri

Women's Tennis: Liset Brito, Christine Seredni, Marla Vallasciani

Swimming & Diving: Chelsie Kitt, Colleen Quinn, Danielle Snier, Jamie Stinson

Men's Track & Field/Cross Country: Miahcel Bejarano, Richie Bonilla

Women's Track & Field/Cross Country: Daniela Espino, Lashae White

Volleyball: Angelina Colon, Jessica Egan, Una Trkulja, Jessica Wilke

The Sun Belt Honor Roll goes to the athlete-students with a 3.0 or higher GPA for the year. Again, by sport:

Baseball: Jose Behar, John Caballero, Tyler James Shantz, Joel Capote, David Vazquez, Garrett Wittels

Women's basketball: Michelle Gonzalez, Timeyin Oritsesan

Football: Stephen Bailey, Robert Boswell, Michael Cal, Jonathan Cyprien, Chritopher Edwards, Antohny Gaitor, Mike Jean-Louis, Kevin Van Kirk, Andrew Matttox, Ashlyn Parker, Zachary Schaubaut, Jarius Williams, Mitchell Wozniak.

Women's golf: Shelby Coyle

Women's soccer: Chrystal McNamara, April Perry, Deanna Rossi, Katilyn Savage, Kassandra Sorzano, Linn Thunn

Softball: Alexandra Casals, Jennifer Gnaidek, Ashley McClain, Elizabeth Peller, Jenny Welch

Women's tennis: Mariana Muci, Maria Spenceley

Swimming & Diving: Sabrina Beaupre, Kelly Boyd, Sabrina Dow, Kelly Grace, Elly James, Jennifer Lee, Mariangele Macchiabello, Melissa Moreno, Joanna Pomerantz, Yesica Rojas, Namiko Shibata

Men's Track & Field/Cross Country: Alvaro Castillo, Victor Chin, Miguel Delgadillo, Chad Ganier, Jason Oliver, Daniel Stephenson, Kevin Vandernotte

Women's Track & Field/Cross Country: Kimberlee Dekrey, Jessica de Roquancourt, Estefania Fierro, Gabriella Herrera, Carla-Kay Mills, Bianca Morrison, Christian Raphael, Brittany Smith

Volleyball: Jovana Bjelica, Rachel Fernandez, Rene Forde, Sabrina Gonzalez, Ines Medved.

 

July 09, 2011

Gilles, Griffin, Groza (golly!)

I began the day arguing the day camp merits of new skirts vs. old Gymboree shorts with my six-year-old. I'll end the day soon debating the merits of pomegranate margaritas vs. Long Island Iced Teas. In between, I was rippin' and runnin' so much -- from the Non-Gilded Panthers to a Southern States bodybuilder who once weighed 450 pounds and almost died to Brandon Marshall's subpeona -- that I didn't get to update this blog with a couple of pieces of news.

Gilles Dierickx, the 6-11 Belgian out of West Hills Chaminade in the LA area, made his committment to FIU official. There's one scholarship left for the 2011 class.

Isiah Thomas said in a statement released through the communications department, "His size and athleticism are impressive. He is the type of player who is not afraid to be aggressive down low both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. At 6-11, 240, we are happy to have Gilles as a member of the FIU family. He joins a great class in Joey De La Rosa (6-11, 240), KeDorian Sullivan (6-7, 185) and Tanner Wozniak (6-5, 185)."

Two 6-11 guys and two guys who are have either fast metabolism or a slow first step to the buffet...moving right along...

Kicker Jack Griffin has been named to the watch list for the Lou Groza Award, given to the top placekicker each year.

Once again, there's a college football best-of award that's an homage to an NFL great. As mentioned in the previous post, few wideouts in NFL history match up to Fred Biletnikoff. But as a college football receiver, Biletnikoff might not have even been the best productive slow wide receiver of the 1960s (see "future Dolphin Howard Twilley"). And, as for all-time, the only way he'd be at a table with, say, Michigan's Anthony Carter or Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers is if he was serving something.

Lou "The Toe" Groza picked up his nickname as a dependable booter for Cleveland and actually didn't like being known more for being a kicker than an offensive tackle. He played for Cleveland during their All-American Football Conferenc years, 1946-49. When the four-time AAFC champions moved to the NFL in 1950 along with the 49ers and the original Baltimore Colts, Groza added dependable kicking to the Browns' awesome offensive arsenal. He led the NFL in field goals four times in the Browns' first five NFL seasons. He retired after the 1967 season. Groza went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.

Yet, that's pro football. Surely the Orange Bowl Committee, which gives out The Toe, could've honored one of the truly spectactular college kickers. Just in the old Southwest Conference from 1976-78, you had three kickers breaking records and collecting All-America honors -- Texas A&M's barefoot Tony Franklin, who nailed a then-record 65-yarder; Texas' Russell Erxleben, who beat his pal with a 67-yarder; and Arkansas' Steve Little, who tied Erxleben's record. A few years later in the Big Ten, Minnesota's Chip Lohmiller and Indiana's Pete Stoyanovich expanded the definition of "field goal range" to "on campus." Nevada's Marty Zendajas was money in his day.

Over on the court, the best college basketball player doesn't receive The Red Auerbach Award.

As it's Friday...

 

And while freshman Isiah Thomas endured his first Bob Knight practices at Indiana...

 

Still makes me wince...just like this one still makes me smile. Reminds me of the 1987 night they kicked against each other in the Metrodome. During the game, Baby Jessica got pulled from the well. 60,000 people roared for the saving of a child they didn't know existed two weeks before.

   

July 07, 2011

Fast FIU Guy on List For Award Named After All-Time Plodder

Of Fred Biletnikoff late in his Hall of Fame NFL career, his Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler wrote in an autobiography, "They said Freddy lost a step, but Freddy didn't have a step to lose."

Biletnikoff couldn't outrun your mother if she was wearing her best date night heels. A lit cigarette hung from his mouth in the pregame locker room and the Raiders knew it was time to hit the field when they heard Biletnikoff barf. Still, he spent 14 AFL-NFL seasons making some A-list defensive backs feel after the game the way he did before the game. Canny with subtle moves that got defenders moving this way while he went that way, Biletnikoff retired from the NFL after the 1978 season at No. 4 all-time in receptions (his AFL years were counted, of course). His status in pro football history outranks his status as a college player, though he was an All-America pick at Florida State and had his No. 25 retired. So, there's a little irony that it's college football that gives The Biletnikoff Award to the best wide receiver of the year.

And FIU's T.Y. Hilton has been named to the Biletnikoff Award's watch list.

It's not an exclusive club (see below), but for a program still saying nationally and locally, "Hey, over here!" it's happy preseason noise. Hilton's a secret only to the casual college football follower. He's on Athlon Sports preseason All-America team, as the third team all-purpose man. Most preseason guides rank Hilton as the Sun Belt's best NFL prospect. No matter that he'll be the focus of opposing defenses. Like most elite college athletes, he'll still put up great numbers if for no other reason than he's a much better athlete than those trying to stop him.

The Biletnikoff favorite has to be last year's winner, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, who rolled up a ridiculous 1,782 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns on 111 catches. Blackmon's closest competition might be over in Norman, Oklahoma, where OU's Ryan Broyles caught 131 passes for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns. But, who knows? The usual run of injuries, surprises, underachievements and someone barely on the watch list could be walking off with The Freddy.

Anyway, the rest of the watch list, in alphabetical order:

Arkansas' Joe Adams; West Virginia's Tavon Austin; SMU's Cole Beasley (he'll get big numbers in June Jones run-and-shoot); Indiana's Demario Belcher (an IU man for a major award? Brotha, please); UM's Travis Benjamin (if Jacory Harris doesn't create too many Jim Thorpe Award candidates); Auburn's Emory Blake; Southern Mississippi's Kelvin Bolden; TCU's Josh Boyce; Virginia Tech's Jarrett Boykin; Mississippi State's Chad Bumphis (wonder if his grandparents had turkey-loving dogs); Virginia's Kris Burd; Alabama's Duron Carter; Syracuse's Van Chew; Arkansas Greg Childs; Utah's Devonte Christopher; Oklahoma State's Josh Cooper; Arizona's Juron Criner; Michigan State's BJ Cunningham; Texas' Mike Davis; Northwestern's Jeremy Ebert (no Siskel from Illinois?); Houston's Patrick Edwards; Notre Dame's Michael Floyd; Arkansas State's Dwayne Frampton (be cool if he had the hair...); Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller; Wake Forest's Chris Givens; San Jose State's Noel Grigsby; Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton; Alabama's Darius Hanks; Rutgers' Mark Harrison; Miami of Ohio's Nick Harwell (Woody and Bo jointly roll over in their graves, Woody a little faster); Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins; South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery; Illinois' Al Jenkins; Tulsa's Damarius Johnson; SMU's Darius Johnson (see Beasley above); North Carolina's Dwight Jones; Cal's Marvin Jones; Bowling Green's Kamar Jorden; Washington's Jermaine Kearse; Georgia's Tavarres King; East Carolina's Lance Lewis; Nevada's Rishard Mathews; Alabama's Marquis Maze (all these WRs, you'd think Bama still had Stabler and Namath back there); Minnesota's DaJon McKnight; Iowa's Marvin McNutt; Missouri's TJ Moe; Penn State's Derrick Moye; Toledo's Eric Page; Kansas' Daymond Patterson; Hawaii's Royce Pollard; Ohio State's Devier Posey; Michigan's Roy Roundtree; Pitt's Mike Shanahan (can this one win anything big without an Elway?); Boise State's Tyler Shoemaker; UConn's Michael Smith; Oklahoma's Kenny Stills; Boston College's Bobby Swegert; Texas A&M's Ryan Swope; Texas Tech's Alex Torres; Duke's Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon; Oregon State's Markus Wheaton; Western Michigan's Jordon White; Central Michiga's Cody Wilson; Wahsington State's Marquess Wilson; Cincinnati's D.J. Woods; USC's Robert Woods; Arkansas' Jarius Wright; Baylor's Kendall Wright; Louisiana's Ladarius Green; Tulane's Ryan Grant; and LSU's Rueben Randall.

That's the list. Here's The Freddy Film.

 

There's an Ebert on this list from a Chicago-area school and you expect me to resist?

 

July 06, 2011

B-ball man bounces from the EU to LA to FIU

I spent yesterday supervising the re-installation of our hi-def dish and scrambling on about three other non-FIU stories, so I missed the late morning LA Times blog post spotted by Prowl poster J, saying 6-11 center Gilles Dierickx had received a 2011 scholarship offer from FIU and was expected to commit.

I just got confirmation this morning that they received the verbal commitment late Tuesday night. Dierickx, a native of Belgium, is out of West Hills Chaminade in the LA area and was ranked No. 19 among California recruits by MaxPreps.com. He averaged 13.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game for a 14-15 team.

Here's some video on Gilles...

 

And another video for women and men of a certain age and all who beat the alarm clock...

  

 

July 02, 2011

Wittels Mucking It Up

SUNDAY MORNING UPDATE: This was all confirmed Saturday night during a late dinner. But after fajitas, fell asleep, so I haven't posted said confirmation until now. Back to the original Saturday night post below....

As I sit here listening to the cool themes from several Quinn Martin shows, I'm trying to confirm a text message I got while showering off the funk of a day spent mostly at Miami Beach's Flamingo Park (where goddesses and gods walk our Earth as lifeguards who watch over my daughter and taught her to swim): Garrett Wittels has signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization and will be assigned to the Batavia Muckdogs in the short-season New York-Penn League.

This would reunite Wittels with former FIU teammate Jeremy Patton, who is batting .315 with 11 RBI, a .444 slugging percentage, but also seven strikeouts.

Wittels had one year of eligibility left at FIU, but it's no shock he'll be moving on from the suburbs adjacent to Sweetwater. Looking at the draft, there's no doubt that had he not had the sexual assault charges in the Bahamas hanging over his head, Wittels would've been drafted. Once those were dropped, he was free to go in more ways than one.

To close this post, not an epilogue, but a nod to the show that taught me the meaning of the word, "epilogue."

 

July 01, 2011

News and notes: Interview with AD Pete Garcia

I had a chance to catch up with FIU athletic director Pete Garcia Friday afternoon. We touched a on  number of different subjects during our chat. I posted a few notes below.

Football

What are a few things FIU fans can look forward to this coming athletic year?

"We are very excited No. 1 with what’s happened with the foundation built by our coaches and our student athletes. Going into this year we are excited about our football program. First time we are playing six games at home. With teams like UCF and Duke coming in it should be an exciting season."

What are some of the plans to continue increasing attendance at football games?

"Attendance went up dramatically last year. We are bringing in higher quality teams. A UCF team that won the conference and an ACC team in Duke. Our student body is getting more involved in the program. ESPN networks are carrying 6 out of our first 8 games. That’s unheard of for our conference."

Ticket sales?

"It’s going to be safe to say we are going to have over 10,000 season tickets sold this year."

Any word on when the next phase of stadium construction will begin?

"We are stating to have discussions in regard about closing off the north side of the stadium," Garcia said.

Garcia was clear that the talks were just beginning and that plans should become more clear in about "six months."

Is the plan to continue using the arena and the stadium for outside events?

"The Arena is used about 95 percent of the time. A lot of it is outside events that bring in money for the athletic department. The Gold Cup is a perfect example. Those revenues also go into the athletic department.We keep increasing it every year. We could still use the stadium more. We have a number of high school games at the stadium including Belen and Columbus."

Men's basketball

Work on the 2011-12 basketball schedule is underway. According to Garcia, the Panthers will be traveling to Maryland and Dayton next season. Dates will be announced sometime this month.

With much speculation in the national media about the future of basketball coach Isiah Thomas, I figured I'd ask Garcia about the possibility of Thomas taking a head coaching job in the association next year.

"[Thomas] is here and he’s working and recruiting. He’s very excited about his upcoming year," Garcia said.

What are some the changes coming to the basketball arena?

 "New lockers. Brand new entrance with suits. Multipurpose rooms that will be used for suits on game day and other University functions when we are not playing."

 Softball

How is the search for a new softball coaching coming along?

"We are doing a national search for the softball coach. We are confident we can find someone that can build on what Beth did and take the program to the next level."

Justin Azpiazu

Follow me on twitter @JustinAzpiazu

More on Ivan the Terribly Early

After writing on NBA lockout mess, consuming an entire aluminum container of shrimp fried rice from New Chinatown and noting Warren Sapp and Darnell Dockett both were hanging out in South Beach, I conked out Thursday night like a 1982 Chrysler K-Car. I meant to give more information on Boca Raton Grandview Prep guard Ivan Canete, who has verbally committed to FIU for 2013.

It's not as if we've got a full IMF dossier on the kid, but here are a few tidbits:

Born in Cuba

Spent his freshman year at West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman

His defensive length, at 6-3, gives other high school guards trouble.

Oh, and SourceHoops.com's Rick Staudt loves the kid. Here's what Staudt had to say about him off of March's Hoops Mountain Tipoff jamboree: 

“Smart” and “Skilled” are the words that first come out of scouts’ mouths when talking about Canete.  He sees the game a play ahead, makes the right pass instead of the fancy one, and if need be can create his own shot.  Canete has range out to the arc and throws catchable passes to open teammates for scores when he breaks down the defense off the dribble.

And, this, from April, off the Disney Spring Classic:

The Boca Raton Grandview Prep product can play either guard spot equally well.  At the point, he has very good court vision and his height allows him to see over most defenders.  Canete handles and passes the ball well and understands when to push the pace and when to back off.  Off the ball, he can knock down open jumpers or create on the drive.  Defensively he works hard but does need to add strength which should come in time.

So, there you go. Enjoy your July 4 weekend. And, remember, the relative who winds up in the emergency room with only six fingers or toes because the others went shooting off with the fireworks he just knew everything about setting off? Not Captain Role Model.

Say "Hey" to Uncle Gus for me.

-- David J. Neal


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