The Futures market sells big in FIU Athletics these days.
Make no mistake, it always has. Talk of what could be, should be, will be (maybe) always seems to draw more interest at FIU than what is. Maybe it's just I'm noticing this confluence this year.
Softball starts this Friday at home. Baseball begins a week from Friday at Ole Miss. Sand Volleyball will start soon after finishing last season ranked No. 4 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. And, of course, we just had Signing Day with the football coaching staff likely looking at a Pack For a Bowl or Pack Up the Office season.
Now, take men's basketball, 11-13 overall, 5-6 in Conference USA, zero for four in its last four. You knew the season had entered the "just get ready for the conference tournament" phase when when coach Anthony Evans exuded an almost sanguine air after the Jan. 30 men's basketball home loss to Old Dominion. FIU did some things well, not enough or as many as Old Dominion and took a four-point loss. They're still trying to gain the cohesion and consistency of a team, which is where they seem to be at this point every year. Even in Evans' third year, there's still a chop shop quality to the roster -- this part from a Hialeah body shop, this piece from Sanford & Son's area, these pieces driven down from Tallahassee. There's not wholesale roster changes, but enough key players change each year that FIU seems perpetually trying to get past the dating stage.
The good news for the women's basketball team (3-19, 1-10)? Everybody makes the conference tournament. The bad news? FIU has to play with this year's team instead of next year's. This year's Panthers show about 72 times more pluck than they did last year. They're still tax refund light on talent and focus. Nobody's looked forward to next year like this since the Brooklyn Dodgers ("Wait 'til next year!") or 1960s Dallas Cowboys (Next Year's Champions).
Here's what FIU gains next year: a pair of three-star freshman forwards, 6-1 Sydney Fields from Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview and 6-2 Jamesia Amand from Dallas Skyline; three-star 5-7 point guard Alexis Gordon from Palm Bay Covenant Christian; point guard Kayla Rogers, who runs the show for Jacksonville Ribault, which has been nationally ranked this year; and 6-4 transfer Erin Garner, a former three-star recruit who transferred from Georgia Tech. Oh, and last year's CUSA Freshman of the Year, 6-1 forward Kiandre'a Pound, will be back from spending a redshirt season becoming a mommy.
Swim & Dive just finished its dual meet season at 8-5 by beating FAU 115-71 and the defending Conference USA champions enter conference meet prep. With the variation how much stress some programs put on earlier season meets, checking out top conference times can be like looking at a Kandinsky -- looks wonderful, but you might not be seeing what you think you're seeing. Still, FIU's got one of the top two CUSA times this year in the 50 freestyle, 100 free, 200 free, 500 free, 1000 free, 1,650 free (sophomores Kyna Periera and Naomi Ruele, take a bow); 100 back (Ruele), 400 free relay, 800 free relay, 400 medley relay; and sophomore Rebecca Quesnel could sweep the three diving competitions.
But FIU's owned the best individuals at conference meets before and been left to celebrate them while finishing from here to Hollywood from the team title. That changed in 2015 with FIU's depth burying second place Rice. The challenge is to repeat that feat Feb. 24-27 in Atlanta.
Longtime readers of this blog know much as I love the hectic pace of Signing Day and will report analysis of recruiting gurus/websites, I stick by the theory that nobody knows nothin' at the mid-major level. Look how often the big boys whiff on recruits and they're taking guys my daughter (great run after catch, hates watching football) can pick out as good players. Down in Group of 5 Land, it's truly like television programming (Family Guy's in its 11th consecutive season on the same network that twice before canceled it).
Who knows which young man finds greater joy in Proust, pipe or Paula than in post patterns or pass protection? Who knows which young man finds the work ethic that another loses? Who knows who reacts to the challenge of the next level with elan and who suffers shrinkage? Who knows which kid truly responds to a particular coach or which position coach fails the players under him? Or does that coach or coaches stay? Staffs change like the time at G5 schools.
What does it mean that Rivals.com, as of this moment, puts FIU at 99th nationally and No. 8 in Conference USA? Or that 247Sports.com puts FIU at 107th and 10th? About as much as it meant in 2013. Remember that FIU class? Only the defensive backs kept that from being the consensus worst rated class in FBS that year. Here's the top rated recruits from that class, according to ESPN:
(What follows isn't to make fun of or throw shade on the young men, who came into a calamitous situation at FIU and I hope are having good college experiences. But, rather, I'm making fun of and throwing shade on analyst projections.)
1. Vontarius West, defensive back -- Saw his first significant playing time this season as a backup linebacker.
2. Travis Wright, quarterback -- Spent the late summer bounce passing throws like the quarterback of a basketball offense. Then, there were questions about his eligibility. Then, he was gone. Never played a down at FIU.
3. Chris Flaig, offensive lineman -- Non-football related health issues sidelined him for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
4. Jordan Budwig, offensive lineman -- Started all 24 games his first two seasons before a shoulder injury ended his junior year before it began.
5. Willie Smith, defensive back -- Never enrolled. Now playing at Division II Ferris State.
Hmmm...maybe Rivals.com knew better. Let's look at their top five from that year:
1. West -- Oh, OK.
2. Xavier Hines, defensive back -- Redshirted, didn't play a game as a redshirt freshman, got into 11 games in 2015, started one.
3. Silas Spearman, running back -- Ran for 130 yards in FIU's only 2013 win, then suffered a knee injury that wiped out 2014. Played four games in 2015.
4. Smith -- Well...
5. Wilkenson Myrtil, defensive back -- Started two games in 2013 and 2014 each, at cornerback. Started three games at safety before suffering a season-ending concussion.
Now, let's look at 247Sports.com. They tend to have the best take on this recruiting thing:
West -- Huh.
Hines -- Huh (again).
Jordan Gibbs, linebacker/defensive end -- Redshirted in 2013. Moved to fullback in 2014. Jettisoned by 2015.
Budwig -- OK.
Jeremy Derrick, linebacker -- Redshirted in 2013. Didn't get into a game in 2014 or 2015.
Anybody see tight end Jonnu Smith, FIU's best offensive player since T.Y. Hilton, on any of the lists? Or linebacker Treyvon Williams? What you do see: injuries, players re-cast in different roles, players just not working out for whatever reason.
Whether or not you like Ron Turner overall as a coach, you have to like that he insists on FIU doing its own homework on players such as talking to custodians -- the eyes and ears of educational institutions -- to discern a player's character (oh, future recruits take note that they really do watch your Twitter account). And FIU does its own player evaluations. You'd be surprised how many times coaches can be lemmings, although you shouldn't be considering how every sports league is a copycat league. The same coaches who bellow about leadership turn into lockstep followers all too often.
Quarterback Maurice Alexander's lack of ideal size limited his offers despite showing some moxie the few times Booker T. got in a tight situation his senior year. Turner loves Alexander's leadership charisma. Running back D'Angelo Ware averaged 12.9 yards per carry in Florida, where speed in the secondary can turn 50-yard average-boosting runs into 20 or 25 yarders. He was offered by Troy, FAU, Georgia Southern and New Hampshire (FCS).
John Madden recalls that during his Raiders coaching days (yes, kids, the guy with his name on the video game used to coach) NFL player personnel ace Ron Wolf would say about a player something like, "He'll be a good player in the league, but he won't be a good player for us." Few players FIU's got a shot to get come one size fits all.
Long-winded way of saying maybe 247Sports.com and Rivals.com are right. And, even if they are, it might not matter one bit.
Unless you're Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh or whoever's at Texas or Notre Dame, a college-affiliated football coach nearing Signing Day better behave like a man with many high maintenance girlfriends on Valentine's Day. Recruits must be basted with attention lest some last minute love from a place with a sexier tradition/conference/campus/student body flips the recruit into another's dorm.
FIU's experienced that Sunday, apparently losing linebacker Donavan Thompson to Utah. And it might happen again Wednesday. It's why FIU coach Ron Turner was happy he got running back/wide receiver Anthony Jones, quarterback Christian Alexander and defensive end Fermin Silva enrolled early last year. Turner's not confident FIU would've been able to hold onto them had they waited another five weeks to Signing Day.
Turner looked rather sanguine Tuesday morning. There would be a round of phone calls later in the day to go with the round of phone calls made Monday to retain FIU's commits as well as trying to be some flippin' Panthers themselves. The climax of year No. 4 in this modern era of recruiting was less than 24 hours away (speaking of modern era, recruits, watch your Twitter feeds...)
Turner referred to no recruits, other than early enrollments, by name.
What positions had you wanted to focus on this year?
RT: Several. Corners, we needed to get some help there losing our two starters. We've got some good young guys, but we needed to get some more depth there, we did. Both lines, offensive and defensive. Always need to get numbers up there. We've done that. We've got five offensive linemen committed and four defensive linemen, plus an offensive lineman who gray-shirted last year (Jacksonville Fletcher's Andrew Burgess), so six coming in new, three this spring (Burgess, Jacksonville First Coast twins Douglas and Dallas Connell) and a DB, who'll be here this spring. More of a safety, but he could play corner (Isaiah Hill). We've got two defensive ends, two defensive inside guys, although a couple are interchangeable. Four receivers, which we needed. I like the guys we got, too. They've got a chance to help us right away, all four of them (Booker T. Washington's Darrius Hill, Westminster Christian's Elbre Gaiter, North Port's Stantley Thomas, Orlando Lake Nona's Ulice Gillard).
Why can they help you next year? Are they all of a type? What are they bringing?
RT: Speed. This group has good size and speed. We've got one smaller type guy in the slot, who I think will help us -- shifty, really good quickness. The other three have good size -- big, physical, long good size receivers that are good after the catch. That's the biggest thing. They're playmakers and can run. We had every one of them in camp. So, we got to work with them and see them as well as see all their film.
What's your philosophy on recruiting quarterbacks? (Bud Martin transferred to Eastern Illinois)
RT: I like to try to take at least one every year. We've got two freshmen (Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander) that I'm very, very excited about and Alex, a two-year starter with two years left. Those two freshmen, I can't wait to get into spring ball now that they've had a year of learning the system, a year in the weight room. They both have a chance to be really good. It's going to be a very competitive situation, a fun situation.
Why have you been pretty successful up in the Jacksonville-Tampa axis?
RT: No. 1, the coaches do a good job up there. They know people. People trust them. They identify the kids early. It's not as heavily recruited as down here, so we give them more attention, I think. The coaches do a good job of seeing them early, this time of year. We see them in December and January, then go back and see them in the spring. Then, get them in camp up there. The camps have been invaluable as well. So we get a chance to know them and they get a chance to know us. We've had quite a few kids from there that have had success, so those kids know that as well.
Who does the Jacksonville/Tampa areas?
RT: We've had different people. My son, Cameron, did it the first two years and did a good job up there. Shannon Moore took it over when (Cameron Turner) left. He and Kort Shankweiler do a lot of it. Kort does all the Orlando area and he got into Jacksonville and he does Tallahassee. So he did a really good job in those areas. Steve Shankweiler does a really good job in Tampa and Central Florida. He coached there for a long time, he knows a lot of the coaches. And he did a good job in Atlanta. That's an area we'll probalby go into a little bit more. Steve's recruited there for a lot of years. We'll probably expand into there because the reception there is pretty good. Matt House has done a good job in Tampa, south Tampa, the Bradenton-Sarasota area.
We're going to really make sure we hit this South Florida area. We've got guys who have, but we're going to make sure every coach on the staff is going to have some schools in Miami-Dade or Broward. Each guy might have four schools. We've done a good job of getting a lot of coaches out. Tim Harris, Jr. might have Booker T. (Washington High). We'll make sure other coaches go in there. If we've got a receiver, we'll make sure (receivers coach) Kort Shankweiler goes in there, Steve Shankweiler as an (offensive) coordinator went in there. We get more people going to all the schools. We'll continue to do the same thing. We'll just have more assigned schools and they'll cross over. I think it's important we have a lot of our guys visible in the area.
Tim being in the area, been a huge name, he and his dad. Greg Moss being a local guy is a big name that's been good and it'll continue to get better when they have a full season to recruit the area. (Defensive line coach) Paul Valero coming on board, he's got a lot of ties, a lot of local connections in Miami. He's already made a little impact here with the guys he knows.
Locally, this year, it's looking thin. Had you expected to do a little bit better?
RT: No, I think it's pretty good, for the guys we targeted and the ones we went after, we didn't get all of them. Obviously, we lost some. We lost some late. But, for the most part, I'm pleased with what we did here and the reception from the coaches. The kids we realistically felt we had a chance to get and went after, I think we did pretty well (four players from Dade). It's an area we'll keep grinding on.
(DJN digression: to be fair, most observers see this as a down year for Miami-Dade talent as compared to past year or Broward County. So, if there's any year to be light on Dade, it's this one).
Do you find locally that some kids just want to leave town?
RT: No question about it. Every kid is different. Some, it's really important to stay home so mother, father and whatever can see them play. Other kids say, "I've been in Miami my whole life. I want something different. I want to get out. There's no question that comes up. You've got to try to identify that early.
I explained to someone Sunday that the difference between an early enrolled player and a verbal commit is the difference between being married and being engaged.
Central linebacker Donavan Thompson took off FIU's promise ring and put on Utah's, he announced Sunday night via Twitter. Thompson had been FIU's highest ranked commit from Miami-Dade, No. 19 on The Herald's Top 50 from the county. Rivals.com put him as FIU's top overall recruit. 247sports.com put Thompson behind Jacksonville Ed White defensive back Jadarius Byrd.
"He was the heart of our defense," Central coach Roland Smith said to me last week. "He was the guy who made sure we were lined up right. He got all the signals. He played in a Ray Lewis kind of fashion for us."
Yeah, that kind of makes FIU's Miami-Dade prospective haul look pretty thin -- three every down players and a kicker. That's less than fellow mid-majors Florida Atlantic and Toledo, which is strange considering FIU really seemed to be building a much better relationship with Dade schools, particularly in North Central Dade.
I expect to hear soon that the school's given men's soccer coach Scott Calabrese a new deal after his second FIU team won the Conference USA tournament, spent part of the season ranked and lost a tough NCAA tournament road game to Tulsa. Calabrese gets a bump in pay from his $55,000 salary.
That's $55,000 in Miami. Up in Lexington, where you could buy several nice houses and the nearby Waffle House for the cost of one Kendall 3/2 with small side yards, University of Kentucky coach Johan Cedergren makes $105,000. South Carolina's Mark Berson's making $108,060 in a cheap market. OK, that's Kentucky and South Carolina, members of the SEC plutocracy who slum it in Conference USA to play the people's game. So, let's look at Charlotte...
Men's soccer head coach Kevin Langan makes $70,840. In Charlotte.
For those who've asked, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's contract expires Oct. 15. If he's re-upped, look for it to happen over the summer.
When writing this story on recruiting Florida vs. recruiting International, I thought the following from volleyball coach Rita Buck-Crockett deleted from my recorder. So, obviously, I didn't use it. But Buck-Crockett's built both volleyballs, sand and indoor, with a mixture of players.
""If we need an instant game changer, then you're probably going to get that quicker by recruiting an international to come in as a freshman or a junior college, experienced player," she said. "If you have a program that's built, then you can bring freshmen that you're training and get them involved."
Expect a couple of transfers to be announced from Rutgers and Tennessee soon.
Sunday's practice and scrimmage looked about how you'd expect -- Manwich early, meatier later. Afterwards, FIU coach Ron Turner pressed more flesh than Jeb Bush between current players' parents, high school coaches and recruits (you might have to go back to the high school playoffs to find the last time that much Central green was at FIU Stadium).
Let's get the injury report out of the way before we get to whatever analysis you can make of a training camp scrimmage.
The Home Depot team roster looked too good for comfort, but as of now only sophomore running back Napoleon Maxwell's a long term issue. Maxwell will have season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee and will redshirt this season. When I saw him limp off after practice the day he injured the knee, I thought it didn't look good, but figured only an outside chance it would be that bad. Light sprain, probably.
You hope the injury that put senior outside linebacker Davison Colimon's in orange isn't long term because it's his head. Colimon got a concussion Tuesday. Junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams sat out with an ankle injury. Both could be back Tuesday when FIU resumes practice. Everybody speaks cautiously these days about concussions, as they should.
Also in orange was senior defensive end Denzell Perine. Unlike Colimon and Williams, Perine could do some of the non-contact running around, so he's in the Small-to-No Problem column.
Seeing all the Central heads reminded me to ask about incoming freshman cornerback Olin Cushion. Cushion had shoulder surgery in the spring. He'll be grayshirted this year and enroll in January. Same with Neptune Beach Fletcher offensive tackle Andrew Burgess, another 2015 signee.
On to the scrimmage.
The Skill Position Player of the Night: sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens made the best catch of warmups, a one-handed grab of a knee-high 10-to-15-yard throw while he kept stride. Both the first and second string offenses resembled the blah attacks of the last two seasons when quarterback Alex McGough fired a right sideline throw that cornerback Richard Leonard looked positioned to pick off. Somehow, the ball materialized on the other side of Leonard into Owens hands as he tapped in a 13-yard third down conversion. Leonard appeared to applaud the throw and/or the catch. It would've been worthy praise. Owens later caught a lovely 26-yard pass over the middle from redshirt freshman quarterback Bud Martin. Turner said the difference in Martin this year is decision-making.
Lineman of the Night: Any of the ones who didn't get flagged for false starts or offsides. A defensive end being offside, especially on a passing down, is expected once in a while. Defensive tackles? If the ball that's a foot from your face doesn't move, red light. The defensive tackles blew through that hint and a half the way South Florida drivers blow through Stop signs (do drivers these days think Stop signs are sponsored by Publix's BOGO bargains, thus are two for one?). A helpful offensive lineman would give the 5 yards back by flinching or fidgeting.
The first team offensive line had redshirt freshman Chris Miller at Jordan Budwig's left guard spot. Mike Montero took center. Aaron Nielsen got moved back to right tackle. Before that, however, redshirt freshman Kai Absheer worked at right tackle. Junior Edens Sineace did second team duty at right tackle.
Out in the middle of the field, FIU's three first team receivers were Owens and Clinton Taylor with sophomore Dennis Turner moving Taylor to the slot in three-receiver sets. On the goal line, they went with Clinton Taylor, freshman Anthony Jones and Owens. Jones flared right to catch Alex McGough's rollout 1-yard touchdown pass on third and goal after Silas Spearman's two shots from the 2 gained 1-yard, then no yards into defensive tackle Darrian Dyson's bulk. Alex Gardner opened the scrimmage at running back, then Anthon Samuel got some carries before Spearman, senior Lamarq Caldwell and freshman Collin Olsen took the rest of the scrimmage.
The next drive ended with a Men II Boyz How Not to Tackle lesson from senior tight end Akil Dan-Fodio, 6-4, 225, to freshman Jestin Green, 6-0, 175. Green tried to bring Dan-Fodio down by the shoulders as Dan-Fodio collected a Bud Martin pass. Dan-Fodio shrugged like a babysitting older brother and dumped Green over the sidelines, then rumbled into the end zone.
Colimon and Williams on the sideline meant the first unit linebackers were redshirt sophomore Vontarius West, graduated senior Jephete Matilus and sophomore Anthony Wint. Matilus came out of Delray Beach Atlantic as a linebacker, got switched to fullback while at Minnesota, now is a graduate with a year of eligibility left. At least one site ranked West as FIU's best recruit in 2013 when he came out of Bartow as a safety.
"We felt we had depth at safety. We felt (West) had the body type and athleticism to help inside," Turner said. "He was a very aggressive safety and seemed pretty instinctive. Smart kid. We figured, let's take a look at him. He looked pretty good. He's a fast linebacker maybe not quite as fast as a safety that you'd want. Not that he couldn't play safety. He could. He's a very athletic linebacker. He's shown some instincts, reading things, deciphering plays."
You can see why Turner's high on freshman cornerback Emmanuel Lubin who was paired with redshirt freshman Mark Bruno out of Pembroke Pines Flanagan as the second cornerback pair behind Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon. Lubin made some nice breaks on the ball and did something disruptive when he arrived on the scene. You could also see that he's a freshman. The scrimmage ended when freshman Maurice Alexander gave a shoulder fake, Lubin bought it like french fries and freshman Mark Hutchinson raced past Lubin to catch a 37-yard bomb.
Speaking of sold, backup Trey Anderson scored on a nice bootleg run around left end on which the defense was so suckered, only one block needed to be thrown for Anderson in about 20 yards.
As far as punting, Chris Ayers got off a returnable 56-yarder, a returnable 42-yarder and, from 43 yards away, dropped a punt that Deonte Wilson downed at the 2. Freshman Stone Wilson put a 46-yarder out of bounds and booted a 56-yarder rugby style.
That's not the sequel to a Sandra Bullockflick about addiction. That's how many days until the college-affiliated football addiction for FIU fans gets satiated with the season opener against Central Florida.
Until then, there's training camp, more "training" than "camp." And FIU enters this phase with fewer questions than most teams coming off a 4-8 season.
Quarterback? Barring a positive drug test or arrest, neither of which seems likely, that'll be sophomore Alex McGough. Redshirt freshman Bud Martin will try to break up the Alexander monopoly on the quarterback position led by McGough and supplemented by the freshman Alexanders, Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander.
Running back? Senior Anthon Samuel, sophomore Alex Gardner and sophomore Napoleon Maxwell stand above the running back pack.
Tight end? Junior Jonnu Smith (duh) and Ya'Keem Griner or senior Akil Dan-Fodio.
Offensive line: "We've got three starters back we feel good about," FIU coach Ron Turner said. Those would be left tackle Dieugot Joseph, left guard Jordan Budwig (24 for 24 on starts)
"Some other guys have to step up. Whether it's (junior) Edens Sineace, (junior) Trenton Saunders, whoever. I think they will. They did some good things in the spring." Senior Aaron Nielsen will be moved from right tackle, where Turner thought he was out of position, to center.
Defensive line: Seniors Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine on the ends. Redshirt junior Imarjaye Albury and either senior Lars Koht or senior Darrian Dyson as the tackles.
Linebackers: Senior Davison Colimon and sophomore Anthony Wint flanking junior Treyvon Williams.
Safties: Redshirt junior Jordan Davis and sophomore Shemarke Spence, who got time at safety later in the 2014 season. Expect redshirt juinor Deonte Wilson to challenge both.
Cornerbacks: Fifth-year senior Richard Leonard on one side, senior Jeremiah McKinnon covering the Leonard-Free Zone.
Kicker: Junior Austin Taylor's the incumbent, but kickers define "fungible."
Punter: Senior Jose Laphitzondo and see "Kicker."
Notice I left wide receiver off this list. That's where the battles for position and playing time truly lay. And they begin today.
Along with the football summer training camp practice schedule, FIU announced practices would be closed. I'm sure they'll be open via invitation at some point.
Wednesday: 9:05-11:30 a.m.
Thursday-Aug. 10; Aug. 12-17; Aug. 19-22; Aug. 24: 8:05-11:30 a.m.
Aug. 14, 16, 19, 21: Second practice at 7:15-8:30 p.m.
Aug. 11, 18, 23: No practice
FIU got more pledges Friday when Tallahasee Leon safety Damien Crumitie gave his word to Camp Mitch, as did Matt Kramer, Lakeland High defensive end. Crumitie is rated at three stars by 247Sports.com and two stars by Rivals.com. Kramer's unrated by both services.
Look what happens when Ron Turner puts Tim Harris, Jr. on staff at FIU as running backs coach.
Arkansas wanted Central linebacker Donavan Thompson, rated at three stars by Rivals.com, like he was a Waffle House. Offer on the table and everything. But if you play football in that part of town, you know Harris, former coach at Booker T. Washington. So, you give a little more of your ear to the man when he talks to you about FIU. It also doesn't hurt when three very good teammates -- defensive lineman Fermin Silva, cornerback Olin Cushion, wide receiver/running back/offensive nitro Anthony Jones -- head for FIU with the idea of building an annual bowl team.
So, for now, Thompson gave the Heisman pose to Arkansas and the other Power Five schools said to be in pursuit and declared his sort-of commitment to FIU Thursday, as detailed here by David Furones. As Thompson described it, it's more like he and FIU are talking than going steady. As we know, nobody's fully yours until somebody puts a ring on the finger or name on the LOI.
Norland defensive back Bryon Brown pledged FIU earlier in the day. Brown's not rated by any of the recruiting sites yet.
Junior quarterback Jacob Huesman led the Braden River High School offense to 37.1 points per game in a 10-0 regular season in 2014. Huesman, a pro-style quarterback, gave his verbal pledge to FIU for 2016 Tuesday.
He's rated at two stars by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com, not rated by Scout.com and ESPN.com.
FIU cornerback Richard Leonard's working on being faster. And eight Conference USA special teams coaches and offensive coordinators just lost their appetites. Or their lunches.
Leonard's fourth gear already exceeds most players' sixth. But he wants to boost his zoom to any return crease he reaches -- beep! beep! -- six points. All the players at media day talk about getting their team a conference title. There's a sense that runs a little deeper with guys like Leonard, a fifth-year senior, or Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty ("I know I'm not getting a seventh year."), who know this is it for their college careers and maybe their football careers period. That's your CUSA preseason Defensive and Offensive Player of the YEar, coincidentally.
FIU coach Ron Turner feels he's got 100 guys with a team first mentality. Two years ago, he definitely didn't believe that. He thought pockets of selfishness remained last year. That, more than being in the third year with mostly his recruits, makes him optimistic about what this year could be for FIU.
And, yes, he's happy about that $6,000 Cost of Attendance stipend (see last post) for what it allows FIU's athletes to do with the thin slices of life away from class/sport as well as for the possible recruiting advantage.
FAU (vs. FIU, Oct. 31)
Recruiting geeks love the last two classes brought in by FAU coach Charlie Partridge. We'll start finding out if that class can justify that love soon. Partridge said, "Right now, we've got 50 guys we've recruited over the last two years. You're going to see a good portion of them on the field." That's why I picked them under FIU in the East Division.
WESTERN KENTUCKY (at FIU Nov. 21)
By the way, you want to watch Conference USA coaches shiver, have them imagine Jeff Brohm as FAU's head coach with his offensive system, able to recruit South Florida and North Broward Prep's Doughty somehow still at FAU as his quarterback. Doughty threw for 4,830 yards, 49 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions and completed 67.9 percent of this passes. "I really want to expand my game and show I can do a variety of different things. I'm not just a pocket passer and a good system quarterback."
MARSHALL (vs. FIU Nov. 14)
Similar to Leonard and his speed, opposing defenses tended to find Marshall running truck Devon Johnson already big enough. Johnson left 1,767 yards of defenders in ice baths and training rooms last season and averaged 8.6 yards per carry.
Johnson said he's up five pounds to 245 and thinks he's both quicker and faster -- "I think I can break those long runs without getting caught on the 2-yard line."
No accident that the one game Johnson missed via injury turned into Marshall's only loss last year, the 67-66 overtime pinball game with Western Kentucky. He said missing that game bothers him to this day and "my main goal is to be healthy for my team."
LOUISIANA TECH (vs. FIU, Sept. 26)
One reason La Tech's the West Division favorite: quarterback Jeff Driskel, a one-and-done transfer from the University of Florida, to go with a tough defense and running back Kenneth Dixon.
"I think I came into a really good situation," Driskel said. "The guys have always cared about each other, always been a close knit unit. I think I came in and didn't mess anything up. I came in, shut my mouth for a while and showed the guys I was there to work hard. I earned their respect. Everything's been often. No complaints."
Not having to surf the swarming media waves of SEC Media Days left Driskel loose enough to ask a veteran columnist to take a selfie with him (the columnist, an earthbound, AARP-eligible guy who has never taken a selfie in his life, declined).
"Coming out of high school, when you're being recruited heavily, you look at the stuff that has flash," Driskel said. "You look at the facilities, you look at how much money a school has, what they can provide for you. The second time around, when I announced I was going to transfer, I didn't look for that. I looked for, first of all, a place I could play because I've got only one year. I looked for a situation where I thought I could put up some big numbers. Cody Sokol did that last year (3,436 passing yards, 30 touchdowns) and there's a lot of guys coming back on offense. Also, I looked for a place full of good people -- a place where guys worked hard and enjoyed working hard together."
CHARLOTTE (at FIU, Nov. 7)
Charlotte put up a 5-6 2014 record against a schedule of 11 FCS opponents. Now, they've got 11 FBS opponents on their 12-game schedule. A bit of a jump. Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said, "It'll be a jolt to them, I'm sure, in the beginning of the year. But we feel like we've prepared. It's not something that got dropped on us. We knew it."
When I asked Lambert if he would've preferred an easing in to FBS, he said, "In the recruiting process, it's all about the brand that's behind your brand. Conference USA is a really realy good brand. So it enabled us to get in on some kids recruiting-wise the last two years that we might not have been able to get in on. We didn't have a team full of guys we'd recruited to an FCS team. Guys knew where we were and what we were doing."
OLD DOMINION (at FIU, Oct. 24)
Lambert says he expects Charlotte to be stronger on offense next year. I wonder how similar the collegiate East Coast 49ers will be to Old Dominion, shootout specialists during a 6-6, 4-4 in Conference USA, 2014 season. ODU put up 51 in regulation on Western Kentucky and lost 66-51. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke ran that offense the panache of a veteran joystick jockey playing Madden.
Redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley, a two-to-three-star recruit, now handles the Heinicke job.
"When we first started football, we had a brand new quarterback, Thomas DeMarco, and we played to his strengths and went 9-2 in his first year," Monarchs head coach Bobby Wilder said. "Taylor's first year, 2011, we changed the offense to fit around his strengths, we went 10-3 and the second round of the (FCS) playoffs. Shuler, the same thing, we're going to change the offense to fit his strengths.
"The good thing is we've got the conference rookie of the year back at running back (Ray Lawry). We return four starters in the o-line and we got an injured player back, Troy Butler, who was a starter for us two years ago. We've got eight wide receivers back who have started or played and been successful. So, there's a lot around Shuler. It's not as if he's stepping in and the cupboard is bare. He's stepping into a full cupboard."
Hunter Orem lined up in the slot as a wide receiver, in the shotgun as a quarterback and on defense as a free safety last year for Lakeland Lake Gibson. Which is why you can find him listed among the recruiting hawks as a "pro-style quarterback," "dual-threat quarterback" or "athlete."
Whatever he is or will be, the 6-2, 203-pound Orem declared his commitment to FIU Saturday via Twitter. Take a look.
He's not rated by 247Sports, ESPN.com or Rivals.com.
Jacksonville Ed White High cornerback Jadarius Byrd committed to Marshall...then decommitted. He committed to Oregon State...then flipped on Friday.
Now, it's FIU's turn to see if they can keep Byrd under the Richard Pryor number of commitments as Byrd has pledged himself to the Panthers via Twitter.
If he comes, it's a good get for FIU, according to the rankings. 247Sports.com and Scout.com both have Byrd at three stars and as FIU's highest rated recruit. Rivals.com puts him at two. He made the Florida Times-Union's All-First Coast First Team and was described as "a shutdown corner and special teams ace" with four interceptions, a defensive touchdown and four special teams touchdowns.
Former FIU safety Johnathan Cyprien's Cypsquad Celebrity Charity softball game, benefitting Cyprien's foundation that assists at-risk youth, will be 6 p.m. tonight at FIU Baseball Stadium.
The lineup includes former FIU football players Antwan Barnes, Anthony Gaitor and Tourek Williams; former FIU baseball hit streaker Garret Wittels; Dolphins safety Louis Delmas; Minnesota Vikings quarterback and Northwestern High graduate Teddy Bridgewater and a host of others. Tickets still available here.
Meanwhile, after FIU's camps, they've gotten a run of verbal commits for next season.
South Dade running back Jawon Hamilton, 5-10, 185, not rated by any of the major recruiting sites
Tampa Bay Tech safety Isaiah Brown, 6-1, 185, three stars by 247Sports, not rated by other sites.
Lake Nona wide receiver Ulice Gillard, 6-1, 190, not rated by the major recruiting sites
Tampa Countryside guard/tackle Wyatt Panaccione, 6-5, 280, not rated by the major recruiting sites
Year Three, time to see. Time to see progress that can be spotted at a glance. Time to see recruiting significantly improve as relationships develop. Time to see a foundation for the future formed by a consistent way of doing things.
That's where both football coach Ron Turner and men's basketball coach Anthony Evans find themselves in 2015. Turner's recruiting class looks like an improvement over 2014, at least at the highest end, but we'll see when the pads start popping. Evans announced his third class last week, three freshmen and three junior college players.
I stopped by Evans' office to talk to him about what he expected from each of them.
Guard Donte McGill, 6-3, 185, Phoenixville (Pa) Mont Clare Academy, Goldey-Beacom College, Vincennes University -- "Coming from Vincennes, been in a winning program. I think he can help us offensively. Definitely losing Dennis, we tried to bring in some guys who could help us scoring-wise and I think he's one of them who can give us some points. Really good in transition, Nice mid-range game. Shot 38 percent from 3-point range."
Forward Elmo Stephens, 6-7, 200 (somebody feed this young man before they lose him through a shower drain), Auburndale High, Tallahassee Community College -- "Good player, really good three-point shooter. Definitely someone who can spread the floor. When 6-10 Adrian (Diaz) is being double-teamed, he'll be able to knock down shots and create his own shot. Another person we're looking to give us some offensive punch."
Forward Cam Smith, 6-7, 210, Tallahassee Leon, Tallahassee Community College -- "Really coming into his own. He blew out his knee coming out of high school. Sat out the year before, then played last year. He's got a ton of talent. Definitely someone I feel can come in and give us a contribution in points, rebounding, defensively, to go along with helping Adrian and Daviyon (Draper) and those guys out."
Now, to the freshmen. "Those guys, obviously, we want them to come along. I don't know how quicly that'll happen. All three will come in and contribute. We know they're freshmen and they will go through their ups and downs."
Forward Michael Douglas, 6-5, 190, Sachse (Tex) High School -- "More of a shooter, really athletic."
Forward Eric Turner, 6-5, 193, The Villages Charter High School -- "Averaged 24.0 points per game in 2013-14. He's a scorer. Can get to the basket, shoots the three. Very athletic. Was recruiting by some high major schools, so it was a great addition for us."
Guard Kimar Williams, 6-1, Philadelphia Constitution High -- "Philly Public League Player of the Year. He just brings that toughness. He played in a really good league."
I asked Evans how he got such a player out of the Philadelphia are to come to FIU. Evans smiled, "Relationships."
He explained Constitution High coach Rob Moore coached at Bodine High School when Pendarvis Williams (no relation to Kimar) went to play for Evans at Norfolk State. McGill's from Newark, Delaware, about 45 miles from Philly.
Three of the six being from junior colleges prompted me to ask Evans if the percentages of junior college recruits to freshmen will drop from 50 percent.
"I think the thought with it is sustain, at this point and bring in guys who can help us with immediate needs," Evans said. "Obviously, we brought in three freshmen who we feel we can build on. That's what we like to do. When they're juniors, we should be able to bring in freshmen and continue. Junior college will always be an option. Not that it'll be a 50-50 thing. When there's a need, we will go out and recruit."
Evans didn't say what follows on the record or indicate it privately. No one representing Evans said this. But, you don't have to be a a real-life Sheldon Cooper to do the math:
FIU's not a destination job for a young coach with a still-mobile family. Few so-called mid-major jobs are destination jobs. Most are springboard jobs -- you're on the board for a few years, then either get propelled upward to a head coaching job with a fatter budgeted program or or you splash back down into being an assistant.
All you need to get a positive bounce off the board one or two seasons of unexpected winning basketball. Your name gets hotter than a Warren Buffet stock tip. A job opens up, you're on it with the inside track. That's what happened when Richard Pitino left FIU in 2013 after one 18-15 season for a $1.2 million per year job at the University of Minnesota. That same year, Andy Enfield went from Florida Gulf Coast to USC (the one in LA) after two seasons as a college head coach and one trip to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 15 seed.
So why not play heavily in JuCo land? Few places give the coach the benefit of time to build a program anyway. Might as well try to build a winner quickly, then hope an opportunity opens to do a George and Weezy.
Forgot to add late night...
Tampa Gaither High's Shane McGough, brother of FIU sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, announced his verbal commitment to FIU via social media. Shane plays on both the offensive and defensive lines, 6-2, 265, and is unrated by any of the recruiting sites we usually quote.
Punter/quarterback Luke Medlock came out of spring fourth at best on the quarterback depth chart behind sophomore Alex McGough, freshman Christian Alexander and redshirt freshman Bud Martin, who looks about 73 times better than he did a year ago. Former Homestead and Booker T. Washington quarterback Maurice Alexander expects to compete for a job, too, when he arrives in August.
Nobody who threw a pass for Fordham in 2014 remains on the 2015 roster. That's where Medlock landed as a transfer, the school announced Wednesday. Sam Medlock, a long-snapper, remains on the roster. Senior Jake Medlock, also a quarterback, transferred to Valdosta State for his senior year, 2014.
Jacksonville First Coast has an offensive guard who is 6-3, 285 with the last name Connell. Funny enough, they have a 6-3, 285-pound center with the same surname.
Two peas in a pod -- or, more accurately, one pea split in two -- guard/tackle Dallas Connell and identical twin center/defensive tackle Douglas Connell continue their close relationship by both committing to FIU, as announced Thursday via Twitter.
Of course, this reminded us of...
Junior Meghan MacLaren needs a top three finish in the NCAA Regional out in Utah to advance to the NCAA Championship, May 22-27 over in Bradenton. After the first of three rounds, MacLaren sits fourth, 1-over 72, four shots back of leader Pauline Loulier of Cal.
The overemphasis on athletics in the black community is an overall chronic illness debilitating all of society. Yet the repetition of a message appropriate for all allows even people like me to enjoy the whole Signing Day production at Booker T. Washington High guilt free. The message: this is just a start, an opportunity. Don't just go to college, graduate from college, prepare for life and helping your community.
This wasn't just said once or twice. But over. And over. And over. To the point that if you don't get it, you were never going to get it.
Something else struck me that points up the hypocrisy in college-affiliated football at the FBS level. Coaches love to talk about the "character" of their signees who stayed with long ago commitments, but have no problem trying to get somebody else's long-committed player to flip.
What if National Signing Day got spread over two days, the first day for Group of 5 conferences and the second day for Power 5 schools? Just thinking about getting some of the attention-hogging behemoths out of the way so the schools with less of a football tradition can get more attention. Today's FIU afternoon Signing Day media session consisted of me, FIU Student Media, FIU News and one Channel 4 cameraman/reporter.
Why can no CD or digital recording of The Temptations' "Ball of Confusion" duplicate the sound mixing of the 45 with the horns really blasting on the bridges? (I didn't say all the thoughts were about Signing Day...)
Now, to FIU's class...anybody who has read this space through any of the three Signing Days since I took over the lease knows I'll quote recruiting rankings, but that's it. If you want somebody to sing you gospel, go to Mahalia Jackson or James Cleveland, not Rivals.com. These are 17 and 18-year-olds. It's why the drafts in Major League Baseball and the NHL have a higher bust quotient than the NBA and NFL.
All day, media peers said to me, "FIU's really got a nice class coming together" and I agreed. When I saw some of the signees in action during the high school season, they made me look up their names. They lost Ocie Rose -- a flip two different people told me might happen, one of whom texted "Blame Miami. They took James King from FAU" -- but got Kenyatta Anderson, who is almost as highly rated. An even trade based on that.
FIU needed more vintage South Florida zoom on offense. Central's omnithreat Anthony Jones provides that better than anyone else out of Dade County in this class. Austin Maloney can move chains and the scoreboard. Olin Cushion reminds me a little of Richard Leonard, with a 3.7 engine instead of a 5.0 -- not the biggest cornerback, but one you'd just as soon avoid altogether. I can't judge how high school linemen can translate to college. I watched one game of Deion Eakins' and thought "Big, but what else?" for a quarter. Later, I found myself saying to the television, "Y'all need to run behind him more, he's moving something over there in the run game. And his pass rushers might as well just stand there after the snap because they look like Toyotas caught in a snow drift."
So, I don't understand the 97th conference rating and seventh rating by C-USA. I don't understand 108 and 8 ratings from Scout.com, except that they didn't give FIU credit for Anderson. Rivals.com annually possesses the most Panther love and ranked the class No. 88 and No. 8 in conference.
As South Park Johnnie Cochran said in laying out the Chewbacca Defense, "It does not make sense."
Nor does it matter. The players I heard the most staff excitement about in FIU's highest-rated recruiting class, 2012 -- just-get-him-the-ball Johnnie Durante, Signing Day linebacker flip Patrick Jean, defensive tackle Darrian Dyson -- have gone strike one, strike two, foul tip. Except for the defensive backs, the 2013 class would've gotten more respect if they'd been 16 Poindexters and a Sheldon. Yet one of those defensive backs never made it to campus while tight end Jonnu Smith's one of the best in the country at his job; guard Jordan Budwig is 24 of 24 on starts; and middle linebacker Treyvon Williams anchors FIU's best unit.
So, check back in three years for a more accurate slotting.
Christian Alexander, quarterback, 6-3, 205, Lakeland Christian Varsity. Three/two stars by 247Sports.com, three stars by Scout.com, two stars by Rivals.com
Andrew Jones, wide receiver/running back, 6-0, 190, Central. Three stars by 247Sports, two stars by Rivals.com and Scout.com. Strong in this one the Hilton Force could be.
Fermin Silva, outside linebacker, 6-2, 225, Central. Three stars by 247Sports, three stars by Scout.com, two stars by Rivals.com. Anybody else think in a few years, FIU's linebackers could be the Marshall-Singletary-Mama's Boy Otis of Conference USA?
Neal Mars, offensive lineman, 6-3, 270, Orange Park Fleming Island. Two stars by 247 Sports and Rivals
Collin Olsen, running back, 6-1, 225, Port Orange Spruce Creek. Two stars by 247 Sports and Rivals.
Mark Hutchinson, wide receiver, Zephyrhills Wiregrass Ranch, 6-2, 205. Two stars by 247Sports and Rivals. A chain mover, similar to Ellingson.
Mac Carey, tight end, Tallahassee Leon, 6-1, 231, two stars by 247Sports and Rivals
Jestin Green, defensive back/wide receiver, St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut Academy 6-2, 180, two stars by 247Sports and Rivals
Milord Juste, defensive end, Palm Beach Gardens, 6-0, 240, two/three stars by 247Sports, two stars by Rivals
Julian Williams, WR, 6-0, 185, Georgia Military Prep, two stars by 247Sports and Rivals
Andrew Burgess, OL, 6-6, 300, Neptune Beach Fletcher, two stars by 247Sports and Rivals
Deion Eakins, OL, 6-3, 315, Jacksonville Trinity Christian, two stars by 247Sports and Rivals
Sage Lewis, LB, Monsignor Edward Paace High, 6-1, 210, two/three stars by 247Sports and two stars by Rivals
R.J. Harris, OL, Tallahassee North Florida Christian, 6-3, 260, three/two stars by 247Sports and two stars by Rivals
Emmanuel Lubin, CB, North Miami Beach, 6-1, 170, three stars by 247Sports and two stars by Rivals
Maurice Alexander, QB, Booker T Washington, 5-11, 170, two/three stars by 247Sports and two stars by Rivals. He makes good choices and I like his accuracy. I still need to watch a couple of Booker T. games I've got on the DVR.
Olin Cushion, DB, Central, 5-8, 160, two stars by 247Sports and Rivals. Watched Central a few times and apparently those opponents decided this was not the man to mess with because I didn't see much of him in pass coverage. Opponents threw at the other side of the field. He played bigger than his measurables in run support.
Terry Bennett, RB, Jacksonville Atlantic Coast, 6-0, 205, three stars by 247Sports, two stars by Rivals.
Austin Maloney, WR, Columbus, 5-11, 180, two stars by 247Sports and Rivals. I said it on the Herald video and I'll say it here -- if he came with darker skin, he'd have been at least a whole star rating higher. Strong, nice technique for a high school receiver with enough speed to beat you deep without you being asleep.
Kenyatta Anderson, CB, Gulfport Boca Ciega, 6-1, 170, rated two stars by 247Sports, three stars by Rivals, three stars by Scout.com
Tyree Johnson, DB, Carol City, 5-9, 165, two stars by 247Sports and Rivals. Originally part of the 2014 class, gray-shirted last year.