January 12, 2014

Next Spence headed to FIU?

According to a Tweet from former Northwestern coach Stephen Field, now the coach at Citra North Marion High, Northwestern defensive back Shermarke Spence has committed to FIU. Spence wasn't rated by 247sports, ESPN.com (but that site lists him erroneously at only 5-6and at two stars by Rivals.com, which has done the opposite of some recruiting sites and boosted a recruit's rating after he commits to FIU.

He's the younger brother of former University of Miami player Sean Spence.

January 06, 2014

All State Commits

The Associated Press Florida All-State high school teams came out over the weekend. They included a few FIU commits.

Plant City defensive end John Broome (no, not THAT one) made the Class 7A First Team and Booker T Washington offensive lineman Jordan Ingraham got onto the 4A First Team. Frostproof defensive back Jarviel Hart made 3A First Team. Tampa Tech linebacker Fred Russ is on the 7A Second Team

Hialeah running back Henry Bussey, Flanagan defensive back Mark Bruno both were among the 8A honorable mentions. Largo wide receiver Raheem Harvey's a 6A honorable mention.

November 30, 2013

A few thoughts on FAU 21, FIU 6

"Yes, I will be here next year. I will be here next year," redshirt junior quarterback Jake Medlock said when I asked him directly about 2014.

I'd heard from three different places that Medlock was leaning toward transferring. I asked him if ever considered transferring.

"No. I can't leave these guys. I came in here with David (Delsoin), Donald (Senat), Jordan (White), Greg (Hickman) and all of them. They're my boys. They always have been since Day 1 and always will be until the day I die."

Medlock left FAU Stadium the same way he left it last year -- resembling a health insurance advertisement. The finger he broke on his throwing hand hasn't healed. The shoulder injury he suffered last year at FAU still isn't right. And he's got messed up ribs after spending too much of the evening under FAU's pass rush.

Medlock also could've been leaving as the winning quarterback again without receivers dropping touchdown passes like they were last year's team GPA. Those plays -- T.J. Lowder had two, Rockey Vann had one, Dominque Rhymes dropped an underthrown (but still on the numbers) end around bomb -- demonstrate the difference between speed guys/athletes and speed receivers/athletic receivers. Lowder might want to spend the offseason cuddling up with the Juggs machine. While praising his effort two weeks ago, before Lowder dribbled a slant with room to run against Marshall, Turner did say Lowder had some drops at UTEP. 

FIU actually did an OK job on FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson's running. Johnson broke out for a 17-yarder, but based on FIU's previous failures at containing run-first quarterbacks, 64 yards on 17 carries isn't bad.

FAU worked the play action game, however, and that's been a problem for FIU all season. Here's where not having Richard Leonard and Sam Miller, who was injured for what would've been his final game, on the corners hurt the Panthers. Without those two, you had Randy Harvey, who got targeted as the season went along; Brad Hyman-Muhammad, a freshman walk-on; and Jeremiah McKinnon, whose status fluctuated throughout the season because of off-field problems. Besides, on the field, McKinnon's often on the scene yet essentially a bystander. He doesn't take away the ball or the man. Maybe with a full season playing and practicing, he'll develop into the kind of playmaking cornerback you sense sits somewhere inside him.

Kicker Austin Taylor got his first true too-deep-to-return touchbacks of the season. 

By the way, Turner didn't sound like a man planning on going anywhere other than recruiting and doing some season wrapup stuff. I do think he was surprised at the way things work -- or don't -- at FIU. I also think he wants to see what he can do with a full offseason, a staff that he isn't cobbling together in a rush (which, frankly, seems to be The FIU Way considering the timing on athletic department decisions) and a full season of recruiting. Also, as I wrote earlier, I don't see his NFL options extending much beyond his family and if he leaves here, he's got to pony up a year's salary. That'll come out of his pocket. Just because NFL franchises print money doesn't mean tbey're into dishing out $500,000 just to free up a quarterbacks coach.



November 25, 2013

The Status of Marita and McBeath

While the Naismith Award folks name Jerica Coley to their Early Season Watch List on the women's side, the FIU Compliance folks seem to have trouble figuring out whether or not the women's basketball team's second best player, Marita Davydova, is eligible to play.

Here's the statement I received from FIU's non-sports media relations:

"FIU's Athletics Compliance Office identified a potential question regarding women’s basketball student athlete Marita Davydova’s eligibility status. At the time, the University took the proactive step of withholding Marita from further intercollegiate competition until her eligibility status could be confirmed. Based on the information present at this time, it appears that Marita will be eligible to represent the university in intercollegiate basketball competition pending ultimate approval of the NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement staff. Given that the issue involves the eligibility status of a currently enrolled student-athlete, there are no further details that we can provide."

Hold on NCAA Reinstatement staff? To be reinstated, you have to be booted. And why should her eligiblity status be a question now? Shouldn't this have been cleared up long ago? She didn't just get here. She was a Third Team all-conference center last year. 

Then again, why should the eligibility of a point guard who has been on your campus over a year and a half be an issue (Ray Taylor)? Either he is eligible or he isn't. And, if he isn't, why was he given a scholarship the last two years?

Sounds like Compliance needs to get into compliance with its job description.


Columbus linebacker Nick McBeath decommitted from FIU, he announced via Twitter Monday night. McBeath's got several other options and might head for a school with a stronger academic reputation (don't jump down my throat. For the many good things happening academically, let's not act like FIU's Stanford-by-the-Turnpike).



November 23, 2013

Gameday XI: Not Kane, Dillon nor George Preston...

Before I get to why today's game against Marshall reminded me of lines from two 1970s sequels, Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Let's Do It Again, here's some stuff I didn't have room for in The Herald advance story.

When I asked senior defensive tackle Isame Faciane for his favorite FIU Stadium moment, he actually didn't bring up his 51-yard fumble return touchdown against Central Florida in 2011. I did. I found it interesting he didn't immediately go to that moment when he scooped up a fumble and outraced a UCF lineman so badly, the guy pulled up around the 20. That play tied the game 7-7 with a few seconds left in the first half in front of a packed house and turned the momentum in a 17-10 win that pushed FIU to 3-0.

Faciane laughed, "That was my highlight moment. That took the cake. I think I went deaf running that play. All I heard instead of (breathy crowd noise imitation we all do) was "eeeee," like a straight ringing. I was so out of breath, I couldn't even celebrate right. They tackled me before I got to the sideline."

When I asked Sam Miller, the son of a Sam Miller who'd been coaching high school football a long time when the senior cornerback was born, the most important thing he learned, he said “As a freshman, get your priorities straight. Have everything in line in life. Everything doesn’t revolve around football. I had to see a bigger picture, not just with my work ethic with football, but with life and the classroom.”

I asked defensive tackle Greg Hickman how he's grown the most during his four years at FIU.

"I think I became more coachable. Very coachable," Hickman answered. "My leadership skills...I didn't have the good people skills growing up." He smiled, "Here, I was not "The Man" anymore, I have to fit in and do my job like everybody else."

When I asked him about playing with his injured ankle, a flawed load-bearing piece of the body, Hickman said, "I think I would’ve sat down for a game or two if I had the time to waste. But this is my senior year, when every down matters. I have a dream and a goal that I want to accomplish, so being hurt isn’t an excuse.”

The NFL's a possible future for Hickman and Faciane. Not so for fifth-year senior middle linebacker Markeith Russell. Russell doesn't have NFL size, speed, quickness or instincts. He's got an NFL heart and persistence that'll serve him well in the white collar world he'll soon enter. Each game, he's having to be helped off the field two or three times, ground down by being in the middle of a defense on the field too often even before factoring in the lack of depth.

"When I see a guy do that, he goes down and two or three plays later, he's back, I'm a ltitle suspicious," FIU coach Ron Turner said. "I don't like that stuff. In his case, it's legit. He's legitimately hurt. He probably should not go back in, but he's going back in. In a lot of cases, you're 1-8, those are "1-8 injuries." Not with him. He couldn't even walk to get to the plane. To get through security to the plane (after the UTEP loss last week), it took him 10 minutes. He couldn't walk. His body is a mess. He's out here today. He'll be out there Saturday giving it everything he's got."

I wrote earlier in the season and I'll say it again now -- this team's losses aren't about effort. They're trying. And, as much as I love to question play-calling and conceptual approach, as much as I still question whether this entire coaching staff fits in South Florida, no college coaching staff could've gotten more than three wins from this roster. Not Nick Saban's Alabama staff. Not Bo Schembechler's staffs at Michigan. Not Woody Hayes staffs at Ohio State. Not the staff at Miami of Ohio with Bo Schembechler working under Woody Hayes. Not the 1994 Cleveland Browns staff with Bill Belichick, Nick Saban and Kirk Ferentz.

This was a roster stripped down by losing 30 seniors from last year, stripped down further by academic issues in play before the staff got here then supplemented by one of the lowest rated recruiting classes in the nation (for what those ratings are worth -- some of the best contributors are freshmen). Even before you install completely new offensive and defensive systems, what do you expect?

Which brings me to this game and a scene from Let's Do It Again. Jimmie Walker's gawky, ectomorphic boxer Bootney Farnsworth, days from facing muscular punching machine 40th Street Black for the title, asks his manager what's going to happen.

"He's going to beat your brains in, kid."

This defense would be hard pressed to hold Marshall under the speed limit when fresh. Quarterback Rakeem Cato averages 7.9 yards per attempt. Their top three rushers this season average 5.2, 9.4 and 5.5 yards per carry. Wide receiver Tommy Shuler catches one of every three Cato completions. He's the possession guy. The next two top receivers, Devon Smith and Gator Hoskins, average 18.9 and 16.3 yards per catch, respectively.

That's a team breaking off Bunyonesque chunks of yardage. Last week, Marshall lost the turnover fight to Tulsa, 5-1. The Herd still rampaged for 619 yards of offense and 45 points.

Anybody expect FIU's offense, which could be quarterbacked by both Jake Medlock and E.J. HIlliard Saturday and ranks dead last in the nation, to keep up with that? Didn't think so.

That brings me to the Bad News Bears in Breaking Training line. After scouting the Houston team they're about to face in the Astrodome, a Bears player tells William Devane's Mike Leak, "I'd say pray for rain, but we're playing indoors."

Which is FIU's chance of staying in this game. A rainy evening won't help the crowd (will anything?) but if you're hoping for a miracle, the first thing you hope for is bad weather. That's slips, drops, fumbles, turnovers, a randomness that injects more chance into the game. It also tends to dampen scorching hot offenses.

Or not. The famous Doug Flutie Hail Mary ended a rain-soaked shootout at the Orange Bowl.

The line's 33. The over/under has dropped to 54. I'm thinking Marshall can't wait to rest players with a big game against East Carolina coming up next week, especially if the field's bad.

42-10, Marshall. But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.


November 21, 2013

Looking for BAM!

Not to be confused with Bamm-Bamm.

The Comments section buzzes with arguments about  next year's recruiting class. Rivals.com indeed has FIU rated 65th in the nation, tied with Rice for first in Conference USA based on verbal commits. 247sports.com, which has former Rivals.com writer/analyst Chris Nee, ranks FIU at No. 83 overall and fifth in Conference USA.

Truth is, the 50 years past deal in Dealey Plaza is less a mystery than ranking recruits, recruiting classes and especially recruiting classes based on verbal commits. Kids can change their minds on Signing Day. Kids can lose their minds once they get away from home. The light goes on for one young man, the fire burns out in another. Johnathan Cyprien, T.Y. Hilton and Tourek Williams, two star guys entering FIU, start in the NFL. Larvez Mars and Willis Wright, FIU's four-star recruits, crashed.

FIU's offensive skill position commits, however, demonstrate one certainty: the Panthers need for nitro.

FIU's got fast guys. Speed, however, doesn't always add up to in-game explosiveness. The Panthers don't get cheap touchdowns the way they did last year with Wright and Glenn Coleman off play action passes, in 2011 from Kedrick Rhodes or 2008-2011 from Hilton. Fault scheme, fault quarterbacks who've spent the season struggling, but also fault a lack of true playmaking ability at the running back and wide receiver positions.

(It's worth noting here that the player known as The Playmaker, Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, wasn't a speed guy even at the University of Miami yet averaged 16.9 per catch there and went on to average 15.9 yards a catch as a No. 1 possesion guy in the NFL)

Hialeah running back Henry Bussey, averaging 10 yards a pop, was discussed in an earlier post. Javonte Seabury, the Orlando Timber Creek High wide receiver/running back/free safety, is a 20 yards per catch guy. 


Jarviel Hart, a Frostproof wide receiver, gained 331 yards (23.6 per catch) and scored five touchdowns on only 14 catches and ran for 146 yards on only 13 carries (11.2 per carry).

The numbers for one of FIU's commits, quarterback Alex McGeough, fell off drastically this year: 47.3 completion percentage after 57.3 in 2012, 979 yards after 1,541, a 5/4 touchdown interception ratio after 20/4. McGeough had a reason. Aside from him, the only offensive starter returning was a lineman.

Jacksonville Fletcher quarterback Luke Medlock, current FIU quarterback Jake Medlock's brother, wasn't a high percentage thrower -- 42.2 percent, 62 of 147 -- but threw for 1,347 yards and 14 touchdowns against six interceptions. It's not uncommon for high school quarterbacks to punt also, but the Medlocks do it to a next stage starter level. Luke was the Class 8A-7A Second Team All-State punter in 2012. This year, Luke averaged 36.0 yards per punt with a long of 53.

Luke, Jake or both could wind up being this generation's Tom Blanchard or Tom Tupa, college quarterbacks who went on to good NFL careers as punters.




November 15, 2013

Beach, Ball, Buckles & Bussey

The hanging drummers present Thursday won't be there every night. FIU contracted with Galaxy Entertainment only for Thursday night's home opener, the 85-39 waxing of Florida College. Galaxy provided the drummers and the scaffold from which they sat in harnesses. Check out my Twitter feed, http://www.twitter.com/DavidJNeal, for photos of the drummers, the cabanas, etc.

"We've done it everywehre from amusement parks, bar mitzvahs, any kind of party," said David Parente, who hung and drummed along with Sean Woods before the game and during halftime. "Any place they'll have us, we'll do it."

Is the whole shebang as overdone as the name "Lime Court at U.S. Century Bank Arena?" Sure. And I'm OK with that.

(By the way, "Lime Court..." A Mexican restaurant chain founded by a white guy, who sold it to a restaurant company named after a British rock band's hit song, gets its name put the basketball court of a university largely identified with the Cuban-American community. Add in a black person somewhere and it's the epitome of diversity, Miami-style.)

Sophomore Jerome Frink said it'll be a while before he gets used to the courtside cabanas. Both he and Rakeem Buckles felt the team got too distracted by what FIU head coach Anthony Evans called a "festive" atmosphere. Once they started rolling Florida College at 10-0, the Panthers tried to be as flashy as the show around them. Didn't work.

Evans said he was fine with it -- "We're in Miami. So, sometimes, you have to do things that kind of stand out. I guess we did that" -- but he always comes off as the kind of guy who thinks including Crunch Berries ruins Cap'n Crunch. I think he'll be happier Saturday 

He's definitely a man-to-man defense kind of guy.

"I've always been a man-to-man coach," Evans said. "But it seems like they play well in the zone. It seems like I'm going to have to shift it a little until we can become a better man-to-man team. I don't like to play a lot of zone, but if we're good at it, then we're going to continue to play it."

Thursday, FIU went to a zone late in the first half when they took over the game. 

"I thought when the younger guys came off the bench, they really gave us a boost with their athleticism and their length because it gave them problems in the zone," Evans said. "Once they started missing shots, we wre able to take the ball in transition and get some layups." 

I asked Buckles, once again the team's leading scorer, if he's surprised with what he's been able to do so far. He replied, "No, I feel like I should be doing it. I'm 23 years old, this is my fifth year in college (basketball). I had lofty goals for myself, so I'm happy with the way I'm playing...it's expected, let's put it like that."

Evans said, "I'm very impressed with Rakeem. With everything he's gone through, he still has a true passion for the game," Evans said. "I really didn't know what we were going to get because he hasn't played basketball in two years. Once we started practicing, you could see he was trying to work the rust off. The first game, he was still trying to work the rust off, get into game shape. Then, he started getting into a rhythm. That's what you see now."

 As for what they think of the team after five games, Frink said, "I think we're more talented than last year's team, we just have to get everything together, combine our talents and be unselfish."

Buckles assented: "It's going to take a while. Hopefully, we get it quickly. We're not the team that we should be right now, we'll say that."


I Tweeted at Herald high school sports scribe Andre Fernandez while he was covering tonight's Coral Gables-Hialeah game "How's Henry Bussey look?" He answered, "Legit fast. Speed back."

By that point, Bussey already had exploded for an 85-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage. He finished with 141 yards on 10 carries, so he averaged 6.2 yards per carry on his other nine carries. That ended his season with 1344 yards and 19 touchdowns on just 133 carries (10.1 yards a pop). He also caught eight passes for 199 yards (24.9 yards per catch) and two touchdowns.

That's the kind of explosiveness FIU needs in its offense. It'll be interesting if Bussey can bring that combustibility to college.

November 13, 2013

Just another tricky day at La Cage

FIU coach Ron Turner said after two games starting sophomore quarterback E.J. Hilliard, he's going back to redshirt junior Jake Medlock for this week's game at Texas-El Paso.

When I asked Turner if the decision's different had other players not left 17 points on the field at Middle Tennessee State and it's still a game early in the second half, he said he made the decision on Hilliard's whole body of work. He was especially ticked that, according to him, the first three plays were scripted and Hilliard made mistakes on all three.

Medlock said he reacted to the first benching of his high school or college career with anger at himself for how he'd been playing. He specifically mentioned the Southern Mississippi safety, saying he should've kicked the ball out of the end zone instead of picking it up, trying to throw and getting knocked out of the game.

Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Derrick Jones Jr. was on crutches Wednesday. Expect Davison Colimon to start there.


For what it's worth...an observer who's at most of the big high school games in Dade and Broward County (that don't run simultaneously -- he's not from Cargg) said he's seen coaches from all the other FBS football schools in the state more than he's seen from FIU. In fact, he estimates seen former FIU offensive line coach Alex Mirabal, now at Marshall, as often or more often at games than current FIU coaches.

FIU's a six-point underdog.


November 07, 2013

October 21, 2013

Henry Bussey commits (maybe)



Dennis Marroquin, Florida Fire 7-on-7 head coach, Tweeted tonight that Fire member and Hialeah High running back Henry Bussey has committed to FIU. That Bussey himself didn't tweet it causes the caveat at the end of the headline.

The 5-8, 170-pound running back is rated at three stars by 247sports.com's composite rating of several services, two stars by Rivals.com and is unrated by ESPN, Scout.com and 247sports.com itself.

October 18, 2013

October 16, 2013

No Lalonde, but very newsy day at Camp Mitch

Sheesh, come back from pseudo-vacation and the news showers down...

That men's soccer goalie Robin Spiegel, last year's Conference USA All-Freshman goalie after starting every game for FIU, was even available to do some kicking for the football team after Tuesday's practice might say more about his status with his first sport. After all, men's soccer is on a road trip now, which means a Spiegel healthy enough to kick for FIU coach Ron Turner was left home.

Turner said neither Spiegel or the FIU student who kicked with him, would join the team this year but might in the spring. Longtime FIU folks will recall that Karl Kremser, who built the FIU soccer program into a national power, also was a German native who did football placekicking.

As for this year, Turner said he wasn't happy that FIU was the only team in Conference USA without a touchback on kickoffs but he did have confidence in freshman Austin Taylor on field goals. FIU averages 52.6 yards of length per kickoff, exactly five yards fewer than opponents and 32.4 yards net kicking average, 7.9 yards less than opponents.

Turner said FIU's punting frustrated him more than the kicking because that's killing FIU in field position. Redshirt freshman Chris Ayers averages 35.0 yards per punt with one punt over 50 yards. FIU's 12th in net punting among the 14 C-USA schools and 14th in gross punting.

Also, about that scoreboard going Superdome lights late in Saturday's game, FIU assistant athletic director for facilities and operations Wes Hardin e-mailed me, "the transmitter that wirelessly sends signal from the controller to the board malfunctioned on Saturday night. It was unrelated to the issues we experienced during the UCF game and is something that we have been able to remedy."

FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said $150,000 to $200,000 of new equipment is coming for the four-year-old scoreboard.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Fred Porter is now on scholarship.

The new bowl at Marlins Park will be the Miami Beach Bowl.

October 05, 2013

The Ron Turner Overflow

As I did with the preseason Q&A sitdown with Ron Turner, here's some of what didn't make the paper.

A couple of things I found interesting: his "there were a few things I didn't know" points to his surprise at the way things are done at FIU. Sometimes, the school works like a regular Division I athletic department. Other times, it's like Daffy Duck playing Duck Dodgers or The Scarlet Pumpernickel -- knowing how to don the trappings of what they want to be, but not knowing how to actually be it.



And to the question of how recruiting South Florida was going, he talked about getting to know the South Florida coaches after the season. Maybe I'm ignorant to all a head coach has on his plate from January through June, but that would've been something I would've been doing five seconds into the job.

Anyway, here's some of what made the paper mixed in with some of what did.

Q: When you looked at the roster in the spring and summer did you foresee the first four games going the way they have?

A: “No. I knew we were going to be very young, I knew we were going to be very raw, I knew it was going to take a while to get everything to jell. But I didn’t foresee that some of the guys who aren’t with us wouldn’t be with us. How much of a difference that would make, I don’t know. If they’re not going to win off the field and do what they’re supposed to do, you can’t count on them on the field.
If guys aren’t going to class, not doing what they’re supposed to do, get suspended for disciplinary reasons, they’re not going to help us win on the field because come the fourth quarter, end of the game, they’re going to let you down. I’m a very firm believer in that. In the first meeting, I told them
that, “Guys there’s no such thing as being on a winner on the field only. You’re a winner in everything you do. You treat people the right way, you do the right things, you go to class, you’re accountable to everybody. When you do that off the ifeld, you have a chance to win on the field.""

"If you have two or three guys who aren’t doing it off the field, maybe they get absorbed in with the rest of the guys. Those guys can carry them and you can win. You’ve got 20 or 30 guys doing that. You have zero chance of winning. We’re probably better off they’re not out there with us, to be honest with you because all they would do is let us down, even though they’re talented. But it takes more than talent to be a great player and to be a winner. Everyone has some of that on the team. We had way too much. And that’s what we’re getting corrected. By changing the culture and recruiting different type of kids…who are still good football players.

"I’ve got to force myself to not spend so much time on the ones not doing what we want them to do, get them out of here and focus on the guys who are…look at 8, 99, 22, 55, 39 and, yes, I do know their names – and 32 and 21, defensively and 46. 98 has stepped in and backing up at both positions, guys playing their hearts out. Playing well, playing good football in a lot of cases. Then, you look on
offense, 50 and 59, who haven’t played much football, but are trying to step in and be the leaders. They’re doing a great job. 66, formerly known as 65, is playing left guard as a true freshman. Should not be playing, but he’s playing, giving us all he’s got. 87…80 – 80 was right on the edge of being one of those guys who wasn’t going to be here. And he has bought in 100 percent and he’s been playing well the last couplf of games. You look at 17 playing his heart out. We’ve got a lot of guys doing that – 36, 12 and 13…a lot of guys I really love on this team who are great kids, doing everything we ask them to do. Are they perfect? No. I’m not perfect, nobody is. But they’re doing what we ask
them to do. They’re 100 percent buying in. That’s why I’m excited to be here. That’s why I’m excited about the future.

"Everyone wants to write about the negatives – 72-0 and all that. I guess I can’t blame them. I get calls on it, too. But I know what we’re building and I know where we’re going. I know we’ve got a lot of kids on here that can get us there and a lot of kids coming in who can get us there. Is it frustrating at times? Absolutely. Nobody likes to get their heads bashed in 72-0. I was at Illinois, we played Ohio State, at home, at our place (in 1998). I don’t know exactly what the score was, it was (41-0), two minutes to go. They’ve got the ball on the 40-yard line, throwing into the end zone – incomplete -- trying to get more because they’re No. 1 in the country, I believe, and they wanted to keep it.
The next year, we went in there and beat their ass (46-20), the biggest defeat they’ve had in (Ohio Stadium) I believe, it still stands…We went in with the same kids and some new ones. We get the ball with two and a half minutes to go with a (46-20) lead at the 40-ayrd-line, same exact scenario they had. We ran the ball, then we took a knee. Guys on the sideline were like “Throw it! Throw it! like last year!” I said, “no. We run this program with class and character. We came I here to win the game. We’ll win the game, take a knee and get off their field.”

"The point I’m making is it can turn around. There’s a process. We’re going through a process now that nobody likes. It’s not fun. A lot of fans will give up on us. I understand that and that’s fine. As long as the guys in the locker room don’t, as long as the coaches don’t, we’ll survive. You saw part of practice today, they’re screaming, yelling, they’re into it, enthusiastic. Every practice we had during the bye week was like that. We have a lot of good kids. Because of that, it’s going to turn. It’s going to turn. I’m excited about that. I love these kids, most of them. I’m going to try to be here to help all of them, even if they’re not doing what we want them to do. I’ll help them get somewhere else.”

How do you see recruiting in South Florida going? (247Sports.com ranks FIU’s list of 19 verbal commitments for 2014 as fourth in Conference USA, 84th overall with eight commitments coming from Miami-Dade or Broward players.)

RT: “We’ve got four guys who recruit nothing but South Florida. And we’ve got guys who spot recruit, they help and see different guys by position. We’re obviously committed to this area. We’re going to recruit this area extremely hard. It’s critical for us. After the season and in the months after that, really getting a good relationship and getting to know the coaches (in South Florida). The coaches recruiting this area are doing a great job. They’re establishing very good relationships. I think the coaches can see when we come in there and talk about our vision and what our goals are, we’re doing it the right way.

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls and texts from local coaches saying, ‘Hang in there, we believe in you. We know you’re doing it the right way.’”

Are you worried about losing what fan/booster/alumni support FIU has?

“You worry about it. It is a concern. But I also know that they’ll come back when we make them very proud of this program on the field. Obviously, that’s where it jumps out at them first. But, off the field, with our graduation rate and what we’re doing in the community, they’ll come back. Obviously, you’d like them to stay with us, but I understand they’re not. That’s the nature of the business. I was
in Chicago – one quarter, you’re the greatest thing ever, the next quarter, you stink and they want to run you out of town. Not by games, quarters. And they’re great fans, Chicago fans. Because it’s so important to them, that’s why they feel that way.

"When you go through what we’re going through, there’s a lot of people who are going to bail out on us. But I think they’ll keep an eye on us and they’ll come back when they realize what we’re building. When they do, it’ll be even more special.”


September 09, 2013

Stuff & No Sense

The soccers both won over the weekend, the men 4-3 at Florida Gulf Coast, the women 2-0 at home against Cleveland State. Volleyball had a paper-rock-scissors FIU Classic, beating Houston Baptist, which routed Alabama, which routed FIU, which rolled North Carolina-Wilmington.

The football team got a verbal commit Friday from Oviedo Hagerty offensive tackle Breht Joly, 6-4, 320 pounds. He's unrated by 247sports.com, ESPN.com, Scout.com. Rivals.com puts him at two stars.


The depth chart for this Saturday's game contains few surprises on the FIU side. Mitch Wozniak is listed as the starting strong safety over Demarkus Perkins. After Friday's loss, FIU coach Ron Turner said he thought sophomore outside linebacker Davison Colimon would be back soon and Colimon's still listed atop one of the outside spots. Of course, that's where Colimon sat last week before Derrick Jones Jr. played in his place before both teams went to the understudies.

Two years ago, it caught the eye of both me and The Courier-Journal that the line on Louisville-FIU moved six points south over the course of the week. That's a massive move. Today, the first line on FIU vs. Bethune-Cookman  started FIU as a three-point favorite, then it swung 180 degrees within five hours to Bethune by three.

An FBS team is a home underdog to an FCS team...huh.




September 02, 2013

Diverse Balls

First, there's football. Sophomore defensive end Michael Wakefield got an honorable mention from the College Football Performance Awards folks for having seven tackles, three for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery in FIU's 43-10 loss to Maryland Saturday.

The opening spread on Friday's home opener with Central Florida put FIU as a 23-point underdog. Hours later, that number already had moved up to 24 1/2 points.

Sunday night's verbal commitment from Orlando Timber Creek WR Javonte Seabury pushed FIU up to 77th nationally and third Conference USA in 247sports.com's national rankings of the 2014 class. The ranking is based on verbal commitments, of course, so could be quickly irrelevant in one direction or another come Signing Day.

Then, we move to the pitch where both soccers split. At home, the women beat Stetson 2-0 on Friday, then took a 4-0 drilling from Florida on Sunday. Out in Southern California (everybody say "ahhhhhhhh"), the men opened their season with a 2-1 loss at Loyola Marymount on Friday and beat San Diego State 5-3 on Sunday.

Friday, the men are up at Central Florida and the women host Florida Gulf Coast at 5 p.m., a convenient athletic tailgate before the football game.

Friday afternoon, men's coach Kenny Arena said, "(The staff has) been a little more hands on early this year. Going on the road is great for chemistry, but, ideally, we wouldn't want that many road games early in the season."

Volleyball opened the season 1-2 at the Gamecock Invitational. Redshirt junior Ksenia Sukhareva got named to the all-tournament team. This weekend, amidst the flurry of activity at Camp Mitch, the FIU Classic starts Friday morning at The Branch.


August 14, 2013

Not-So-Wacky Wednesday

OK, got my colada, which I really needed during the first half of Wednesday morning's practice, and an iced tea, so here's a recap of the morning.

The team was back in FIU Stadium. First to do the happy dance about that should've been the kickers, who were kicking line drives barely clearing the line, never mind the crossbar during Tuesday's Tamiami Park practice. Back on the fake grass, Sergio Sroka went three for three again in field goal drills, hitting from 33, 37 and 43. He was wide right from 43 in two-minute drills at the end of practice.

Other than that, well...Randy Harvey blocked a 47-yard attempt from Cody Hodgens. Hodgens hit from 33. Karson Dietrich had a 37-yard field goal blocked, then hit from 43.

Let it be said, also, that sometimes, long snappers Brandon Taylor and Sam Medlock get it back there just fine, and sometimes, they look like they're tossing infield practice at Marlins Park. With a new offensive line, FIU could have trouble in the red zone. That means field goal attempts for some three-point solace. Any comfort with a field goal attempt begins with the snap. "Smooth almost all the time" doesn't get it done, much less "sometimes."

Some personnel deployment noticed during drills: running back Jakhari Gore's in pads, but doesn't get any reps in 11-on-11, 7-on-7 or, today, the quarterback-running back screen-flat pass drills. That's not how you practice with somebody you plan to use 17 days from now. Bowling Green transfer Anthon Samuel's involved in drills. Generally, however, the top four running backs based on first and second team reps are sophomore Lamarq Caldwell, redshirt sophomore Shane Coleman, freshman Alfonso Randolph and freshman Silas Spearman.

University of Miami transfer Cory White got some first team reps as did freshman tight end Jonnu Smith. Freshmen linebacker Treyvon Williams and cornerback Brad Hyman-Muhammad (the subject of the next Herald story) ran with the second team during 11-on-11 drills late in practice. Afterwards, FIU coach Ron Turner said it wasn't just throwing the puppies some bones -- they've earned it through play in practice and have drawn notice from the coaches. Hyman-Muhammad picked off an underthrown Jake Medlock bomb to Glenn Coleman and got burned on a Medlock-to-Lowder 30something-yard toss to the corner.  

Best play of the day: in run game drills, senior defnesive tackle Isame Faciane buffaloed past center Donald Senat with such power and speed, Senat seemed helplessly swept in Faciane's wake. As Faciane shed Senat, he banged into running back Shane Coleman and the collision dropped Coleman for a loss of about 5.

Speaking of which, there was live tackling today for the first time in camp.

During some of the 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills, I started timing the releases for Medlock and sophomore E.J. Hilliard. Hilliard's were closer to what the West Coast offense demands when the ball was between the 20s, even getting off a deep completion to fifth-year senior wide receiver Jairus Williams in 3.3 seconds. 

From inside the 15 yard line, however, Medlock took too long only on his first pass, an overthrow in the end zone that took 3.7 seconds. After that, he was low to DeAndre Jasper in 2.0 and hit Jonnu Smith in 2.0 and 2.4 for touchdowns. Hilliard had a checkdown to Silas Spearman in 2.5 seconds, an incomplete fade in 1.7 seconds, didn't get rid of the ball in 4.5 seconds before scrambling (sack if it wasn't 7-on-7), incomplete in 3.5 seconds (another sack) then connected with Zach Schaubhut in the back of the end zone in 2.2 seconds.

Some of this is on the receivers, who aren't always getting open quickly enough. During one stretch of plays with Hilliard, the second team receivers couldn't get open on the third team secondary. One of the most undervalued skills of a quarterback is knowing when to throw the ball away. Though Medlock and Hilliard both know how to run, knowing when to fire into the fifth row also will come in handy this year.


August 12, 2013

The Day After Sunday at La Cage

Third down situations and two-minute drills got work Monday. Again, the defense got the better of it, despite having only 10 men on the field for about three consecutive plays during third down drills.

In the two minute drills, the first string defense got a three-and-out on the offense on the first possession, then stopped the offense on downs when redshirt junior Jake Medlock underthrew a 5-yard slant to T.J. Lowder on fourth and 8. The offensive line had a problem blocking Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane and the receivers had trouble getting open. In the Twos vs. Twos, sophompre E.J. Hilliard got the second string offense to the defense's 30 and Serge Sroka nailed a 47-yard field goal.

Sroka also hit from 32 and 37 earlier. Freshman Karson Dietrich was wide right from 42, rang the left upright from 47. Freshman Cody Hodgens hit from 33 and was wide left from 37 off the right hash mark. Freshman Austin Taylor hit from 43 and was wide right from 47 in the middle of the field.

Fifth-year senior Rocky Vann got behind the defense in 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills to catch three bombs from Hilliard and freshman Israel Paopao. Paopao's clearly the No. 3 quarterback. His throws have hummingbird zip. Freshman Travis Wright's passes remind me of the E runner rating in Statis Pro Baseball: Slow. Painfully slow. Almost never gets there. (Among the 1979 season players in my college pal's set, I think only Pittsburgh's Willie Stargell had that rating). He's got time to improve that, but it's a tad disappointing based on his consensus rating and statistics.

All the quarterbacks, from Medlock to Wright, need to work on firing more quickly. Short to medium routes with short drops form the nucleus of the West Coast Offense.

"Our five step drop stuff, we try for two, three (seconds) and under," FIU coach Ron Turner said. "Some things if we go play action, seven-step drop and trying to get downfield, the low threes. That's the hardest thing for a young quarterback or a quarterback in a new system to do is get the ball out of their hands. We're constantly saying "get it out, get it out, throw it, throw it.'

"It's improving. It's not anywhere close to where we need it to be."

Transfer running back Anthon Samuel took second team reps in the two-minute drill. Perhaps FIU wants to be sure Samuel gets adequate work in case the NCAA grants his transfer waiver. Freshman running back Silas Spearman also got second team work. Behind sophomore Lemarq Caldwell, who again showed Monday he needs to work on holding onto the ball, it looks like the pecking order is redshirt sophomore Shane Coleman; freshman Alfonso Randolph; and Spearman. An eligible Samuel goes to No. 1 on the charts like he was sung by Jay-Z.

Those catching punts in punt return work: senior Glenn Coleman, junior Richard Leonard, sophomoore DeAndre Jasper, senior Sam Miller.

Turner said Vero Beach freshman offensive lineman Chris Flaig had "a health issue" and might not join the team until classes started. Or, possibly, until next semester.


August 06, 2013

Tuesdays, No Morrie

Tuesday's practice began before South Florida's chewy heat enveloped all in its sweaty aunt embrace. By the time practice ended, some guys looked like they just kissed Aunt Bunny.

The punters and kickers did their thing. Despite a terrible shank that bounced into the south stands, I'd give the Tuesday edge to sophomore Chris Ayers over freshman Karson Dietrich in punting. Among the kickers, freshman Austin Taylor hit three consecutive, the last two from 36 yards off the right hash mark and 42 yards off the left hash. Freshman Cody Hodgens missed from 26 and 36, but hit from 30 and 42.

Defensively, the defensive line and junior cornerback Richard Leonard again starred, although he and fellow returning starter Sam Miller tended to get run with the second team defense while sophomore Jeremiah McKinnon and redshirt junior Sam Gervais ran with the first team. McKinnon had an interception in team drills.

Santa Rosa Junior College transfer cornerback Randy Harvey joined the team, officially, Tuesday. Havey had three interceptions and 46 tackles in 10 games last season.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Clinton Taylor got behind the defense a few times Tuesday. Head coach Ron Turner said, "I think he's starting to understand the offense. He's playing it differently than he did in the spring. He's playing it much more relaxed. He's playing with confidence. The players did a good job in the player-led workouts (this summer)."

Turner said about DeAndre Jasper working with both the wide receivers and running backs, "We just want to have him ready as an emergency type guy in the running back position and focus on the slot receiver position. We'll see where he fits."

Here's the first team defense as it lined up Tuesday: defensive ends junior Paul Crawford and junior Giovani Francois; defensive tackles senior Isame Faciane and senior Greg Hickman; linebackers fifth-year senior Markeith Russell, redshirt sophomore Luis Rosado and sophomore Davison Colimon; safeties redshirt junior Justin Halley and fifth year senior Antwoine Bell.

Being from the steamy New Orleans-area defensive tackles, 310-pound sophomore Darrian Dyson and 270-pound Marques Cheeks, from getting baked (and not in the Winston Fraser way). Dyson barfed after a stint in team drills. He looked pretty ponderous Monday. Cheeks was crawling on the turf as a coach told a training staffer to get him off the ground because the fake turf is extremely hot.

Offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler climbed all over redshirt freshman offensive tackle Edens Sineace near the end of practice as Sineace hobbled over to a bench favoring his right leg. It sounded as if Shankweiler's patience with Sineace already is shorter than an Internet commercial.

Oakland Raiders scout Zack Crockett spent some time after practice with defensive line coach Andre Patterson. I'm betting they were talking about Faciane, who could be in the NFL after this season if he's not on Food Network. That's not a joke about his eating. He's apparently a good cook and has culinary artist aspirations.


August 05, 2013

Monday morning blues (and whites)

The football team practiced for two and a half hours Monday morning. They actually have enough players to do it, unlike the spring.

For what it's worth...sophomore Lemarq Caldwell took the running back spot with the first team through team drills and when they ran plays against air. Redshirt sophomore Shane Coleman also got some work with the ones. With Donald Senat at summer graduation, the first string offensive line went, left to right, redshirt sophomore Aaron Nielsen; redshirt junior Delmar Taylor; redshirt junior Michael Montero; redshirt junior Jordan White; and redshirt junior David Delsoin.

The second unit offensive line went, left to right, redshirt freshman Dieugot Joseph, converted from defensive line in the spring; junior Byron Pinkston, a junior college transfer from Dean College; freshman Danny Nunez from Dade Christian; redshirt freshmen Trenton Saunders and Edens Sineace.

Junior cornerback Richard Leonard picked off redshirt junior Jake Medlock twice, once in team drills, once in 7-on-7s, both times for what would've been house calls. Medlock blamed his own mental errors, but said Leonard's speed and football intelligence makes him tough to throw against. Leonard said he actually learned how to watch film during this offseason.

Medlock recovered to fire a deep strike to Rocky Vann behind Sam Gervais. Among the freshmen receivers, Shug Oyegunle, a small (5-9) package of explosives from Tampa Gaither probably had the best day. Losing a big, fast talent like Willis Wright hurts FIU -- go back and look at that touchdown against FAU last year to see why -- but there's some serious speed on this roster, guys who placed well in sprints at the state track meet or averaged over 20.0 yards per catch. Speed isn't the end all or be all of receiving, returning or being a defensive back. Doesn't hurt.

Freshman Sam Medlock is trying to make the roster as a long snapper. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Taylor is back in that role. Redshirt freshman Chris Ayers and freshman Karson Dietrich did the punting Monday. Dietrich and Sergio Sroka handled most of the kicking.

A few freshmen got You Ain't Playing Sunnydale High Anymore moments Monday.

The first pass in drills from Israel Paopao, a deep out to the right, got intercepted and taken the distance by redshirt freshman Deonte Wilson.

Cornerback Vontarius West wound up two steps in arrears as redshirt sophomore T.J. Lowder blew by him up the right sideline. To be fair, redshirt junior Justin Halley dropped by a little late with the help.

One freshman linebacker didn't get on the field for his rep, earning him an upbraiding from one assistant coach that included, "See if you get another rep today! I don't want to have to fight your --- to play!" He listened well enough to get on the field several snaps later when directed.

Among the new names dotting the roster is the wonderfully named Wonderful Monds II, a defensive back transfer from the University of Buffalo. His father, Wonderful Monds, knocked around baseball's minor leagues for a while. Both are from Fort Pierce.

An overload at wide receiver puts Brad Hyman-Muhammad, a Class 2A All-State wide receiver last season (20.1 yards per catch) for Riverview Admiral Farragut, at cornerback. That's where they tried to switch wide receiver DeAndre Jasper in the spring.

Among the Signing Day signees, Vero Beach offensive lineman Chris Flaig, Bradenton Manatee defensive back Willie Smith and Norland defensive tackle Akheem Barton were absent. Smith and Barton won't be joining the team. Flaig apparently will be eventually.

Some more transfers might be coming soon, including a running back last at an SEC school. Of course, that description fit Jakhari Gore, too.

Tennessee Titans scout Mike Yowarsky attended practice.



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