January 23, 2015

DC Swap Complete; Senior Swimmers' Sayonara

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Saturday, 11 a.m. (Senior Day)

Tennis, vs. Liberty, Sunday, noon

Women's Basketball, vs. Old Dominion, Thursday, 6 p.m.

FIU just announced what we hypothesized here two days ago (see the post linked to below) -- the replacement for departed defensive coordinator Josh Conklin, now at Pitt, is Pitt's last pre-Conklin DC, Matt House.

House had been Pitt's defensive coordinator for three years under Paul Chryst. Chryst didn't take House with him when he took the head coaching job at Wisconsin, leaving House available for FIU.

This reminds me of the Dolphins cutting center Samson Satele and signing Oakland Raiders center Jake Grove as a free agent in 2009. After their first season with the Dolphins, the Bill Parcells-Jeff Ireland-Tony Sparano ruling tribunal felt they needed a nastier, stronger center. Satele wound up signing with Oakland.

Epilogue: Grove started 10 games with the Dolphins in 2009, got injured during the season and never played in the NFL again. Satele's bounced around the league and back to the Dolphins this season.

SWIMMING & DIVING

Here's the who  being honored on Saturday's Senior Day for FIU's water women: Klara Andersson, Nadia Farrugia, Johanna Gustafsdottir, Jean Madison and Courtney Vander Schaaf.

Here's the what of the who being honored on Saturday's Senior Day for FIU's water women:

Six individual school records, five relay school records, eight individual conference titles and three relay conference titles.

Much of that comes from Gustafsdottir, arguably the best swimmer in FIU program history. But Andersson's FIU's speed queen. Her 23.24 at the 2013 Sun Belt Conference meet remains the school record in the 50 freestyle.

A year earlier, Gustafsdottir began rewriting the FIU record book over her freshmen and sophomore years so quickly, it seemed done by an instant search-and-replace command. Between the 2012 Sun Belt meet, in which she won three individual events and Swimmer of the Year, and the 2012 Mizzou Invite that fall, Gustafsdottir knocked down five individual records and was part of four school record relay teams.

She's lowered all those marks since then, of course. And, though freshman Silvia Scalia eclipsed Gustafsdottir's 100 backstroke record earlier this year, she added the 200 breastroke to her individual Best of FIU list: 100 free 50.01), 200 free (1:46.90), 200 back (1:54.40), 200 breast (2:14.20) and 200 individual medley (1:57.94).

Both Gustafsdottir and Andersson were on the 200 free relay (1:32.09), 400 free relay (3:20.74) and 400 medley relay school record teams (3:40.87). In the 2013 Sun Belt champion 400 medley relay, at the 2013 Sun Belt Championships, Gustafsdottir led off with the backstroke leg and Andersson finished with the free leg. At the same meet, they combined with Dani Albright and Marina Ribi to set a Sun Belt record in the 400 free relay (3:21.67) and set the current record with Jenny Alfani and Jenny Deist at last year's Conference USA meet.

Vander Schaaf was an All-Sun Belt swimmer in 2013, part of a then-school record 200 free relay and swam for distance. She ranks fourth in school history in the 1,650 free (17:08.27), fifth in the 1,000 free (10:21.18) and seventh in the 500 free (4:57.70). Last January, she picked up a Conference USA Swimmer of the Week award.

Farrugia anchored last year's Conference USA meet 800 free relay team (7:13.43) and, like VanderSchaaf, went long -- sixth fastest 500 freestyler (4:56.97) and 1000 freestyler (10:25.24) and third in the 1,650 free (17:04.33).

Madison was the fourth best in the 200 breast (2:17.16) and fifth in the 100 breast (1:04.19).

Madison, Farrugia, VanderSchaaf and Andersson made the Conference USA Honor Roll for having a 3.0 grade point average. Andersson was a Commissioner's Academic Medalist for having a 3.7 GPA.

 

 

From the Steele Mills

Phil Steele, producer of the most comprehensive preseason college sports magazines, also regularly blogs. His most recent post examined how many starters return for each FBS team after subtracting those that have declared for the NFL Draft.

FIU's 16 returning starters by Steele's count put the Panthers in a 12-way tie for 17th in FBS and tied with Western Kentucky for second in the conference. The Panthers and Hilltoppers each return eight starters on offense and eight on defense, according to him. I count nine defensive returning starters for FIU.

FBS and Conference USA football rookie Charlotte returns 19 starters, nine on offense and 10 on defense, leading each category. Steele says Southern Miss also returns nine offensive starters. 

January 22, 2015

Football's 2015 FCS Victim; Baseball Timing

Needing an FCS punching bag to fill out the 2015 home schedule, FIU will bring in North Carolina-Central, which went 7-5 last year, 6-2 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, 0-1 vs. FBS (52-7 loss to East Carolina) and 0-1 vs. transitional FBS (40-28 loss to Charlotte).

NC-Central will be the only non-conference home game, a stark contrast to the four non-conference home games that opened the 2014 season. The four Conference USA home games will be decided once the league finishes the realignment caused by Alabama-Birmingham football's demise.

BASEBALL

FIU will move its Saturday games back to 6 p.m. from 4 p.m. Smart move. It gives families time to finish their Saturday activities and errands and cuts the roasting time in the stands on sunny days.

January 21, 2015

FIU Gets Lubin

North Miami Beach wide receiver/defensive back Emmanuel Lubin, Class of 2015, announced his verbal commitment to FIU via Twitter Wednesday. Lubin caught 32 passes for 278 yards at NMB, alma mater of FIU alumnus and current Jacksonville Jags safety Johnathan Cyprien.

Lubin's rated at two stars by Rivals.com, unrated by ESPN.com, 247Sports.com and Scout.com.

A DC Swap?; Universe Irony; Wet Bucks

These things happen sometimes. Somebody takes Job A, leaving Job B open. The person who most recently had Job A needs work and sees an opening at Job B. When it's all done, it looks like a good old fashioned Ken Stabler-for-Dan Pastorini trade.

Paul Chryst left the head coaching job at Pitt to go back to Wisconsin. First reports put Matt House, Pitt's defensive coordinator the last three years, in the U-Haul as Chryst moved back to Madison. But then Chryst decided to keep Badger incumbent Dave Aranda as defensive coordinator. Meanwhile, new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi hired FIU's defensive coordinator Josh Conklin and linebackers coach Rob Haley.

So, now, House has no home and FIU doesn't have a defensive coordinator. Wonder if that match is being made.

House's defenses ranked 34th and 33rd nationally in 2013 and 2014, although it helped greatly in 2014 that Pitt's pounding carnivore style of offense ranked fifth in time of possession, shrinking possessions per game and holding down total defense numbers.

Just a thought...

MISS UNIVERSE

Reigning Miss Universe Gabriela Isler visited the FIU volleyball team Tuesday. Though she clearly fit in by height if not athleticism, does anybody see the irony in the symbol of the event costing FIU Athletics around $540,000 visiting one of the athletic department's most underfunded teams?

Michael Vasquez's Sunday Herald article quotes FIU AD Pete Garcia, in an interview at least a week past, as estimating the pageant will bring "close to $400,000" to FIU. A Friday release by FIU Athletics estimated $330,000.

SWIMMING & DIVING

Perusing e-mails from a records request, I saw that FIU Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell contributed $4,000 in November to FIU's water women for "the acquisition of training equipment," according to Jessell's e-mail to several athletic department folks. That'll be matched by Athletics to give $8,000 to the swimmers for new training equipment.

If you were wondering -- I was, I figured you might be too -- Jessell's salary is $329,250, according to Florida Has a Right to Know. Still, that's not that's not chump change he's throwing in the pool.

 

January 19, 2015

Another FIU Freshman Honored

Not a bad year for the newbies on campus.

Freshman quarterback Alex McGough started 11 games for the football team while freshman running back Alex Gardner tied redshirt junior Anthon Samuel for the led the team in rushing. Freshman swimmer Silvia Scalia and freshman diver Rebecca Quensel each have compiled four Conference USA performer of the week awards.

And now redshirt freshman forward Kiandre'a Pound has four Conference USA Freshmen of the Week awards. Pound averaged 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in FIU's losses at Western Kentucky and Marshall. 

Another Phone Suggestion

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Saturday, 11 a.m.

Tennis, vs. Liberty, Sunday, noon

It's 36 degrees this morning in Albany, New York, the state capital where the University of Albany football team went 7-5 this season playing at the FCS level.

In his first year on staff as assistant head coach/linebackers coach was Bernard Clark, well known in these warmer parts as a former golden era (not Golden Era) Hurricanes linebacker and twice an FIU assistant. Clark applied to be a part of Ron Turner's first staff two years ago. FIU's got a linebackers assistant coach spot available, one that paid Rob Harley $102,000 last year with no state income tax. Clark's done that job several places, with varying levels of success.

Might be worth the kind of getting-to-know-you phone call FIU never made to then-Central coach Telly Lockette, now coaching running backs at Oregon State...

 

 

 

January 09, 2015

In The (Cat) House

Didn't get to talk to early enrollees quarterback Christian Alexander, defensive end-linebacker-to-be Fermin Silva or all-purpose explosive Anthony Jones today after I ran into them on campus as they went through early enrollment and orientation. So, the story I had planned got scrapped.

Still, they're in the Cat House already along with Carol City defensive back Tyree Johnson, a 2014 recruit. Some brief physical impressions:

Alex McGough looked the quarterback part the moment he dropped back last spring. Alexander, also considered a "pro-style" quarterback, really looks the part just walking across the room -- looks bigger and thicker than his official 6-3, 205, but not ponderous. Just as FIU coach Ron Turner described him, "a smart kid, good athlete, more a thrower than a runner." Turner also pointed out he was a five-year starter at Lakeland Christian, starting as a eighth grader.

Silva's got the wingspan of an outside linebacker, although his defensive line experience might help in the middle. Plenty of good middle linebackers had great length.

Jones lists at 6-0. That's a lie. I'd be surprised if he's 5-10. But another 10 to 15 pounds without losing speed gives you about what T.Y. Hilton gave you -- a speedster with moves and vision (remember, he was a running back this year) who'll make opposing coaches reach for the Pepto with every punt or potential reverse. He's not a guy you give the ball to every play, but his big play potential can affect each play.

"You want to get guys that win," Turner said. "We've got a lot of guys who have won numerous state championships."

And FIU's got one Central, two Booker T. Washington and one St. Thomas Aquinas commit still on board.

I was critical here of last year's Dade recruiting under Turner. Obviously, it's improved greatly this year. The big change this year is A) FIU coaches are more visible and establishing deeper relationships and B) FIU brought in assistant coach Kerry Dixon from FAU, where he recruited Dade County for the Owls.

How important have they been? Check out this blog by Manny Navarro, who covers both high schools and the University of Miami for The Herald (when he's not covering the Marlins, too).

 

Ballers On Campus

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, FIU Relays, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Women's Basketball, vs. Alabama-Birmingham, Sunday, noon

Elsewhere on The Herald news platform, it was noted that the HBO show Ballers shot over at the University of Miami. We must note here that, before going over to Coral Gables, the show shot at FIU Stadium and used FIU staffers as extras for scenes of practice.

While on the subject of on campus, I'm hoping to talk to the early enrolling football recruits today, all of whom are on campus and going through the registration process (for those eternally predicting last minute flips).

Pitt officially announced Josh Conklin as its new defensive coordinator this morning.

 

January 08, 2015

Conklin, Harley to Pitt; Hilliard to Valdosta State; Where Russo Is

In his season season as FIU's defensive coordinator, Josh Conklin became the highest paid assistant coach in FIU history ($200,000) and did a pretty good job of earning it.

Though working with better talent than most of us "experts" anticipated, Conklin had more than a little something to do with a defense that put up fat stretches of good football and collected turnovers like boys collect Hot Wheels -- first in the nation in fumble recoveries, fourth in total turnovers gained. Defense and special teams scored or set up 110 points for FIU and the Panthers had at least one defensive touchdown in each win.

Linebackers' coach Rob Harley coached the biggest surprise, a rapidly rambunctious group of mostly young linebackers. Before FIU, he'd been a graduate assistant on the coaching staff that included defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, now the head coach at Pitt.

FIU sources confirmed a Sports Illustrated report that Conklin will be taking the same position at Pitt. The source also said Harley will be going with Conklin.

FIU's two quarterbacks for 2012 and 2013 were Jake Medlock and E.J. Hilliard. Medlock transferred to Valdosta State last year with one year of eligibility remaining. Now, Hilliard will be doing the same, he announced via Twitter Thursday.

As early enrollment begins Friday, FIU should be welcoming Lakeland Christian All-State quarterback Christian Alexander, Central running back Anthony Jones and Central defensive lineman-projected linebacker Fermin Silva. 

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

The flu that's sweeping Florida put FIU women's basketball coach Cindy Russo on the injury report for Thursday's 75-60 loss to Middle Tennessee State.  

January 07, 2015

Football season opener at UCF Sept. 5

Central Florida's made official that the season opener for the state's two largest universities will be Sept. 5 at UCF. This is the game UCF asked FIU to postpone this year so the team from Orlando could have a bye week after playing Penn State overseas. FIU filled the gap with Wagner.

FIU goes to Bloomington for the first of a home-and-home with Indiana Sept. 12. They get what should be a layup against UMass on Oct. 3. Between those two games, the Panthers still need another game. Wonder if Booker T.'s available...

MEN'S BASKETBALL

Larry Dennis started the last five of the nine games he played this season for FIU, but hasn't played since the FIU win against Florida Gulf Coast in which he had no points and one rebound in seven minutes. Dennis declared on social media he had no problems with anybody nor did he have problems in the classroom. He didn't feel he was getting any better as a player, so he's transferring to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

 

January 06, 2015

FIU's Best Team Makes A Top 10; More Leaving Football

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, vs. Central Connecticut, TCU and FAU, Thursday, noon

Women's Basketball, vs. Middle Tennessee State, Thursday, 6 p.m.

Swimming & Diving, FIU Relays, Saturday, 1 p.m.

CollegeSwimming.com's mid-major rankings for the entire fall semester puts FIU at No. 10 among the nation's mid-major schools and No. 3 in Conference USA.

FIU finished second in last year's conference meet to Rice, currently at No. 9. Western Kentucky is the top-ranked C-USA school at No. 4.

FOOTBALL

Whether you want to characterize it as a Martha Stewart housecleaning, a Jimmy Johnson roster turnover or a Soviet-style purge, the football program's shedding players from the previous regime.

Wide receiver Fred Porter and linebacker Luis Rosado have joined the list of the leaving, although Rosado's departure has to do with time.

Porter walked on for two seasons before being put on scholarship during his redshirt sophomore season of 2013 as he caught eight passes for 92 yards in FIU's pop gun offense. Porter caught nine for 91 last year among a wide receiving corps that left head coach Ron Turner dissatisfied. Off the field, Porter achieved academically. The reaction I heard to his going on scholarship last year could be summed up as: oh, good, he's a really good kid. 

According to Fred Porter, Sr., his son had been accepted into FIU graduate school, but got a phone call just before receiving his undergraduate degree in December that his scholarship wouldn't be renewed for a fifth year. He's also been informed this year's scholarship doesn't continue for the rest of this academic year, thus putting off the start of graduate school

Rosado's FIU official bio says he redshirted in 2012, thus making 2014 his redshirt junior year. I heard that's what he expected also. But he actually played as a reserve in the 2012 season opener against Duke, thus eliminating the redshirt and making 2014 his senior season. He had knee issues in 2012, although that's not the reason he didn't play more.

It's remarkable there weren't more eligibility misunderstandings from that year. After the Mario Cristobal firing, the stop work order given to the coaching staff and operations and the stream of football operations directors the first few Ron Turner months, there were necessary clerical things that didn't get handled for a while. In a strictly football sense, I can't see FIU jumping through many NCAA hoops to attempt to get Rosado another year with their current linebacking corps and who they've got coming in this recruiting class.

So as of right now, those who won't be back as seniors or fifth-year seniors are: Porter, quarterback EJ Hilliard, wide receiver Dominique Rhymes, wide receiver De'Andre Jasper, wide receiver Richard Burrows and running back Lamarq Caldwell.

You could take a cynical view and note that each of those players disappointed the coaching staff on the field. Off the field, none were knuckleheads or program problems. Quite the opposite in a few cases.

Then again, as head coach Ron Turner said in the season wrapup Q&A posted here last month, there's no assurances fifth-year seniors return to the program -- they have to want to return and the program has to want them to return.

 

 

January 05, 2015

Jerseys, Warmups, Shoes, Pound & Wide Receivers

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, vs. Central Connecticut, TCU and FAU, Thursday, noon

Women's Basketball, vs. Middle Tennessee State, Thursday, 6 p.m.

Swimming & Diving, FIU Relays, Saturday, 1 p.m.

FIU announced they've signed a five-year deal with two one-year options with addidas that'll allow the athletic equipment and apparel manufacturer to keep clothing all FIU teams, as they have done since 2005. The deal's announced as being worth $2.6 million.

That includes uniforms for FIU's sports teams;  a suite at FIU Stadium; and signs at FIU Stadium, FIU Arena and FIU Baseball Stadium.

WOMEN'S HOOP

For the third time this season, 6-foot redshirt freshman forward Kiandre'a Pound has been named the Conference USA Freshman of the Week. She averaged 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in FIU's 1-2 week.

FOOTBALL, PAST & FUTURE (?)

USA Football chose FIU commit Austin Maloney, a 5-11 wide receiver out of Columbus High, for its Under 19 team that'll play Team Canada in the 2015 International Bowl Feb. 7. Maloney gained 939 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on his 59 catches this season and returned a punt for a touchdown.

Wide receiver Glenn Coleman, who graduated as a student in December, and safety Justin Halley will play for the American side in the Medal of Honor Bowl Game Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina. Especially for Coleman, who averaged 20.3 yards per catch on his 23 catches, this is a huge opportunity to showcase his talent for NFL scouts.

 

January 04, 2015

Jones, Silva staying with FIU; Knowles flips

Central High was the second best team in Dade County, the best in Florida Class 6A and one of the best in the nation.

And now it appears FIU will keep all its commits from Central, despite late love being shown two, one especially, from the other FBS football school in town.

Defensive lineman-probable linebacker Fermin Silva and running back/wide receiver Anthony Jones will enroll early this Thursday along with Lakeland Christian quarterback Christian Alexander. I think FIU will have to wait until Signing Day to celebrate getting Central cornerback Olin Cushion.

Jones and Silva earned some sweet nothings from Coral Gables recently, but have announced they're sticking with their commitments to FIU. Jones played running back this year and raced for 1,007 yards and 23 touchdowns on 134 carries, caught 32 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns and took his only punt return back to the house.

Over his last two seasons, Silva had 109 tackles, one forced fumble, two recovered fumbles and one interception. 

Edison safety Robert Knowles, late to many eye sights because he played on a team that contended only to finish the season, flipped his recent FIU commitment to the University of Miami. You can use all the good players you can get, but if FIU gets both Cushion and Booker T. Washington's Ocie Rose to Signing Day, they shouldn't feel short on the defensive back front.

And, again, somebody better give assistant coach Kerry Dixon and anybody else involved in recruiting Homestead and/or Liberty City a raise. 

December 29, 2014

And We're Back...

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Women's basketball, vs. Auburn, tonight 6 p.m.

Women's basketball, vs. Bowling Green or Hampton, Tuesday, 6 p.m.

Swimming & Diving, FIU Sprint Invite, Saturday, 1 p.m.

FIU plays the 6 p.m. games in the 30th Sun & Fun Classic, a women's basketball staple at FIU since the Sunblazer days, over the next two days at FIU Arena. I've never seen a team whose results could so clearly be gauged by a single statistic. Seven FIU opponents have shot 47.6 percent or better from the field. FIU is 0-7 in those games. Two FIU opponents have shot under 47.6 from the field, in fact, under 40 percent. FIU's record in those games: 2-0.

FOOTBALL

Tennessee State running back Tevin Spells claimed on Twitter Monday that he was transferring to play at FIU. Spells ran for 199 yards on 49 carries for Tennessee State last year as a sophomore after apparently doing most of his work on special teams his freshman year.

Considering the flaky health of running backs, you can never have too many good ones. But Spells does come to a backfield that already has Alex Gardner, Napoleon Maxwell and Anthon Samuel, each of whom already put up better numbers against better college competition than Spells.

 

December 23, 2014

Leonard to return

One of the most dynamic individual seasons in FIU history won't be the last for cornerback/kick returner Richard Leonard. Leonard, who returned two interceptions, a fumble and a punt for touchdowns, announced on the FIUSports.com website that he'll be returning to be a fifth-year senior in 2015.

That means the FIU defense, which produced more turnovers than Publix and returns eight starters, has its leading turnover baker player back for 2015. Leonard picked off five passes and recovered five fumbles.

If you're a believer in the Al Davis theory that good defense starts on the corners, you should believe FIU will be set with Leonard on one side and senior-to-be Jeremiah McKinnon or junior-to-be Wilkenson Myrtil on the other and in the slot. FIU's defense also brings back the entire group of linebackers and the defensive line.

December 19, 2014

C-USA Media Votes 3 Panthers Football All-Conference

So my peers agreed with the coaches on Conference USA's Defensive Player of the Year. But they apparently agreed with me on the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.

The Conference USA Media Association, the group of beat writers covering the C-USA schools, sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith and redshirt junior cornerback Richard Leonard to our First Team all-conference team and junior defensive end Michael Wakefield to the Second Team. I voted for Leonard as Defensive Player of the Year, but the majority of the rest voted for Marshall linebacker Neville Hewitt, who the league coaches voted that honor.

Our Offensive Player of the Year and First Team quarterback was Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty and our MVP was Marshall running back Devon Johnson. Both got my vote, Doughty on the sheer weight of numbers -- 67.5 completion percentage, 4,344 yards, 44 touchdown passes -- and a brilliant performance in upsetting Marshall. You'll note we voted two Western Kentucky players to our First Team while the conference coaches didn't think an offense averaging around 44.0 points per game had an all-conference player.

That Marshall loss to Western also underscored how important the 243-pound Johnson was to Marshall's offense. Marshall's Big Johnson put up numbers almost as hefty as he is -- 1,636 rushing yards, 8.6 per carry, six catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns (3 for 79 yards and those two touchdowns against FIU).

And we voted Alabama-Birmingham's Bill Clark our Coach of the Year. Hopefully, it's as close as we'll ever come to giving an award posthumously. 

FIRST TEAM

Offense

WR – Tommy Shuler, Marshall, senior

WR – Antonio Vaughan, Old Dominion, senior

WR – Jared Dangerfield, Western Kentucky, junior

OL – Chris Jasperse, Marshall, senior

OL – Brian O’Leary, UAB, senior

OL – Mitchell Bell, Louisiana Tech, senior

OL – Clint Van Horn, Marshall, junior

OL – Cyril Lemon, North Texas, senior

TE – Jonnu Smith, FIU, sophomore

QB – Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky, senior

RB – Devon Johnson, Marshall, junior

RB – Jordan Howard, UAB, sophomore

Defense

DL – Diaheem Watkins, UAB, senior

DL – James Rouse, Marshall, senior

DL – Brian Nordstrom, Rice, junior

DL – Arnold Blackmon, Marshall, senior

LB – Neville Hewitt, Marshall, senior

LB – Derek Akunne, North Texas, senior

LB – Andrae Kirk, Florida Atlantic, senior

DB – Richard Leonard, FIU, junior

DB – Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech, sophomore

DB – Darryl Roberts, Marshall, senior

DB – Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee, junior

Punter – Tyler Williams, Marshall, junior

Kicker – Corey Acosta, Southern Miss, senior

Returner – J.J. Nelson, UAB, senior

SECOND TEAM

Offense

WR – Jordan Taylor, Rice, senior

WR – Lucky Whitehead, Florida Atlantic, senior

WR – Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech, sophomore

OL – Jerel Watkins, UTEP, senior

OL – Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky, sophomore

OL – Matt Simonette, Rice, senior

OL – Josh Mann, Old Dominion, senior

OL – Roscoe Byrd, UAB, junior

TE – Kennard Backman, UAB, senior

QB – Rakeem Cato, Marshall, senior

RB – Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech, junior

RB – Aaron Jones, UTEP, sophomore

Defense

DL – Michael Wakefield, FIU, junior

DL – Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Southern Miss, senior

DL – Houston Bates, Louisiana Tech, senior

DL – Robert Singletary, UTSA, senior

LB – Jake Ganus, UAB, junior

LB – Jermaine Holmes, Marshall, senior

LB – Nick Holt, Western Kentucky, junior

DB – Tristan Wade, UTSA, senior

DB – Taj Letman, Marshall, junior

DB – Adairius Barnes, Louisiana Tech, junior

DB – D’Joun Smith, Florida Atlantic, senior

December 18, 2014

Incoming...

Even with nine full time assistant coaches and some graduate assistants, even with a full reporting staff devoted only to chronicling football recruiting in a region where talent runs thicker than a Snickers, guys can get missed. Coaches tend to follow the best teams. Recruiting trackers tend to follow the coaches and the best teams.

That's how Edison safety Robert Knowles came into Thursday morning with no rating on any of the recruiting sites. Soon after 247Sports.com announced Knowles verbal commitment to FIU -- an actual BREAKING story as opposed to the BREAKING one that "announced" Central's Fermin Silva committed to FIU long after that had been reported -- a rating of three stars went up on the site. One of the sites ratings czars got around to looking at Knowles highlights.

 

I asked one of our guys about him. What I got back was that he hasn't seen Edison in two years because they don't play in many big games, but heard good things about Knowles.

If FIU gets Central's Anthony Jones, I wonder if they'd give him his first looks at wide receiver or running back. Jones starred at running back this year, but his recruiting position was wide receiver when Central stampeded people with Joe Yearby and one of Jones' cousins, Dalvin Cook.

For what it's worth, despite using different ways of ranking recruiting classes, the three sites I quote often all have FIU around the same place. Rivals.com has FIU fifth in Conference USA and 247Sports.com has FIU sixth. Scout.com has FIU eighth but does aggregate points total and is missing several verbal commits. All three sites rank FAU as C-USA's No. 1 2015 recruiting class based on commitments.

BASEBALL

Kendall Rogers, now of D1baseball.com, reports that redshirt freshman lefthanded pitcher Chris Pelaez will transfer from LSU to FIU. Pelaez graduated from Florida Christian High.

December 16, 2014

Sports Illustrated Loves Jonnu Smith

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, vs. North Florida, Wednesday, 11 a.m.
Women's Basketball, vs. Western Carolina, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Being the nation's most productive tight end got sophomore Jonnu Smith ignored when it came to The Mackey Award semifinalists and the Associated Press All-America teams.

Sports Illustrated's All-America selections, however, listed Smith first in the Honorable Mentions at tight end. Salut, Jonnu.

Smith won't be in line for a raise. But it'll be interesting to see how much the pool of assistant football coach money increases, if at all. Several coaches, including defensive coordinator Josh Conklin and offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler, have come to the end of their original two-year deals.

December 11, 2014

Turner Talk, Part II

Surprised at all by your defense this year?

Maybe a little bit. You hate to say that because it sounds like you didn’t expect much. But you never know how a young guy’s going to respond. Once I saw them in training camp, I wasn’t surprised by what they did in games. Guys like Anthony Wint and Fred Russ and Treyvon Williams and Jordan Guest, those linebackers from day one were overly aggressive – “Guys we don’t need that late hit, this isn’t full contact.” That’s a problem you want to have. You can’t teach someone to be aggressive, but you can teach them to be smart about. (Safety Demarkus) Perkins was playing with that attitude in camp.

(Defensive end Michael) Wakefield, unbelievable motor. Goes full speed all the time. (Defensive end) Denzell Perine, another of those guys with a great, great motor. They got a little bit bigger, stronger in the offseason. They stepped up. I think that affected all the other guys on the defensive line. Giovanni (Francois) stepped up and started to show the same kind of motor that Wakefield and Perine showed. It was contagious. The norm was for them to play hard with a great motor. It was great to see.

(Linebacker) Davison Colimon, he’s a guy with great motor. He was a totally different guy this year. Colimon played great football for us. He played with great intensity both on defense and special teams.

What do you plan to do about your punting situation?

Find somebody, hopefully. Terrible. Jose (Laphitzondo) stepped in, the first time he’d ever played and did the best he could do. Chris (Ayers) has a good leg. He just hasn’t been able to put together, stay healthy, punt with confidence. But we’re looking. We’re looking for guys out there as well. I don’t’ know if it’ll come from within, but we’re looking at guys on the outside as well.

The problem is you don’t have a lot of scholarship spots. It’s hard to give one to a punter you don’t have here or one to a kicker because they’re so hard to evaluate. But we’ve definitely got to get better. The field position that cost us...we’re going to go back and chart, but it’s just…we’ve got to get better.

What about Luke Medlock? (an All-State punter in high school)

He’s got a chance. We worked him at a lot, early, especially. But he was just too inconsistent. But he’s got a chance. He’s got a strong leg, so he’s in the mix. He’ll be there along with Chris, Jose and (kicker) Sergio (Sroka) wants to try punting as well. We’ll give anybody (a chance).”

What players who have eligibility remaining do you not anticipate coming back?

(Quarterback) EJ (Hilliard) is not coming back. I don’t anticipate (wide receiver) Dominique (Rhymes) returning. (Wide receiver) Richard Burrows, he’d be a fifth-year guy and you’re not going to bring him back for a fifth year. Other than that, I don’t know. There’s a couple of guys I’ve talked to…we’ll see. People think that because the guy’s a fifth-year of eligibility, he automatically comes back. No. They’ve got to want to come back and we’ve got to want them to come back. That’s not just here, that’s everywhere.

What do you see you need to beef up in recruiting?

Overall depth. Every position we need to bring guys in. Playmakers, speed is one thing we’ve got to get. And playmakers aren’t always speed guys (DJN digression: the Hall of Fame wide receiver nicknamed “The Playmaker,” Michael Irvin, wasn’t a speed guy). Speed guys and or playmakers. We’ve got to continue to get them, whether it’s offense, defense, whatever.

We lost six senior offensive lineman. We brought in a really good freshman offensive lineman class last year. So we’ve got to continue to keep those numbers up where they are. That part is going well at that position. Offensive line and defensive line, you’ve always got to recruit numbers and get depth. To me, we’ve got numbers and good players, guys that we really like who are committed. We’ve just got to hold onto them.”

How has recruiting changed this year as opposed to last year, especially locally?

Last year, I thought our guys did a really good job of recruiting. The reception we got out there was good. I think it’s even better this year. I think people are seeing what we’re doing. Every high school coach I’ve talked to are seeing what we’re doing and seeing the strides we’re making, seeing what our guys are doing off the field as well as on the field and in the communi9ty and how they’re playing. I’ve had several coaches say “It’s night and day difference when we watch on the field this year than last year.” We’re basically full on our commitments. We’re actually getting guys calling us who were committed elsewhere who are asking “Do you still have scholarships available?” That’s a positive.

Do you plan to reach out to any of the Alabama-Birmingham kids, who are now free to go anywhere?

We possibly could. We’ve talked about it as a staff. There might be a couple of positions, offensive line, defensive line, if they’ve got some guys who have eligibility remaining, I don’t care if it’s one year, three years, whatever. Yeah, it’s something we’d look at. First of all, I think it’s a sad, disappointing thing. I feel so bad for those players. Watch that video of the team meeting. It’s a bad, bad deal. Those kids go there and – I look at our team room and I see how hard our guys work and everything they’re doing. The trust they put in us. And to see it pulled out from them like that without any warning. I look at the coaches, they went there a year ago, Bill Clark and his staff. I don’t know Bill really well, just from meetings and playing them. He seems like a really class, good human being. To see him go there a year ago – everybody talks about the head coach, but you’ve got a staff, nine full time assistants – and to have it all pulled away, it’s a sad deal.

On one hand, you almost feel like a vulture if you go in and take those guys. On the other hand, those kids want people to come in and recruit them because they want to play Division I football. We are going to take a look at it and see if there are guys we have spots for. We don’t have a lot of spots unfortunately – and if it’s a good fit. I spoke with Bill Clark this morning. It’s just a tough, tough deal. Those kids are going to go somewhere. So, we’ll get in the mix, try to help them. And, help us.

Any staff changes?

I hope not. I love our staff. I think we’ve got everything exactly where I want it right now. I couldn’t be happier with them. There will be no changes on my part. You never know what’s going to happen. Jobs open up, guys come calling from bigger conferences or the NFL. I told the guys, “You have something you’re interested in, someone contacts you and it’s better for you and your family, I’m 100 percent supportive and I’ll do what I can do to help you get it. But I really want everyone to stay. And I’ll do what I can do to try to get you to stay.”

(DJN: According to USA Today’s assistant salary table, FIU spent $1,065,400 on assistants last year, fourth in Conference USA behind UTEP, North Texas and Middle Tennessee State)

It’s hard to get a staff together, nine full time coaches and four graduate assistants that everybody gets along. Egos usually get in the way and you have some issues there. We have zero. We have a group of guys who are not afraid to express their opinion, talking about what they want to do. At the end of the day, if we decide “this is what we’re going to do” whether it’s a defensive scheme or offensive scheme or how we’re practicing, they’re 100 percent behind it. The personalities on the staff and how they get along could not be better, as good as I’ve been around. I think our players have a lot of confidence in our coaches and know our coaches care about them as individuals, not just winning games. And they’re all doing a really good job of recruiting.

Facilities-wise, what’s the next thing you’d like to see?

Grass practice field. That’s something I’ve been talking to the AD (Pete Garcia) and to the President (Mark Rosenberg) about. It’s going to happen at some point, I’m not sure when. Just the wear and tear of that (points out the office window to Ocean Bank Field) takes its toll a little bit. It’s not mandatory that we get it, but it would be nice if we get that.

Other than that, they’re doing a good job, they’re committed to a lot of stuff. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot. All the players I’ve gotten in here, I ask every one of them, I ask one-on-one, “Do you have any issues? Any concerns? Do you have anything you’d like to see done better?” Every once in a while, somebody will say, “Well, the food…” But they say that in NFL camps when they’ve got gourmet food coming in. Other than that, they’re happy with the support staff, happy with the academic staff, happy with our medical staff.

We’re putting in a little player lounge for them which I think they will enjoy. Somewhere they can do to relax a bit. We’ll try to get some things like that done. We’re not at a competitive disadvantage within our conference in any area, so…

What did you think when you saw the massive donation at FAU and what FAU’s planning?

What’s FAU planning?

They just got a $16 million gift from the Schmidt Family Foundation toward a $45 $50 million facility that’s supposed to have an indoor practice facility, academic center, weight room, etc.

I didn’t know anything about that. Good for them. The thing we have to do is make sure we’re not at a competitive disadvantage in our conference and teams we’re playing. Hopefully, we’ll continue to upgrade our facilities. I don’t think we need to do a whole lot. We’ve got pretty good facilities here. Obviously, there are some things you can do every year.

I think all that stuff is good, but what sells recruits more than coming in and seeing a nice locker room and this and that – I think our facilities don’t take a back seat to a lot of people, but the thing that kids and their parents are most impressed with is the people. Obviously, it’s nice to have great locker room, great everything for them to come to, but the bottom line is the people. If we get them on our campus and they get around our coaches and they see what kidn of people we are, they get around our players. We have a very good chance of getting htem. Last year, on our visits, we had one weekend where we had 20 kids visit. And we had 19 commit to us when they were here.

Turner said the season captains were voted as Michael Wakefield, Richard Leonard and center Donald Senat. The game captains changed weekly, save Wakefield.

“As coaches, we talked about it every Monday. I’d say, ‘OK, game captains this week” and they would nominate some guys. Every time, somebody said, ‘Wakefield” it would be ‘OK, it’s going to be Wakefield and Richard’ or ‘Wakefield and Perk’ or ‘Wakefield and somebody.’ By the second half of the season, we didn’t even say his name, we’d just say ‘Wakefield and who else?’ Based on work ethic, performance the week before, doing the right things. We tried to get at least one offense, defense, special teams.”

  


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