July 14, 2015

CUSA Coaches Love Richard Leonard; Lombardi Watch List? Got Two

Conference USA coaches voted FIU fifth-year senior cornerback Richard Leonard the league's preseason Defensive Player of the Year. 

Some -- like me -- thought Leonard should've been the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year for 2014: five interceptions, two returned for touchdowns; four fumble recoveries, one returned for a touchdown; two forced fumbles; seven passes broken up; and stopping Alabama-Birmingham 4x4 truck Jordan Howard on a fourth-and-short with UAB driving in FIU's upset win.

Equating FIU's defense to a baseball lineup, the 5-9 cornerback essayed the Mark McGwire role with the big impact plays. The Rod Carew or Ted Williams, steady hitting play after play, day after day, game after game,  was defensive end Michael Wakefield. There's a reason in the FIU coaches' weekly selection of captains, only Wakefield got chosen for every game.

Wakefield and defensive end Denzell Perine each got named to the preseason Lombardi Award Watch List. The award goes to college-affiliated football's best down lineman or linebacker, if said linebacker lines up no more than 5 yards off the ball. The honor takes its name from Vince Lombardi, most famously the Green Bay Packers head coach during their 1960s glory days, but also in college one of the Seven Blocks of Granite, Fordham's offensive line in the 1930s.

Wakefield collected 8.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last year, while Perine had 9.5 and 6.5 respectively. Although my counterpart up on the Western Kentucky beat, Chad Bishop, ranks FIU's regular season closer as Western's least interesting game, I'm kind of intrigued by the matchup: Western's gunslinging offense triggered by CUSA preseason Offensive Player of the Year Brandon Doughty against FIU's pass rush and Leonard-led secondary.

 

 

July 13, 2015

Leonard on Thorpe Watch

Jim Thorpe did everything as one of football's first superstars.

In an era when college football was America's second most popular team sport behind major league baseball -- professional football tended to be as confined to Ohio and Western Pennsylvania as the worship of Woody Hayes and Joe Paterno later would be -- Thorpe played running back, defensive back, punted and kicked for Carlisle Indian Industrial School. He did all of it well enough to allow Carlisle to compete for national supremacy with the Michigans and Harvards that ruled the fields as they ruled the halls of real world power.

"Heisman" still meant the head coach at Georgia Tech, not a trophy or shorthand for a romantic stiff arm, so Thorpe couldn't win that individual honor. And the best running back often wins the Heisman. So, Thorpe's name goes on the award for the nation's best defensive back.

And FIU cornerback/kick returner/punt returner Richard Leonard is on the watch list for that award.

Leonard defensive 2014 season came thicker than a Snickers with impact plays: two interception returns for touchdowns, one fumble return for touchdown, nine total turnovers, most of which came with opponents in scoring position. It'll be interesting to see how teams deal with Leonard this season.

Seems appropriate in a couple of ways...

 

 

 

July 08, 2015

No. 87 on Mackey Award Watch List (duh)

FIU felt Jonnu Smith's 61 catches for 710 yards and eight touchdowns should've earned him a spot as a Mackey Award finalist, especially when considering the circumstances: a freshman quarterback starting 11 games and wide receivers who made only cameo appearances as downfield threats.

The Mackey Award folks disagreed (hmph), but put Smith on their preseason watch list for the second consecutive season, as announced Wednesday.

July 07, 2015

Projections...

Some of you probably saw my Tweet last week on the Over/Under line for each college football team's wins according to Bovada. Here's how the betting site sees Conference USA.

EAST DIVISION

Marshall 10

Western Kentucky 7.5

Middle Tennessee State 6.5

FIU 5.5

FAU 5.0

Old Dominion 4.5

Charlotte 2.5

WEST DIVISION

Louisiana Teach 8.0

Rice 7.5

UTEP 6

North Texas 4.5

Southern Mississippi 4.5

Texas-San Antonio 2.5

Tough call on FIU. I'd tend to go with the over.

No surprise on the players FIU will bring to the Conference USA Media Days in Boca Raton July 21-22: junior tight end Jonnu Smith and fifth-year senior cornerback/kick returner Richard Leonard.

 

 

July 04, 2015

FIU Flips the Byrd

 

 

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.

Check out his highlights here.

Happy Fourth of July

 

July 03, 2015

Leavings...

Suddenly Sam in San Diego?

Kendall Rogers of D1baseball.com is reporting that FIU's pitching coach Sam Peraza will be headed to San Diego State as the Aztecs head baseball coach. Anybody who felt FIU underachieved the last two seasons before storming through this year's Conference USA tournament can't blame the arms. The pitchers provided what little consistency existed for FIU this season a year after setting Conference USA records for staff ERA and shutouts.

FIU's also posted the Compliance Director job on the NCAA website. I'll write more about this later, but Hank Harrawood's done an excellent job cutting the bumbling out of that department in his year and a half there. 

July 01, 2015

Whistle Blowers

When Cindy Russo retired after seemingly a century as FIU women's basketball head coach, she already counted as something of a dinosaur -- a female head coach at FIU. The hiring of Marlin Chinn as her replacement cemented Russo's brontosaurus status.

This article puts FIU's dearth of female head coaches in perspective. Only 29 of the 138 schools with FBS football or Big East basketball have a lower percentage of women coaching women than FIU's 30 percent. Of the 10 women's sports at FIU, only three have female head coaches and the school's getting three sports for two women -- Rita Buck-Crockett is the head coach for volleyball and sand volleyball. Katarina Petrovic coaches the tennis team.

A case-by-case look at FIU's women's teams coaches reminded me of the 1980s Boston Celtics, which often included three white guys among five starters. The bombastic declarations that this melanin split demonstrated racism in the Celtics organization were countered with, "OK, who do you not want to start? Perennial All-Star Larry Bird, perennial All-Star Kevin McHale or Danny Ainge, for whom every NBA coach would find a spot?"

Similar situation among FIU's women's teams. Randy Horner's turned FIU's swimming and diving team from what one former swimmer called "a glorified high school team" into one of the best mid-major programs in the nation. Before the last two disappointing seasons, FIU's most consistent winners played soccer under the direction of Thomas Chestnutt. Joe Vogel coaches golf. That covers FIU's last three conference championship programs before the baseball team battered Conference USA into submission in May.

Softball coach Gator Rebhan came recommended by some of his current players. Track & field and cross country's Ryan Heberling ascended to head coach of both programs off convenience and his work with FIU's women's throwers, the strongest part of the track program in recent years. As has been noted here often, the women's teams consistently perform well academically despite so many FIU female athletes growing up with English as a second or third language.

In the overall athletic department, coaches who have shown progress but yet to prove definitively they can get it done consistently -- football's Ron Turner, men's basketball's Anthony Evans, men's soccer's Scott Calabrese -- occupy jobs women's coaches won't get as things stand now.

And that's the legitimate beef women's coaches and their advocates have with the steady stream of men into jobs coaching women's teams. Nobody's truly an equal opportunity employer.

Pat Summitt racked up 1,098 wins over 38 years as Tennessee's women's basketball coach. If you sat on a pile of her credentials and honors, you do your best Mongo Santamaria on Shaq's head. Handling the Tennessee program from the days when she had to drive the van and wash the uniforms herself, Summitt's knowledge of running a successful college basketball program is oceanic. Tennessee reportedly twice approached Summitt about coaching the men's team.

Yet, you never heard of, say, Louisiana Tech, nosing around Pat Summitt about coaching its men's hoop team. But Tyler Summitt with two years as an assistant at Marquette and 23 chromosomes from his mother gets the women's basketball job at La Tech, where all the coaches of women's teams have a Y chromosome.

Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters doing two years as an assistant men's coach at Butler then applying to be the head coach at FIU? Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters getting the chance even to be an assistant at Butler?

Though I'm a black man with a daughter, I don't get crazy about the gender/race role model thing. It's too limiting. There's too much to be learned from too many people of all skin tones and genitalia. And if nobody who looks like you has achieved something before, I say to that person what my mother used to say to me: "Guess you'll have to be the first."

But what about when you don't even get the chance to be the first? Because there's too much to be learned from diverse voices, the reduced volume of female coach voices matters at FIU and elsewhere.

 

June 30, 2015

Dolphins Coming to FIU

The Dolphins will hold a public practice at FIU Stadium Aug. 7 as part of a Friday Night Festival, featuring live practice and scrimmage, player autographs afterwards, cheerleaders and Dolphins alumni smiling and waving after signing autographs...all you'd expect from a franchise of good people working very hard to help everybody overlook 20 years of professional mediocrity on the field.

Tickets can be purchased here for $5 each.

 

June 29, 2015

June 27, 2015

Summer Friday Night Softball for Charity

While I wrote about a summer camp at the University of Miami that disappeared and a sailor who disappeared before rambling up the Palmetto and I-75 to the NHL Draft, David Furones went to the Cypsquad Charity Celebrity Softball Game Friday at FIU Baseball Stadium. Proceeds from the event benefit former FIU safety Johnathan Cyrpien's CypSquad Foundation.

Furones reports:

Cyprien, a starting safety the last two seasons for Jacksonville, put together a team predominantly of former college teammates, high school teammates at North Miami Beach High, former UM players and other NFL players with South Florida ties against members of the military, policemen and fire fighters from Miami-Dade County.

Proceeds benefited the CypSquad At-Risk Youth Program and the Feed Our Block Foundation. A number of children in the program were on the field meeting and taking pictures with the stars before and after the game.

“Our mission, No. 1, was for these kids out here because we wouldn’t be having this event if it wasn’t for those guys,” Cyprien said. “This foundation started about a month ago, and it’s for at-risk youths to put them in better positions so they can make better choices.”

Among the top standout sightings were Indianapolis Colts Pro-Bowl wide receiver and former FIU Panther T.Y. Hilton, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (Northwestern High), Chicago Bears safety Antrel Rolle (UM, Homestead South Dade) and former FIU baseball star Garret Wittels, he of the 56-game hitting streak.

Cyprien said his highlight on the field was scoring a run in the 9-5 victory for the celebrity team. The top bloopers: Isame Faciane dropping a fly ball, Dolphins safety Louis Delmas dancing around the field every chance he got or rapper Ice Berg just embarrassing himself at the plate.

Some of the best ovations from the roughly 1,000 in attendance came for Hilton, of course.

“Any time you get a chance to come back to your old stomping grounds, you do that,” Hilton said. “Just give back, just come out here and have fun and spend some time with the kids.”

Cyprien plans on making the softball game an annual event with the connections he has in both the Miami and Jacksonville areas.

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June 26, 2015

Football Past & Future

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

MEN'S SOCCER

The 2015 schedule is out.

VOLLEYBALL

Same here.

 

June 18, 2015

Extending, & Extenuating

Credit to FIU Student Media for getting a sit down with FIU President Mark Rosenberg and to the president for being responsive to student media for the chat that resulted in this video. Rosenberg answers questions about athletic director Pete Garcia and the football program going back to Division II.

While Rosenberg could've given a Dikembe Mutumbo finger wag after swatting the second question into the metaphorical 10th row, he did a little dancing when asked about a Garcia contract extension (Garcia's up in 2016). Rosenberg called that question "premature," which it most certainly would be if this were a completely different athletic department and athletic director. As it is...look, if you're reading this, you probably know all about it and if you don't, click on "Pete Garcia" on the list of categories and read away. I have neither the time nor the inclination to rehash it all here.

Anyway, after Muhammad Ali Rosenberg floated like a butterfly from that question, he straight out said he wants to keep productive people around and Garcia, in his opinion, has been productive "with the resources he has had, with the capabilities that have evolved."

"Resources" is the less crass way of saying "money and people." According to USA Today's annual college sports economics survey, FIU received only 3 percent of its 2013-14 income from ticket sales, last in Conference USA. Meanwhile, its portion of the athletic's budget coming from subsidy was a Conference USA high 80.2 percent of which the overwhelming majority comes out of student fees.

 

June 16, 2015

Report: Former FIU baseball player Lozano killed

A hit-and-run by a Toyota or Lexus SUV killed former FIU infielder Corey Lozano Sunday according to this report from Channel 25 in Palm Beach.

Lozano's FIU career, from 2005-08, put his name in the baseball program's record book beyond all-time roster. He played 216 games (sixth all-time), produced 250 hits (tied for fourth), 173 runs (sixth) and 44 doubles (seventh).

Anyone with any possible information on this, please contact Palm Beach Gardens police at 561-799-4406.

June 15, 2015

FIU on ASN (football, of course)

Conference USA announced which games will be televised on the American Sports Network and FIU announced game times for two should-be home wins. Actually, the five games involved might comprise the Panthers' 2015 victory total.

ASN, a division of Sinclair Broadcasting that too often doesn't include a station in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market, decrees that FIU's home games against Texas-El Paso on Oct. 18 and Charlotte on Nov. 7 will be at noon. If you heard a Nancy Kerrigan-like screaming, that's FIU's marketing and sales reacting to any potential hope for a decent crowd getting kneecapped.

I used to wonder why FIU didn't play more home early afternoon football games to take advantage of the heat. I saw the Rice and Pitt crowds -- using "crowds" more loosely than jeans sag on the ignorant -- last year. I wonder no more.

The annual Shula Bowl, at FAU this year, gets a 3:30 p.m. kickoff for Oct. 31, Halloween, on ASN. That'll take a few parents out of the trick-or-treating game. I hope two South Florida teams means ASN manages to show the game down here on something other than ASN's streaming site.

FIU announced its home opener, a planned punking of North Carolina Central, and the Oct. 24 Homecoming game against Old Dominion will be 6 p.m. kickoffs.

 

 

June 14, 2015

Phillicia & Phil

Long jumper Phillicia Fluellen officially finished FIU's 2014-15 athletic year when she sailed to 14th in this week's NCAA Championships.

Fluellen's leap of 20 feet, 4 1/2 inches was her third best this season and second best among the mid-majors at the meet behind 10th place Texas State's Allie Saunders (I'm not counting 11th place Tennessee State's Clairwin Dameus as being from a mid-major -- that track program's been good longer than half the coaches at that meet have been alive.)

FOOTBALL

The premier college football preview publication, by information tonnage and accuracy, Phil Steele's College Football 2015, is now online if not newsstands.

Steele ranks FIU 103rd overall and fourth in Conference USA East. One of the common problems when turnovers become the manna you turn into victory, as in FIU's five wins over the last two seasons, is that's not consistent sustenance. Steele lists the Panthers as one of the teams with a positive double-digit turnover margin, a statistic that precedes a dropoff in wins the following year for 65 percent of such cases since 1991.

But, Steele points out FIU was four plays from being 8-4 last year instead of 4-8 and expects this year's model to be the best of the three Ron Turner FIU teams.

So, there's that.

 

 

June 12, 2015

C-USA Gives FIU's Vander Schaaf School Money

 FIU swimmer Courtney Vander Schaaf graduated with a psychology degree and minored in biology. She's going into the accelerated nursing program at Valparaiso -- yes, Valpo, known for Orville Redenbacher, Ken LaVicka and this shot -- and gets $4,000 toward that cost as one of 14 Conference USA Jim Castenada Postgraduate Scholarship recipients.

Castenada was a Rice coach, faculty athletics representative and instructor for 46 years. The scholarship recipients are chosen by the conference's faculty athletics reps.

...and Comings

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.

FOOTBALL

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.

 

June 11, 2015

Going...

So, here's the final count for FIU in the Major League Baseball draft, at least, among those who've worn the blue and gold:

*Junior 1B/2B/SS Edwin Rios, sixth round, 192nd overall, Los Angeles Dodgers

*Junior righthanded pitcher Danny Dopico, 11th round, 322nd overall, Chicago White Sox

*Senior shortstop Julius Gaines, 33rd round, 995th overall, Seattle Mariners

*Junior righthanded pitcher Gianni Zayas, 35th round, 1,055th overall, Seattle Mariners (My mock draft had Zayas going 1,043rd. Can't imagine how he slipped...)

*Senior third baseman Josh Anderson, 38th round, 1,126th overall, Arizona Diamondbacks.

FOOTBALL

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. 

June 10, 2015

Baseball Bits with Dopico & Julius

The Major League Baseball draft picked another Panther, righthanded relief pitcher Danny Dopico, Wednesday. He went in the 11th round, 322nd overall, to the Chicago White Sox. I almost put that in the headline just so I could use "Chisox."

Senior shortstop Julius Gaines was honored by Conference USA with one of the conference's Spirit of Service Awards. The honor shines a light on the athletes doing the best jobs of community service while also excelling academically and athletically. Gaines 500 volunteer hours led the baseball team and makes me wonder when he slept. He has a 3.63 grade point average as a recreation and sports management major while, of course, starting all but one game for the conference championship baseball team.

 

June 09, 2015

Dodger Blue Loves Edwin Rios

And so is Rios' current value set by t0he Los Angeles Dodgers drafting him in the sixth round. FIU's junior first baseman (and second baseman and outfielder) made First Team All-Conference USA this season after finishing third in the nation in home runs (18) and second in Conference USA in RBI (56).


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