FIU spring football is a little more than two months away, 64 days to be exact, but here are some updates on the Panthers from my recent conversation with FIU coach Ron Turner.
During our meeting, Turner talked about the Panthers’ needs in recruiting, the quarterback situation going into 2014, what he’s looking for in the three vacant assistant coaching positions, looked back on 2013 and said who is expected back for spring football.
Obviously neither Turner, nor myself – both being FIU employees – can comment on specific recruits. Therefore the following is a general overview of FIU’s recruiting.
National Signing Day is February 5 and FIU has 25 spots available to add to its roster. Turner expects to sign 25 new Panthers in February which will bring the FIU roster to an NCAA maximum of 85 players.
“Recruiting is going very well,” Turner said. “We can say this. We have 25 commitments for 25 spots but we know that we could lose some so we are still recruiting other guys. We could lose a few, not many to grades. Most of our recruits are very solid grade-wise. So far recruiting is very solid and most of them are our top choice guys at the positions we’re recruiting.”
Looking back at last season, the Panthers were undermanned along the offensive and defensive lines. FIU also did not have any game-breaking receivers and were inexperienced and lacked depth at linebacker. These are all areas that are being targeted.
“We have to improve the depth at all areas,” Turner said. “Offensive line, defensive line are always areas of great need and recruiting for depth. We didn’t have the numbers on either offensive or defensive line last year so we have to increase those numbers.”
There are two early signees/recruits that are on-campus and enrolled in classes. Quarterbacks Alex McGough and Bud Martin are the two newest Panthers and count toward the 25 spots that FIU has available for NSD. Offensive lineman Chris Flaig, who was part of the 2013 signing class, has been medically cleared and will participate in spring ball as well.
With veteran quarterback Jake Medlock transferring to Valdosta State and redshirt freshman Israel Paopao moving back home to California to enroll in a junior college, FIU has just one returning experienced quarterback in E.J. Hilliard. Akil Dan-Fodio, who arrived at FIU in 2011 as a quarterback then moved to tight end, will return to the quarterback position.
“Bud Martin and Alex McGough will compete with E.J. this spring and also Akil Dan-Fodio,” Turner said. “It’s huge for Martin and McGough to be enrolled early because they will get an extra 15 practices in the spring plus all the quarterback meetings. Martin and McGough played in pro-style offenses in high school and some spread. McGough did both. We have sat down and talked about the offensive concepts. McGough was very familiar with the concepts. When I sat down with Martin to talk about the concepts, Martin used the same terminology I used. I said ‘Where did you get that terminology because that’s my terminology?’ He said that his high school head coach used to be the Rutgers quarterbacks coach who worked under former Rutgers offensive coordinator, Craig Ver Steeg, who was my quarterbacks coach at Illinois. It was basically my playbook that Ver Steeg took to Rutgers.”
Before spring practice Turner has three vacant assistant coaching positions to fill with the departures of linebackers coach Tom Williams, special teams coach Kevin Wolthausen and running backs coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker. All three positions are expected to be filled very soon.
“The number one thing I look for in these three coaching hires is to get good people,” Turner said. “Get good guys with high character, high integrity, great work ethic that are good people, people. If they are that they will be good recruiters because they care. If you get guys that care about the kids on and off the field then they are going to be good recruiters. That’s first and foremost, get good people that I want my kids to play for. Obviously, they have to have expertise in the position that they are coaching.”
The Panthers had their first team meeting of the new year last week. In the meeting Turner pointed out that the Panthers gained valuable playing experience last season that should help in the coming season.
“I told them in the meeting that we have talent and experience to win this coming season,” Turner said. “Last year we went into the season with one of the youngest teams in the country. And this is not to make excuses, but nearly half of our roster made their college debuts last season and almost 80 percent of our roster was either in their first or second year of college football.”
Here are some of the numbers when it comes to the FIU football team’s playing experience before the 2013 season and heading into the 2014 season.
Before 2013, FIU had 4 returning starters. Before the coming 2014 season FIU will have 21 returning starters.
Before 2013, FIU players had 104 career starts. Before 2014, FIU players will have 249 career starts.
Before 2013, only 6 Panthers had played 300+ snaps. Before 2014, FIU will have 23 players with that many snaps played.
Before 2013, there were zero Panthers to have played 500+ snaps. Before 2014, FIU will have 14 players to have played 500+ snaps.
For spring practice FIU will welcome back defensive back Richard Leonard and receiver Glenn Coleman, who are both academically eligible. Leonard (photo below left), the fastest player on the team since T.Y. Hilton went to work on Sundays, was missed last year both on pass defense and returning kicks. The physicality and secure hands of Coleman (below right) were missed in the passing game. Those are the only two players Turner expects back for spring practice.
FIU spring football begins March 18 with a Tuesday morning practice. The 15 spring football practices will conclude April 12 on a Saturday with the final practice. Turner said he is not sure if that final practice will be a spring game or some other format. Stay tuned for that. All practices are open to the public.