FIU Panthers won’t use youth as excuse in opener vs. Maryland


With a roster hit hard by ineligible players, injuries and suspensions, FIU will be forced to field an inexperienced team against Maryland.

FIU coach Ron Turner talks to quarterback Jake Medlock during a scrimmage Saturday, March 23, 2013.
FIU coach Ron Turner talks to quarterback Jake Medlock during a scrimmage Saturday, March 23, 2013.
Peter Andrew Bosch / Miami Herald staff

It’s all new for FIU. Entirely new coaching staff, players new to starting, new to positions, new to college and college football.

Now let’s see whether FIU can keep the excitement of the new from mushrooming into newbie nervousness. Doing so among the players is the initial — and possibly biggest — task for Saturday’s season opener at Maryland.

Asked whether he has ever gone into a season opener with a team this young, FIU coach Ron Turner said, “No. Not many people have. Very young, very inexperienced. Everybody has to get their first snap. We just have a bunch who happen to be getting it on the same day.”

And at the end of the first week of classes for the fall semester.

“Especially in first games, more teams lose than they win,” FIU offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said, then explained, “Most games are lost, they’re not won, because of mistakes. We’ve got to make sure as players and staff we minimize our mistakes. They’re going to happen. We’ve just got to make sure we stay focused on the next play.”

Maryland is also barely old enough to call puberty “back in the day.” According to the Terps’ depth chart, a redshirt freshman, guard Michael Dunn, starts on the offensive line; another, fullback Kenneth Goins Jr., starts in the backfield; and the Terps start eight sophomores, including wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

But dig FIU’s situation — Diggs might find himself matched up with walk-on freshman cornerback Brad Hyman-Muhammad, one of potentially 13 new starters for FIU. At least Maryland’s sophomores saw a Football Bowl Subdivision football field last season. FIU has 10 freshmen or redshirt freshmen on its two-deep depth chart.

“I just don’t want them to be nervous,” senior defensive lineman Greg Hickman said of the freshmen. “I tell them, ‘Just come out and act like you’re playing against me. Act like you’re playing against me or Isame Faciane’” — both of whom are getting long looks from NFL scouts in camp.

Quarterback Jake Medlock, the type of upbeat guy who would lose an arm and be serious when he called it a flesh wound, said, “We tell them it’s the same as high school. It’s the same thing. You’re playing the game you love that you’ve played since you were 4 or 5 years old. Even though there’s a big crowd — I remember from freshman year, they’re loud — it’s just going to be the same thing. You’ve got to play as you’ve done your entire life.”

During the past two weeks, injuries, academic shortcomings and behavior issues whittled away at what experience FIU thought it could bring.

Hyman-Muhammad might start only because junior cornerback Richard Leonard, FIU’s best coverage corner and most explosive kick and punt returner, spent the week with the scout team as his academic issues didn’t clear.

Same for senior wide receiver Glenn Coleman. Junior defensive end Giovani Francois went down with an injury. Senior defensive end Paul Crawford also didn’t make the trip.

All but Crawford, recently demoted to second team, would have been starters with better report cards from doctors and professors.

Although FIU uses multiple sets with the West Coast offense as the dominant gene and the spread-option as the recessive, don’t expect the Panthers to try to confuse Maryland.

“I don’t care if they’re true freshmen, if they’re seniors, juniors, never played a down or played a lot, when they take the field, they’re not freshmen anymore, they’re not inexperienced anymore, they’re expected to do their job,” Turner said. “We’re not going to call anything — not offense, defense, special teams — not one thing that every man on the field isn’t capable of doing.

“All they’ve got to do is relax and do their job.”

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