FIU’s football team lived through more of that "spring, rebirth" stuff than they wanted to last year. When 2014 spring football began Tuesday, they reveled in getting back to the familiar.
"That’s all we were talking about through the eight-week [offseason] workout," quarterback E.J. Hilliard said. "Just getting back on the field and having fun."
FIU coach Ron Turner said, "Much smoother, much different attitude. Completely different attitude. The guys understand what’s expected of them. We’ve had a year to establish what we want to do. All last year, we were building a foundation. It was tough sledding building that foundation, but we feel like we’re getting it built the right way. We’ve had a tremendous offseason."
"I think everyone’s excited to be on the field playing football. There’s a lot of carryover from what we did a year ago so it’s not teaching everything from square one."
Last spring, Turner’s first truly began the transition in coaching staffs along with offensive and defensive schemes. An offensive lineman shortage of bodies and experience limited drills. Turner was still cobbling together the roster of what would be a 1-11 team.
This year, four of last year’s five offensive line starters return. Turner said the offense used more formations Tuesday than the team did at any point in the 2013 calendar year.
"A lot further [along]," Hilliard said when asked to compare to last year. "I feel like I know everything now – different formations, different shifts, all the motions, the right checks."
Hilliard took most of the first team snaps at quarterback, and said flatly "Yeah" when asked if he thought the starting job was his to lose. Hilliard started games during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The only other quarterback on the roster who’s played a second of college football is Akil Dan-Fodio, a former high school quarterback who’s played tight end and special teams at FIU.
But the confidence, zip and accuracy demonstrated by early-enrolled freshmen Bud Martin, out of Fort Lauderdale Dillard, and Alex McGough showed Hilliard won’t get the job eased up. Even considering this was helmet-and-shorts football in the spring, both freshmen looked exceedingly comfortable.
"First of all, they're quarterbacks," Turner said. "They're very instinctive. You can see it. You can see the way handle themselves. They're freshmen. They should be in hgih school right now. And they're out here taking charge, being leaders. They have a quarterback demeanor. Both of them. We had them in camp, so we knew that. That's one of the advantages of our camps. You can see the ability on film, but we can get to know them. Things come to them pretty quickly. They were in pro-style situations. Probably the concepts are similar, so that helps. Definitely helps."
There will be a new defensive quarterback, a position senior and leading tackler Markeith Russell held last year. Former outside linebacker Luis Rosado starts spring there, his first snaps at middle linebacker after two seasons at outside linebacker sandwiched a redshirt season in 2012.
"I love it. I love leading the defense," Rosado said. "I love telling the defensive linemen ‘tight right! tight left!’ I love being the guy in the middle. I love communicating, I love to talk. I love to yell on the field."
When Rosado talked about FIU’s desire to restart, he mentioned intrateam support away from FIU Stadium. Off the field problems – academics, some crime — cost FIU dearly in 2013.
"I can see us coming together more as a team, not as cliques," Rosado said. "Everybody’s hanging out with each other at the cafeteria, in class, in tutoring. Everybody’s helping each other out when it comes to classes, homework and stuff."