FIU assistant head coach Allen Mogridge said Newton Salisbury’s “chili runs hot.”
Salisbury is not a chef. He’s a 6-3, 265-pound FIU defensive end whose intense work ethic – or “hot chili” as Mogridge puts it — is so well known that sometimes opponents feel they have no other recourse except to pull at his long hair to try to stop him.
“It hurts — they will just grab a handful of hair,” said Salisbury, a 22-year-old senior. “You can feel (your hair) ripped out. But I just keep going.”
Salisbury, who is fourth on the team in tackles for losses, will continue his pursuit of ball-carriers on Saturday as FIU (3-1, 2-0) visits Middle Tennessee (2-3, 0-1) in a Conference USA battle.
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FIU has won three straight games, leading the C-USA East Division, and Salisbury’s all-out effort has been a factor.
Salisbury, for example, had a sack and was part of a goal-line stand that led to FIU’s 13-7 win at Rice on September 23.
“Newt doesn’t quit – he’s always trying new moves,” FIU offensive lineman James Cruise. “He’s like a different animal. Even if it’s a walk-through, he’s still trying to get himself better.”
A native of Collinsville, Oklahoma, Salisbury wrestled for 13 years, starting at age four. That training still helps today as Salisbury is skilled in knowing about leverage and attack angles.
Salisbury comes from a highly athletic family. His father Roger (wrestling) and mother Kendra (basketball) were high school athletes. His older brother Dalton was a two-time individual state champ in wrestling. And his younger sister, Sawyer, played junior college basketball.
“I think we’re all pretty good,” Roger said when asked who is the family’s best athlete. “But we’ll give it to Newt – he’s made it the furthest.”
When Newton was a kid, he would play “King of the Mat” with Dalton and other boys on the family’s backyard trampoline.
“Whoever didn’t get thrown off was the winner,” Roger said.
As a junior at Collinsville High, Salisbury suffered a knee injury, tearing his ACL. He had surgery only to tear it again as a senior.
Salisbury opted not to have a second surgery, Roger said, and played his senior year with the injury. He managed to make 80 tackles, including eight sacks, leading Collinsville to a 10-3 record and a berth in the state semifinals.
Colleges weren’t overly impressed – Roger said it was because Newton missed his junior year. Salisbury ultimately signed to play junior college ball at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, where he was noticed by the previous FIU coaching staff.
“Newt is a guy who jumps off the screen because of his motor,” ex-FIU coach Ron Turner said when Salisbury signed in December of 2015. “He’s relentless.”
First-year FIU coach Butch Davis, in a sense, inherited Salisbury, but there is a connection between their families. Davis’ father, Paul, was the principal at Collinsville Middle, and among his students were Roger and Kendra Salisbury.
“Everyone loved and respected him,” Roger said of Paul Davis. “Everybody walked lightly around him.”
Collinsville, which is part of the Tulsa metropolitan area, is a small town with about 5,000 residents. Everyone knows each other, and most of the residents, Roger said, root for Salisbury.
“If the (FIU) game is on TV, people text us all the time, saying, ‘Man, that was a good tackle’!” said Roger, who will attend the Middle Tennessee game with Kendra and Sawyer.
“It’s wonderful. It makes you proud when you have a kid who gets to live his dream like Newt has.”
Saturday: FIU @ Middle Tennessee
Kickoff: 3 p.m.; Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Favorite: Middle Tennessee by 10.
Records: FIU 3-1 (2-0 C-USA); Middle Tennessee 2-3 (0-1 C-USA).
Series: Middle Tennessee leads 8-4.
FIU injuries: Out — RB Anthony Jones (knee).
Middle Tennessee injuries: Questionable — CB Michael Minter (undisclosed); WR Richie James (ankle); RB Shane Tucker (undisclosed); RB Terell West (knee); DE Walter Brady (undisclosed). Doubtful — QB Brent Stockstill (collarbone).