The news didn’t get any better for the FIU football team Tuesday as off-the-field attrition diminishes the roster before game-and-practice attrition can do its damage.
Junior Richard Leonard, FIU’s best cornerback and return man, will not play for FIU in 2013, coach Ron Turner confirmed after Tuesday’s practice.
“Leonard will not be eligible all year,” Turner said.
When Turner last week addressed the status of Leonard and senior wide receiver Glenn Coleman for last Saturday’s season opener, he said academic issues remained. Leonard remains in school and practicing with the team as does Coleman and sophomore wide receiver DeAndre Jasper, who has been lining up in the slot. All three missed Saturday’s 43-10 season-opening loss against Maryland.
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“Coleman and Jasper still have a shot [to play Friday against UCF],” Turner said. “Jasper has the best [chance] for this week. So we’re working him in [with the first team] a little bit.”
This projected as a rebuilding year for FIU anyway after losing 30 seniors and the transition of staffs after the firing of Mario Cristobal’s entire staff and the installation of Turner’s staff. But since the spring, FIU has lost:
Leonard, a starter the past two seasons; starting wide receivers Willis Wright and, at least for the first game, Coleman (grades); starting running back Kedrick Rhodes (gun incident, dismissed from team); potential starting defensive end Fadol Brown (transferred to Ole Miss); projected backup running back Jakhari Gore (grades, arrest after altercation with a female student).
Wright, Coleman, Rhodes and Leonard were replaced by, respectively, redshirt sophomore Clinton Taylor (first collegiate start); redshirt sophomore T.J. Lowder (first start); sophomore Lamarq Caldwell (first start); and sophomore Jeremiah McKinnon (second start).
Leonard returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns last season, and averaged 29.5 yards per kickoff return. Throughout spring and fall practices, he was the most consistently strong defensive player.
“Of course, it’s a big loss,” senior cornerback Sam Miller said of Leonard’s ineligibility. “But we have other guys who can step up, who can fill that role. We don’t depend on one guy. It’s a team out here to accomplish a goal. Young guys … they got their first game out of the way, and I feel like they’re going to bounce back and have a really good game this week.”
FIU’s inexperience showed Saturday, especially in the first half. Two Maryland touchdown passes, two touchdown option runs by Terrapins quarterback C.J. Brown and another 64-yard run were possible because of atrocious defensive breakdowns that left gaping holes.
“First play of the game, they knew what the first play of the game was for three days, we still had three busts on it,” Turner said. “A play we put in Day One of training camp. They were a little anxious.”
Turner said he pointed out in film sessions with the team, “The good things were, when we executed, we were able to do some things. When we settled down, we played a little bit better. So, there were some positives.”