In the second year of FIU football under head coach Ron Turner, the Panthers know what they’re doing. Or, at least, know what they’re supposed to do.
A year ago, Panthers light on past playing time were still learning what they should do in the new offensive and defensive schemes. The new coaching staff was learning how much of the playbook their young team could do. And several expected key players weren’t eligible to do what they do.
Predictably, it all added up to a smoldering pile of didn’t do — 1-11, outscored by an average of 37-10, last in the nation in offense, etc.
So, it’s Turner, Year Two, which truly sets up as an indicator of FIU football’s direction.
“We’re setting out in camp to continue on the foundation we laid since the meeting we had in January,” said fifth-year senior center Donald Senat, now going for his master’s degree in sports management. “We’re setting out to be competitive in every game we have, every play we have.”
That meeting “was a meeting closing off what we did last year and moving our focus toward this year and what we’re trying to accomplish this year,” Senat said. “We’re still going to use last year as motivation, as expected. But all our focus is on this year and what we’re going to accomplish.”
Several elements create the aura of FIU plowing forward fully into a new football era.
FIU’s back on real radio, 1210AM ESPNDeportes, after two years on Internet radio accessible through smartphones. After three seasons of “Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium,” Miami businessman David Alfonso’s name was stripped and replaced by Ocean Bank. New uniforms feature long-awaited new helmets with a new design and gold pants of greater flash than past gilded pants.
On the field, the two Turner classes of recruits and transfers could introduce themselves in style beyond the sartorial.
Who will fill the gaps up the defensive middle left by departing seniors? Perhaps defensive tackle Imarjaye Albury, from Northwestern High after transferring from West Virginia, and sophomore middle linebacker Trayvon Williams. Freshmen Alex Gardner and Fort Lauderdale Dillard’s Dennis Turner, three-star recruits at running back and wide receiver, respectively, could see significant playing time in FIU’s search for the dynamic plays 2013 lacked.
The season will start with junior E.J. Hilliard as starting quarterback. It could end that way. But recent FIU history says either via injury (2011, 2012, 2013) or performance (2011, 2013), the backup quarterback will see significant snaps. This year, that’s freshman Alex McGough.
After leading FIU in receptions and receiving yards as a freshman last year, tight end Jonnu Smith already owns enough name recognition that he made at least one preseason publication’s All-Conference USA team. Expect Smith to be moved around the way the tight ends turned into a true hybrid receiver position in the NFL.
“To me, it’s amazing what he did last year as a true freshman, all the things we asked him to do – playing tight end, playing fullback, splitting him out as a receiver, going in motion, all the things we asked him to do in the running game and the passing game,” Turner said. “It’s amazing how he handled it, emotionally and mentally. He’s a great young man.
“The good news is, hopefully, he’ll have a little more help around him. We won’t have to put so much on his shoulders.”
There’s less on Turner’s shoulders. He’s ceded the offensive coordinator title to offensive line coach and last year’s run game coordinator Steve Shankweiler.
“There were times last year when I was in with the defense and those guys were kind of waiting to give direction,” Turner said. “Steve Shankweiler can take it and give direction for meetings and all that. The structure of how we do it is not going to change at all. I’m still going to call the plays.”
The pre-conference schedule’s friendlier to FIU. Delaying the next game in the series with Central Florida until 2015 created room for FCS laggard Wagner. Louisville’s still there, but coming to FIU. Also, the Cardinals should be going through their own transition with the return of former head coach Bobby Petrino and the loss of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Expect the season to be described by the closing refrain to Shalamar’s Second Time Around.
“ Not like the first time