FIU freshman Anthony Wint, the only linebacker to start every game this season for the Panthers’ No. 23 nationally-ranked defense, could miss the rest of the season with a left knee injury sustained Saturday against Texas-San Antonio.
After missing Tuesday’s practice, Wint was seen on campus gingerly moving on crutches, putting little weight on a left knee covered with an almost leg-length brace and what appeared to be ice bags. Although he walked off the field unassisted after staying down following a third-quarter play, Wint didn’t return to FIU’s 16-13 loss.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Guest likely will start in Wint’s place Saturday against 6-0 Marshall, which is averaging 47.8 points per game. Expect sophomore De’Shawn Hazziez to get more snaps. FIU rolls six or seven linebackers per game, keeping each in the 30- to 40-snap range unless one seems particularly hot that day.
Wint’s the second-leading tackler on the Panthers behind fifth-year senior safety Demarkus Perkins and has a fumble recovery. Before playing FIU, FAU coach Charlie Partridge said Perkins, Wint and junior defensive end Michael Wakefield really jumped off the film at him.
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The freshman out of Homestead High grabbed FIU coaches’ notice similarly during training camp with his speed and hitting ability. FIU coach Ron Turner said last month they actually had to tell the young linebackers to downshift a bit in camp out of concern for their offensive teammates’ health.
“The transition mentally is always the question,” FIU linebackers coach Rob Harley said last week. “It so happens our defense, I don’t want to say it’s simple, but it is a reactionary deal. I knew there was a chance that all those young guys could come in and play early, even our redshirt freshmen who haven’t gotten a ton of reps. We opened up the competition. The best players are going to play and the best players are going to get reps, the guys that are running the defense correctly. There’s no favorites. There’s no politics. It’s the guys who’ll get to the ball the fastest that are going to play.
“He just so happens to be playing at a really high level right now,” Harley added. “Every rep he takes, he gets better and better. That goes for every linebacker in the group.”