Not smelling the roses started Juwan Caesar on the path to FIU. The Panthers would love if Caesar bloomed into an affirmative answer to the questions they have at wide receiver.
Four years after leaving for Michigan State, Caesar’s an economics major now not far from his high school alma mater, Coral Park. He’s not like other FIU economics majors in that he plays football now and did it well enough in high school to be ranked among the best at his position in this talent-thick state. He’s like most other FIU economics majors in number of college games played: zero.
“It’s been a long time since Michigan State,” Caesar said. “It’s been a long road. Nobody wants to transfer. But I’m happy I’m working.”
Said FIU coach Ron Turner: “Sometimes, he looks really good. Sometimes, he looks like he’s not sure what he’s doing. But that’s to be expected. He’s a big body, he can run, he can make some plays.”
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Caesar came out of Coral Park in 2011 with a 6-4 frame that could fill out to much heavier than his then 180 pounds. That drew ratings of three or four stars from the recruiting hawks. It also drew Michigan State to his front door. Caesar went to East Lansing, the dowdy city where South Florida running backs (Lorenzo White, Hyland Hickson, Sedrick Irvin) used to migrate a generation or two ago.
A foot injury hampered his freshman season at Michigan State. The Spartans redshirted him, and he saw no action. He decided to transfer after that 2012 season.
“It’s mostly on me. I wasn’t taking care of business in the classroom,” Caesar said. “And I had a few injuries that set me back. I wasn’t staying on stop of things.
“I’ve got a different mind-set now. I’ve grown up a lot. I was young then.”
Caesar left Michigan State and returned to Miami, his home since his immediate family moved from Boston when he was 10 (he might be the only Panther with a New England-accented cheering section when FIU goes to UMass Oct. 3). He enrolled at Miami-Dade College for the 2013-14 school year.
He was out of football as Michigan State won the Big Ten title and went to the Rose Bowl, the dream of every Big Ten team.
“I had guys calling me — I still keep in contact with those guys — they were telling me: ‘We miss you,’ ‘You should be here,’” Caesar said. “It was tough. I realized I didn’t want to make that same mistake again. I stayed motivated. Kept working and now I’ve got 105 new brothers.”
When Caesar first talked about transferring, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio mentioned FIU. Between proximity and opportunity, Caesar liked the idea.
“I didn’t know anything until he contacted us,” Turner said. “Then we did some homework. I contacted people I knew at Michigan State. The staff knew some people. The thing I was interested in was his character. So I called some people on that staff I knew, including the head coach, to find out about his character. It was A1 — outstanding.”
Caesar sat out the 2014 season when the NCAA denied FIU’s application for a waiver. He had hamstring problems last year while practicing with FIU anyway, the result of a massive musculature that can intimidate smaller defensive backs. He said he went into Michigan State’s weight room at 180 and was at 210 in a few months.
Turner said strength coach Chad Smith put Caesar on a stretching program and a weightlifting program usually giving to quarterbacks.
“He doesn’t need to get any bigger,” Turner said. “He gets any bigger, we’ll put him on the defensive line or somewhere. He needs to get smaller and more flexible. He’s worked on that, and we noticed a difference.”