The screen saver on running back Alex Gardner’s laptop freezes a moment from the 2014 FIU football season. Gardner’s body slants at an acute angle to the ground with Marshall’s Cory Tindal, right hand just inside Gardner’s helmet, riding Gardner’s back.
There’s about a second and a half left in Gardner’s freshman year.
“It reminds me I missed a lot of time that I felt like I could’ve helped my team out more, bettered my stats and possibly could’ve gotten my team into the [Conference USA] race,” Gardner said after the first day of FIU spring football practice Thursday.
Thursday also was Gardner’s first practice since his right shoulder got separated upon landing during that tackle against Marshall. His season slammed to a stop at 582 yards on 137 carries in seven and a half games for a 3-4 FIU team. The Panthers finished 4-8 with junior Anthon Samuel tying Gardner as the team’s leading rusher and Napoleon Maxwell running for 254 yards on 45 carries, 4.6 a pop.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Gardner said his shoulder is healed and stronger after his first football injury that caused him to miss a game at any level.
Some backs want that first contact after such an injury.
“I’m trying to score on that first touch,” he said.
Gardner’s got the kind of talent coaches try to recruit and the entire package that lets coaches sleep. He’s a good student who sings in church. And he practices what he preaches — when fellow freshman Napoleon Maxwell began tearing it up late in the season with the carries that would’ve gone to Gardner, he did so with Gardner’s enthusiastic encouragement before and during games.
They’re going to be roommates this year.
“Before we even got to FIU, we used to chat on Twitter, exchanged numbers,” Gardner said. “One of his cousins stays in Jacksonville, so we kind of met through him. We had a relationship before we even came.”
With Samuel, Gardner and Maxwell, FIU is healthy at the running back position right now. They don’t have much experience at wide receiver. So logic dictated where early enrollee Anthony Jones, a running back/wide receiver out of Central High, starts this spring.
“I’m learning one position right now, so I was at receiver today,” Jones said.
Jones credited the support staffs for making the “kind of tough” adjustment to college life “feel easy.”
“It’s just like high school, just quicker a bit,” he said. “They work a little harder.”
FIU’s next practice will be Saturday morning on Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium. All practices are closed to the public.