FIU Panthers running back Anthony Jones, injured in a drive-by shooting Sept. 6, is making nearly miraculous progress from injuries to his face and back and might actually play again this season.
That exhilarating news, announced by FIU coach Butch Davis late Saturday night, was only part of the drama for the Panthers this week.
The Panthers also lost defensive end Fermin Silva — who is third in school history in sacks with 13.5 — to a practice injury, ending his season and possibly his college career.
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FIU’s easy-as-expected 55-9 win against overmatched Arkansas-Pine Bluff was the most ho-hum item of the night for Panthers fans. After all, Pine Bluff had been routed 90-6 by South Dakota State and 62-13 by Prairie View A&M the past two weeks.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game and the news surrounding the team:
1: Jones was the more seriously injured of the two FIU players who were shot that fateful day in Opa-Locka. Offensive lineman Mershawn Miller, who was there with Jones in the middle of the afternoon to visit friends, was shot in the arm and released from the hospital that night.
But the news on Jones on Saturday came as a happy surprise.
“Anthony was on the sideline [on Saturday],” Davis said, “and I suspect it won’t be too long before he will be back in a game. It will be up to the doctors, but I think we’ll get a chance to see him before the season is over.”
FIU quarterback James Morgan said the team is thrilled with Jones’ progress.
“It would be a tremendous lift if he got in [a game],” Morgan said. “That would be miraculous given what he has gone through.”
2: Silva showed what he could do with two sacks — including a forced fumble — against the Miami Hurricanes on Sept. 30, and his absence after Achilles’ tendon surgery leaves a huge hole on FIU’s defense.
“It’s killing me inside knowing that I’m done for the rest of the season, that I can’t go out there and suit up with my brothers,” Silva tweeted @_SACKMASTER7. “But, God has a reason for allowing things to happen. We may never know his wisdom, but we simply have to trust his will.”
Davis said he got a call from Silva less than 30 minutes after surgery.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’ll be back. I’ll be faster, bigger, stronger. Tell [the guys] I love them.’
“[The injury] was disappointing. He was off to a great start. He’s a playmaker.”
Davis said Silva can take this year as a redshirt and come back in 2019 for one final college season, if he chooses. Trying to go pro is another option.
“A lot will depend on the recovery,” Davis said. “But the surgeons said [the operation] couldn’t have gone better. A lot will be up to [Silva]. ‘Do I want to apply and see where I will go in the [NFL Draft]?’ Does he want to come back [to college]?
“He is on track to graduate in December. Now you have to think, ‘OK, could he get into [graduate] school?’ There are a lot of things that need to be discussed.”
3: FIU (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) has a bye this week before playing its final seven regular-season games without interruption. All seven of those games are in league play, and four of them are at home.
The Panthers need three wins to be bowl eligible for the second consecutive year under Davis, and they appear on track to get there. Prior to his arrival, FIU had only two bowl games in its history.