FIU Panthers running back Napoleon Maxwell feels so good these days that he has to think for a moment before he remembers which knee it was that shattered in consecutive seasons.
Spoiler alert: It was his left knee.
“I forget I even had surgery,” said Maxwell, who went 33 months and nine days in between football games but has since made a full recovery. “I don’t think about it or feel it anymore.”
Maxwell wrapped up an outstanding regular season on Saturday, leading FIU with 96 rushing. yards on just nine carries (10.7 average) in a heartbreaking 28-25 home loss to Marshall.
FIU (8-4, 6-2) gave up one touchdown on a blocked punt and another on an interception while also failing on two field goals in the disappointing performance. Had the Panthers won, they would have set a school record for single-season wins and also made it to the Conference USA title game for the first time.
Instead, the Panthers will play Toledo (7-5, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) in the Bahamas Bowl on December 21.
An FIU victory there would still set the school wins record. It would also be just the second Panthers bowl win ever.
Maxwell, meanwhile, will enter the bowl playing at his peak. He concluded the regular season ranked sixth in Conference USA in rushing with 673 yards. His seven rushing touchdowns ranked tied for ninth. And his 5.6 average per rush tied for seventh.
The past two weeks have shown he is better than ever. He ran for 102 yards on seven carries against Charlotte, and then had another strong effort against Marshall. Added up, Maxwell had 198 yards on just 16 carries the past two weeks for a ridiculous 12.4 average.
That’s excellent work for Maxwell, considering his rebuilt left knee, which caused him to miss the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons.
In his first game back, on August 31, 2017, he had a 51-yard run, making a positive impression on coach Butch Davis, who was making his FIU debut that night against UCF.
FIU running backs coach Tim Harris Jr. said Maxwell is a leader, setting an example for the Panthers’ other contributors at the position, such as sophomore D’Vonte Price, junior Shawndarrius Phillips and redshirt junior Anthony Jones.
“Napoleon is a hard-working guy,” Harris said. “I was here with him when he suffered those back-to-back knee injuries. He has worked his butt off to get back to top form.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how he finishes the season.”
There’s a good bet Maxwell will return next season, too.
He has already earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. But he’s now working on a second major, in Criminal Justice, and he is due to complete that work this summer. And although he has been at FIU for five years, he has only played three seasons and could appeal to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility.
“I have to sit down with the coaches in the coming weeks,” Maxwell said. “But I’m not focusing on that right now.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Middle linebacker Sage Lewis, who on Saturday set an FIU single-season record with 126 tackles, led the league with 76 solo stops. His 126 total tackles tied for the conference lead. A 6-1, 240-pounder, Lewis is a redshirt junior from Monsignor Pace.
▪ Davis has been named one of 18 semifinalists for the George Munger Collegiate Coach of the Year award. He is one of only two Florida coaches on the list, joining UCF’s Josh Heupel.
▪ FIU’s offensive line deserves credit as the Panthers gave up just nine sacks in the regular season, the lowest total in the league.