Florida International U

To win, you need offensive linemen. Here is how the FIU Panthers approach those recruits

Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers with special gifts tend to stand out — even to untrained eyes.

But discovering, evaluating and recruiting offensive linemen can be much trickier, and you won’t find any disagreement on that theory from FIU position coach Allen Mogridge.

“If I throw you a ball, and you catch it and run with it, and you can make people miss, that’s an easy evaluation,” said Mogridge, whose official title is assistant head coach/offensive line.

“With offensive linemen, there’s a measurable part of it — big people beat up smaller people. But you try to evaluate their ability to bend. You want to see if they play other sports. You want kids who are smart and driven because O-line is a grind.

“In the end, we want the best, big athletes we can find who have the right intangibles.”

After losing four linemen to graduation, FIU has brought in four new blockers: center Julius Pierce, guards Logan Gunderson and Sione Finau and tackle Shamar Hobdy-Lee.

Gunderson, a junior-college transfer from ASA Miami, may be the most ready of the four recruits to contribute right away, given his experience.

Among the graduated linemen, FIU lost guard Jordan Budwig, who made second-team All-Conference USA, as well as three blockers who all started multiple games in their collegiate careers: Kai Absheer, Neal Mars and Daquane Wilkie.

FIU returns three blockers who made Conference USA honorable mention: junior tackle D’Ante Demery, junior guard Shane McGough and senior center Dallas Connell.

Mogridge mentioned sophomores Willa Pierre and Marshawn Miller and junior Devontay Taylor as returning linemen in line for more duty.

“Wouldn’t you like to have something that has been seasoned?” Mogridge said, drawing an analogy with steak while making the point that his older blockers will likely have an advantage. “We sign (recruits), put them in the weight room and see what they can become.”

Pierce could become something special if the FIU coaches are correct. He is a converted tight end from Sanford Seminole.

“Centers have to pull, they have to run, they have to get to the [middle] linebacker,” FIU coach Butch Davis said. “When he signed in December, he was 6-4 1/2 and 260 (pounds). He’s now at 278, and he hasn’t even (arrived on campus) yet. … He’s a good athlete.”

Mogridge knows first-hand about switching positions. He arrived at the University of North Carolina in 1996 as a 215-pound fullback/tight end and eventually filled out to about 310 pounds as an offensive tackle who went on to play one year in the Arena League.

When Davis was UNC’s coach, he hired Mogridge away from the University of Buffalo. Davis then hired Mogridge at FIU in December of 2016.

“There’s no better recruiter than Butch Davis,” Mogridge said. “He taught me the idea of taking what you see (in a recruit) and asking, ‘What else can he be?’”

Mogridge said the question he is most frequently asked by recruiters is if they will be redshirted.

“I say, ‘We’re going to watch what you do in practice, and we’ll know,” Mogridge said. “If you’re ready, we’ll ride. If you’re not ready, we’ll help you.”

Davis said offensive line and linebacker were the two biggest areas of need he addressed with FIU’s Class of 2019.

You can contact Walter Villa at wvilla07@yahoo.com.

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