FIU coach Butch Davis, speaking during the Panthers’ Media Day on Wednesday, announced that Iowa Hawkeyes transfer Josh Turner had won his appeal with the NCAA and will be eligible to play immediately as opposed to sitting out a year.
“That was an enormous bonus,” Davis said of Turner’s instant eligibility. “That adds a help to the depth of our cornerback position. He’s a great fit for us. He has speed and skills.”
Turner, a 6-0, 190-pound redshirt sophomore from Delray Beach American Heritage, played 11 games and posted five tackles last season for the Hawkeyes, mostly on special teams.
In addition to Turner, Davis said defensive lineman Damon Moore is immediately eligible as a graduate transfer from San Diego State. He was a walk-on who earned a scholarship last year, when he played 12 games and totaled 18 tackles and one sack.
Turner, a former three-star recruit, joins FIU’s deepest position — the secondary. Stantley Thomas-Oliver and Ike Brown are looking to lock down jobs at cornerback, Olin Cushion and Dorian Hall return at safety, and the Dames twins — Richard and Rishard — combined for five interceptions last year and figure to play at either spot.
Then there’s Turner, who was a three-star recruit out of high school, where he broke up 29 passes his final two years.
As for Moore, he can play end or tackle and is likely headed for backup duty, although that could change.
Sean Young and Stone Wilson — perhaps the best kickoff/punter duo in Conference USA last year — won’t be easy for FIU to replace.
Young finished second in Conference USA in kickoff average (64.2 yards), touchbacks (54) and net average (41.8).
Wilson, FIU’s career leader in punt yards, finished third in the league in average last season (44.0). He made second-team Conference USA after forcing 21 fair catches and placing 14 punts inside the 20.
FIU addressed the punting void by signing Tommy Heatherly, who ranked third in junior college last year with a 41.6-yard average.
“Tommy has a great tool box,” special teams coordinator James Vollono said. “He can also kick off and do field goals.”
Vollono, however, made it clear that Heatherly is in an open battle with punters Thomas Leo and Alec Hallman, who were backups last year.
“Competition is king,” Vollono said. “You don’t want to crown anyone a few days into fall camp. I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of those three guys win the (punting) job.”
As for the return game, the Panthers have half of the situation solved. FIU led Conference USA in punt return average but finished next to last on kickoff runbacks.
Maurice Alexander, who was first team All-Conference USA as a punt returner last season, said Wednesday he wants to run back kickoffs this season, too. Last season, he ran back just one kickoff for 16 yards.
Davis said he will try several freshmen on kickoff returns this fall. Among the veterans, FIU returns five players who ran back kickoffs last year: D’Vonte Price (22.3 average, three kickoffs); Ike Brown (18.8/four); Austin Maloney (18.4/nine); Napoleon Maxwell (16.3/three); and Bryce Singleton (12.2/five).
THIS AND THAT
▪ Davis said two transfers from the University of Arkansas — running back Maleek Williams and defensive lineman Alexy Jean-Baptiste — will sit out this season as expected. The status of linebacker Chris Whittaker, a transfer from Kentucky, has yet to be determined.
▪ Vollono said his “core group” of players on FIU’s coverage teams includes Daniel Jackson, Josh Powell, Jamal Gates, Maxwell, Price and the Dames twins (Richard and Rishard).