Finding players’ best positions a strong suit for FIU coach Butch Davis
Brains and brawn — FIU Panthers senior center Dallas Connell has both of those bases covered:
▪ Connell, who picked up some college credits while in high school, earned his bachelor’s degree in only three years at FIU. He is now working on his master’s degree in health-services administration.
▪ A 6-3, 300-pounder, Connell maxes out at 425 pounds on the bench press and can do 29 reps at 225 pounds.
“He’s strong as an ox,” said FIU defensive tackle Teair Tart, who goes up against Connell in practice. “He always works me — extremely smart, great leader. He motivates everyone. He will get in your face and let you know he’s coming for you.”
Connell, who got his first name because his father was on the Dallas Cowboys’ bandwagon in the 1990s, started at right guard as a sophomore but made a smooth transition to center last year.
“I think center is the better position for me,” said Connell, who has already made 25 collegiate starts — 13 at guard. “As a center, I need to identify fronts and communicate with the other offensive linemen. I always need to know where the linebackers are.
“Center plays to my strengths because I’m able to get my hands on the defensive lineman quicker.”
Connell has built a great relationship with quarterback James Morgan — this is their second year working together — and also with offensive-line coach Allen Mogridge.
“Coach ‘Mo’ is always fired up,” Connell said. “He has the juice if you don’t have it that day.”
One relationship that Connell misses, however, is with his twin brother, Douglas, a former backup offensive lineman who left FIU last year and went back home to Jacksonville.
Douglas, who earned a bachelor’s degree at FIU, is now teaching world history at a Jacksonville middle school. He is also an assistant football coach at West Nassau High.
“At first, it was weird when he left — we’ve obviously been together our whole lives,” Dallas Connell said. “It’s like having your best friend not with you anymore. We lived together and did everything together.
“But I’m supportive of his decision. I think he’s happier now. He wants to go into coaching.
“I miss you, Doug!”
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU last week earned Conference USA’s Institutional Excellence Award for the highest grade-point average (3.290) in the league among all sports for the 2018-2019 school year. It’s the first time FIU has won this award.
▪ Panthers safety Olin Cushion on teammate Sage Lewis, FIU’s middle linebacker and its defensive compass: “He has the heart of a lion. If you’re doing something wrong, he’s going to let you know. No man left behind.”