Florida International U

Patience paying off for Thomas Owens, other FIU Panthers receivers

FIU receiver Thomas Owens scores a touchdown against Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
FIU receiver Thomas Owens scores a touchdown against Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015. AP

“Patience” and “wide receivers” each come from the English language. That usually ends the relationship between the two.

Unless you’re talking about some of FIU’s wide receivers — sophomore Thomas Owens, redshirt sophomore Shawn Abrams, senior Juwan Caesar — who’ve had no choice but to make peace with patience.

Owens now has touchdown catches in five consecutive games, and his six touchdowns receptions halfway through the season leave him only two short of FIU’s season record, set by Jonnu Smith last year. Abrams made his debut against UMass and sailed swan-style (or Swann-style) against UTEP on Saturday to catch his first pass since 2012, his senior year at Neptune Beach Fletcher High. Caesar thinks he’ll be ready to play his first college game Saturday at Middle Tennessee State, his first football game since 2010 at Coral Park High.

“I was very happy for him,” the 23-year-old Caesar said. “He’s another guy who has been going through a lot of stuff. He’s been working so hard to get back to where he is now.”

Abrams and Caesar each suffered preseason injuries that further delayed their first games. Caesar had exploratory knee surgery.

“When you work so hard during the offseason and summer then right before the season get hurt, it’s tough,” Caesar said. “But I’ve always been positive, trying to keep a positive mindset. I’ve been working back to my old self in practice and feeling good as of late.”

On the low key demeanor of FIU's T.O. and Caesar talking about his possible college debut Saturday at Middle Tennessee State.

After deciding to walk on at FIU, Abrams suffered auto accident injuries, and had to convince FIU coach Ron Turner to give him a chance in the spring after his misdemeanor petty theft charge from last fall (case dropped).

You can guess Abrams’ nickname (”Slim”) from one look at his 6-4, 170-pound frame. A more-imaginative nickname might be “Fade” — not for the hairstyle he doesn’t wear, but the jump ball pattern for which his long body and limbs seem made.

“He’s a guy who can go vertical for us, really put stress on the defense down the field with his speed. And with his height, he’s able to go up and get a few balls,” quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Kort Shankweiler said of Abrams.

Injuries and classroom shortcomings marked Caesar’s two years at Michigan State. He left football for a year, but still had to sit out another year because of NCAA transfer rules. Six games, possibly a bowl game, are all that remain of his college career. But even when on crutches after knee surgery in August, he exuded a deep happiness to be around the team and the game.

On the 6-5 Caesar, Shankweiler said, “He’s another guy who can bring size for us. He’s starting to practice well the last couple of weeks. He’s just going to give more depth to this group where it’s not one guy, there’s a bunch of guys we can trust to put out there.”

Owens got blocked as a freshman by the greater experience of elder wideouts. Between graduation and the jettisoning of several who would’ve been fifth-year seniors, the path to the front of the line cleared.

“This spring, some guys graduated, he was able to get more reps, get more comfortable and learn the offense,” Shankweiler said. “He’s done a good job of studying off the field and taking the coaching on the field.”

If you want to make Turner laugh, ask him about the temperament difference between the FIU player he calls “T.O.” and the original “T.O.” Terrell Owens.

“Our T.O. is not nearly as outspoken as the other T.O.,” said Turner, who assigned Thomas Owens No. 81 because he saw Owens as the same type of receiver as Terrell Owens. “He’s extremely quiet. The other is extremely not quiet. The other one is extremely confident. This T.O. is quietly confident. Very quietly confident.

“And the other T.O. is headed to the Hall of Fame.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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