When Butch Davis took the podium for FIU’s media day, there was one preeminent question on the minds of many Panther fans - which transfer players would be immediately eligible?
That question would be answered roughly eight minutes into his address when he announced that former Iowa Hawkeye cornerback Josh Turner had been cleared by the NCAA.
“We did get one enormous bonus in that we won a (waiver) case with Josh Turner. He’ll be immediately eligible and that adds depth to the cornerback position,” said Davis.
While Turner is in the clear, former Kentucky Wildcat Chris Whittaker’s case is still being heard, and the other transfers (Alexy Jean-Baptiste, Maleek Williams, Tyson Maeva) weren’t submitted for review.
Turner, a former three-star prospect out of Fort Lauderdale’s American Heritage High School saw action in 11 games for Iowa last season.
His addition provides depth and experience for an already excellent FIU secondary, which ranked 30th in FBS football in passing yards allowed last season.
“The talent in our group, there are things that you guys don’t see in practice, but we’re coming together. Because we’ve been together for another year now, we can get on each other without another person taking it personally,” said Olin Cushion III.
Davis praised the senior safety for being one of the leaders on the team.
“He’s a guy who gets overlooked every day because of his size. But few players have the smarts and the fearless nature of Olin Cushion,” said Davis.
Fundamentals and Technique
A common refrain from both Davis and co-Defensive Coordinator Jeff Copp has been a return to fundamentals and proper technique for the defensive line.
It hasn’t been a secret that the run defense, which finished 12th among C-USA teams last season has to improve and that starts with the line.
“We need to be more gap sound. A big thing from Coach (Kenard) Lang has been just do your job. I feel like last year, we were playing too reckless. If you have a certain gap responsibility, just play that specifically,” said defensive end Noah Curtis.
“As a line we really have to be on point with lining up in the right spot, taking the right steps and having our head inside the proper gap. If we can do those things, we’ll be alright,” said defensive tackle Teair Tart.
Tart, a former four-star recruit who was one of the highest-rated signees in FIU’s history talked about his adjustment from JUCO to C-USA.
“I had a bigger learning curve than I thought I would. At JUCO, I’d just rely on my athleticism to make plays. My mentality when I first came in was if I’m not making every play, I’m messing up. Coming to D-1, I learned that as long as you dominate your assignment, that’s a successful play and doing that helped me come along at the end of last season,” said Tart.
Along with those adjustments, the defensive line also picked up an addition in the form of former San Diego State defensive lineman Damon Moore.
“We also added graduate transfer Damon Moore and we feel that he has the ability to play both inside at tackle and outside as an end,” said Davis.
Defensive back Brian Dillard was highly sought after during the last recruiting cycle, garnering interest from FAU, FIU, and USF.
The Lake Weir product chose FIU and was expected to join the program this season.
However, he’ll have to attend prep school in the fall, with his grades barely missing the cut for NCAA requirements.
“We knew going into it that it was going to be close. He’s done a phenomenal job, did everything possible on his end, but the SAT scores just aren’t there yet. He’ll attend a prep school and if all goes well, he’ll be welcome back in December,” said Davis.
Odds and Ends
- The offensive line rotation is still being decided and a few starting spots have yet to be decided. “Our locks right now are (D’Antne) Demery and Dallas Connell. We’ve got Shacquille Williams, Shane McGough and Mershawn Miller battling for the guard spots and Devontay Taylor should be our other tackle,” said Davis.
- Connell, who got engaged to his girlfriend Kayley in the offseason, spoke excitedly about his engagement and finishing out his collegiate career. “It’s been a whirlwind, got engaged and I couldn’t be happier about that and now I’m fired up about this football season.
- Davis made note of competition at the kick return and punter spots during camp. “We had a committee of kick return guys last year, but we want to give some of our freshmen a chance to earn a spot. Also, (Tommy) Heatherly isn’t a lock at punter, he’s facing competition from (Thomas) Leo and Alec Hallman,” said Davis. Among the freshmen who could return kicks, look for receiver Nate Jefferson to have an opportunity. The Longwood, Florida native returned kicks for two seasons at Lyman High School.
- Six new players were added to the roster, with the most notable being defensive lineman Kane Taylor. The former four-star recruit had offers from Power Five programs coming out of high school, before ending up at East Mississippi Community College.
- FIU Athletics won the SAAC award for highest GPA and the football program had the highest GPA in C-USA last season. “I couldn’t be more proud of that above anything,” said Davis.
- Several players gave their pregame musical tastes. The artists named the most were Tupac and NBA Youngboy. “For me, I’m listening to Pac, I know some of the other guys are big on Youngboy, but Pac gets my mind right,” said Stantley Thomas-Oliver.