With two-thirds of the season remaining, the 2019 FIU football team’s outlook could be summed up succinctly with the following quote by author Garth Stein, “The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles - preferably of his own making - in order to triumph.”
While the Panthers’ championship dreams aren’t yet extinct, they are most certainty on life support.
However, there’s a motivator that could possibly be more pertinent than a C-USA East crown for Butch Davis’ team - “The old FIU.”
What exactly that phrase means is best told by the players themselves.
“We’re determined to go out and show people that we’re not the old FIU, the team that gets beat by 30 points and nobody takes seriously,” said receiver Maurice Alexander entering the team’s 2018 game against Miami.
“The old FIU whenever we would lose, we would just accept it. Nobody felt like we could change anything and we were just everyone’s joke,” said running back Anthony Jones during the team’s 2019 media day.
“We gotta look to our senior leaders, guys like Olin Cushion, Ike (Brown), Stan (Thomas-Oliver), even my brother Rich (Dames) and they’re always the ones encouraging everyone. We’re gonna do everything we can to not let things slip back to the old way,” said safety Rishard Dames after the Western Kentucky game.
The 1-3 start that the team is off to is an obstacle more of their own doing opposed to outside forces.
There have been less than stellar calls by the officials that have gone against the Panthers in three of their first four games.
But truth be told, the argument can be made that there’s been calls missed in every football game going back to leather helmets and single-bar facemasks.
What is in their control are things like putting forth an effort that isn’t reminiscent of the Tulane massacre, or a starting offensive lineman throwing a punch at the end of a frustrating loss, resulting in an ejection.
Which brings us back to the refrain of “The old FIU.”
Players from the previous two seasons who played for both Butch Davis and Ron Turner spoke openly about how the biggest change between the two regimes has been the atmosphere.
“The biggest change between then and now was easily the family culture. Back then, whenever things would go wrong, we would look at what the next man wasn’t doing right. Under Coach Davis, it’s all about us and what you can do to be better,” said former defensive tackle Anthony Johnson after his pro day.
“It’s really night and day just how much we’ve come together as a team and we know what playing for FIU means instead of just playing for ourselves,” said former guard Jordan Budwig following pro day workouts.
All of the statements above are easy to come by when the wins are there.
However, this year’s start has the Panthers two games under .500 for the first time since Davis arrived at FIU, making the next stretch of games all the more pivotal.
I asked offensive line coach Allen Mogridge prior to the start of the season about his tenure at Central Florida, which saw 19 wins in two seasons followed by a 0-12 season and what message he would relay to this FIU team that’s new to success.
“Be where you’re feet are because if you don’t bring it every day, things are bound to fall apart,” said Mogridge.
Well right now, the Panthers’ feet are squarely in the midst of a five-game stretch that will define the rest of their season.
Four of the next five contests are against teams who didn’t make a bowl game last year.
FIU has a chance to have three straight winning seasons - something that G5 heavyweight UCF has only done once in 17 seasons as a non-independent FBS team.
But even more importantly, the players have the opportunity to put “The old FIU” to bed and leave the program in a substantially better place than when a majority of them arrived.