The college football world is truly in unprecedented times as programs — some of them — are embarking on the start of Fall camp, with a level of uncertainty never seen before.
For the 2020 FIU Panthers, all of the speculation surrounding what impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on their ability to play a full season took a backseat late Sunday afternoon.
Veteran wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill lost his battle with cancer — one that was unknown to many — at age 48.
For the first time since National Signing Day, head coach Butch Davis spoke with the FIU media contingency. Here are the notables from what’s been an emotional 96 hours for the Panthers.
Aubrey Hill’s passing was felt throughout Florida and beyond, with Hill spending the majority of the past 26 years as either an athlete or coach at the high school and collegiate level in the Sunshine State.
“It was a complete shock,” said Davis during the Zoom press conference with the media on Tuesday. “His wife Shanae was in my office last week and we were talking. He had gone through some ups and downs and for the first time, she was starting to feel positive about him feeling better. He had gone though a tough time about a month ago and he was texting all of the coaches, because we didn’t want him doing a lot of talking. But we felt that things were moving in a [positive] direction and sadly, within 48 hours he passed away.”
Redshirt junior wideout Bryce Singleton is the most senior player among the position group that Hill coached and approached Davis about dedicating the season in his Hill’s memory.
“Bryce Singleton is the guy who’s been here the longest. He’s played for Aubrey since day one and asked if we could play the 2020 season in his memory, so that’s one of the ways we’ll honor his legacy.”
One of the most prominent question marks entering the offseason was how the Panthers would replace two-year starter, James Morgan.
The COVID-19 shutdown cost Davis, along with the players vying for the role valuable time during the spring. As a result, the competition could come down to the opening week of the season.
“We would have loved to have solved the quarterback position during the spring,” said Davis about the multiple players competing for the starting role. “Ideally, we would have started with three, have gotten all of those guys reps and then coming into camp bring it down to two.”
With the compressed schedule, Davis noted that the version of OTA’s FIU had been allowed to run on the field over the past three weeks has given each quarterback a chance to earn reps.
“We’re giving each player equal reps with the first, second and third team. Let’s see how they grasp the offensive scheme. I’m looking at their decision making, mechanics and ability to get us into good plays and out of bad plays. What’s interesting is for the first time since I’ve been here, it’s 100% guys we’ve selected. Max Bortenschlager we watched play at Maryland and he’s a smart kid with a good arm and he’s athletic as well. We know what Kaylan Wiggins brings to the table and he’s a lot further along than he’s ever been in his career here. Stone Norton has an excellent arm and he’s getting the reps now with James’ graduating.”
Despite losing two cornerbacks to the NFL (Isaiah Brown & Stantley Thomas-Oliver), the Panthers’ secondary is in excellent shape with several experienced players returning.
However, a pair of corners tasked with filling Brown and Thomas-Oliver’s contributions, along with a newcomer have caught Davis’ attention.
“If you ask the Dames’ twins or Dorian Hall, one of the things they’ll tell you is that they’re really impressed with our corners. Jesson Walker and Jamal Anderson among guys who are coming back. The incoming kids have impressed them. Joe Perkins, I don’t know if anyone on the planet knew who that kid was. He’s been on fire during practice in terms of being smart and picking things up, being vocal and communicating in the back [secondary]. He’s only been here six weeks, so that’s really impressive.”
With multiple conferences across the college football landscape choosing to postpone fall sports, leaving many athletes seeking transfers to play in 2020.
Former North Carolina A&T tackle Dontae Keys announced on Twitter that he’s transferred to FIU and is listed on the online roster.
“We were able to get a two-year starter which is huge. Offensive line coach Joel [Rodriguez] was huge in recruiting him and his parents. The job Joel did in getting him here despite not being able to go to his home or bring him on an official visit, that was really impressive and he [Keys] is a heck of a player.”
The 6-4, 300-pound North Carolina native started the previous 21 games for the Aggies in the MEAC and was considered one of the top offensive linemen draft prospects at the FCS level.
The two-time all-MEAC performer played 725 snaps last season, giving up only two sacks and was named as a preseason FCS All-American entering 2020.
Expect Keys and Lyndell Hudson Jr. to compete for the right tackle position.
- 15 players have been added to FIU’s roster as the team begins fall camp. Among the notables are linebacker Reggie Peterson, a three-star recruit in the previous cycle, along with defensive back CJ Young, who verbally committed to FIU as a high school junior, but didn’t sign in 2019.
- Former Akron safety Zaire Jacobs transferred earlier in the month and has been added to the roster. A Miami Gardens native, he appeared in 16 games over two seasons for the Zips.
- Offensive lineman Henry Omu has switched to defensive line and quarterback Caleb Lynum, who was part of the quarterback competition earlier in the offseason is now playing wide receiver.