With less than 70 days until the Panthers begin their season at home against FCS Long Island, here’s our look at the tight ends in our position-by-position look at the 2021 FIU football team.
Position coach Drew Davis enters his fourth season overseeing the tight ends and 2021’s group may very well be the most gifted group he’s had during his tenure.
Juniors Sterling Palmer and David O’Meara are the veterans in a tight end room that features a trio of underclassmen who are former three-star prospects. Let’s take a look at a group that may be utilized differently under new offensive coordinator Andrew Breiner.
All stats listed are for the 2020 season. Projected starter(s) are listed in bold. Class year reflects NCAA eligibility rules for 2021 season.
Returning: Sterling Palmer (Jr.) 6-6, 250, six catches for 53 yards
David O’Meara (Jr.) 6-5, 250, zero statistics recorded — appeared in two games
Rivaldo Fairweather (Fr.) 6-4, 250, 10 catches for 165 yards and one touchdown
Kamareon Williams (So.) 6-3, 245, two catches for 11 yards
Joe Hocker (R-Fr.) 6-5, 245, no statistics recorded — appeared in one game
Jackson McDonald (R-Fr.) 6-5, 220, Zero appearances in 2020
Newcomers: Daniel Pilgrim (Fr.) 6-2, 215, three-star recruit, North Fort Myers, FL (North Fort Myers HS)
Heading into Fall: One of 2021’s bright spots emerged late in FIU’s narrow two-point loss in the season opener at Liberty.
Fairweather made a highlight-reel grab to put his team in position to potentially tie the game late in the fourth quarter. The true freshman would go on to lead the team in receiving yards and finish second in receptions.
Entering his second campaign, the Lauderhill native has bulked up to 250 pounds while still running a 40-yard-dash time of 4.58. It’s been noted by members of the FIU coaching staff and opposing coaches that Fairweather got by on raw ability in 2020. Now with a full offseason, he has an opportunity to grow as a complete player at the position.
Like Fairweather, Sterling Palmer had immediate success as a true freshman. In 2018, he was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team and ESPN’s All-Bowl team. However, unlike Fairweather, Palmer had to assume an immediate leadership role as the head of a youthful tight end room. Without the benefit of a veteran, Palmer’s growth and production leveled off to an extent in 2019, followed by the revolving door at quarterback last season. Entering 2021, look for Palmer to bounce back and emerge as an all-around tight end who’s still a more than capable receiving target.
David O’Meara came in the same year as Palmer and immediately assumed a role as a tight end who can consistently win at the point of attack as a blocker. In 21 career games, the 6-5, 250-pound Tallahassee native has one career reception. His ability as a blocker gives him value, but look for O’Meara to potentially have an expanded role in multiple TE packages in 2021. The tight end room rounds out with a litany of athletic players.
Kamareon Williams burst onto the scene as a true freshman and earned playing time as a tight end and H-back in 2019. However, due to the disjointed offseason with COVID and an injury before the start of last season, he was unable to build on his early success. Look for Williams to benefit from the return to normal. Former three-star recruit Joe Hocker entered FIU as a player who would have to redshirt due to a knee injury and didn't see his first real practice time until extremely late in the 2019 season.
Similar to Williams, Hocker missed a year of development in the offseason with the lack of spring and summer. 2021 true freshman Daniel Pilgram is an excellent athletic talent, whose recruitment gained steam towards the end of this year’s cycle. He’ll benefit from having veterans such as Palmer and O’Meara to learn from. Former walk-on Jackson McDonald provides a sizable body at 6-5, 220 pounds and will back-up Tommy Zozus with the long-snapping duties.
Summary: When Butch Davis made the move away from former offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky and brought in current OC Andrew Breiner, he noted the need for the “offense to evolve” in terms of scheme and personnel groupings.
“I’m looking for more variety in the personnel groupings, not just being in 11 (1 RB, 1TE) 75-80% of the time - we’ve recruited some talented tight ends and H-backs,” said Davis earlier in the offseason.
Drew Davis echoed those sentiments when talking about the talent in his position room.
“It’s our job to figure out how can we utilize guys in this offense, whether it’s 11, 12 or 13, how can we get them on the field because we have multiple guys in this room that can make plays and can play at the same time,” said Davis.
The fact of the matter is — they’re right. How the offense evolves remains to be seen — but last year’s numbers show a shift from previous seasons.
In his first two seasons, Palmer lined up out wide 24 times — spending the majority of his playing time as the in-line tight end. In 2020’s five-game season, Fairweather lined up out wide 14 times. It will be up to the offensive staff as a whole to figure out how to utilize the TE spot in different positions, as the thought of Palmer and Fairweather on the field at the same time is one that would cause opposing C-USA defensive coordinators to lose sleep.
With O’Meara and Williams established as solid blockers, if both can progress with the benefit of a full offseason, 13 personnel wouldn’t be out of the question.
Final Grade: B+ - In terms of pure talent, you would be hard-pressed to find a tight end room in Conference USA that can match up with FIU’s. Despite the down year, Palmer is still one of the better tight ends among the Group of Five ranks. Fairweather’s instant success comes as a player who didn’t start playing football full-time until his junior year of high school. Given the depth, this room has the ability to the top C-USA.