For the first time in five years, FIU begins spring practice on March 8 under the direction of a new voice in first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre.
While much has been made about the start of “A New Day” along with the addition of over a dozen transfer players, the Panthers return over 60% of their statistical performers from last season — including several underclassmen who saw extended playing time down the stretch in 2021.
With the graduation and transfer of several longtime stalwarts, FIU fans will need to start getting accustomed to a new and unproven crop of playmakers, who will look to establish themselves starting with 15 spring sessions.
Let’s take a look at seven returning players from last season to keep an eye on during the spring.
Grayson James/Haden Carlson
Did I fail to mention that there will be eight names on this list due to a technicality? Okay, I took some liberties with this one, but hear me out — it’s with good reason.
Grayson James and Haden Carlson are both former three-star recruits who earned praise from the previous coaching staff — with James seeing the bulk of the backup quarterback duties last season, playing in six games as true freshman. Carlson, a third-year freshman entered last spring with an opportunity to compete for the QB1 and QB2 role, but COVID hampered his chances. Both signal-callers possess all of the physical traits as passers and are mobile enough to have success in OC David Yost’s system.
With former Duke starter Gunner Holmberg brought in by the new staff, James and Carlson will need standout performances in the spring in order to make a push at the starting role. With the transfer portal seeing an increasing number of quarterbacks enter and find new homes, it’s a possibility that James or Carlson could explore their options following the spring, in search of playing time.
Both Yost and Mike MacIntyre have spoken about the need for fast players who can play in space.
“I like to say, if you can’t touch em, you can’t catch em,” said MacIntyre in reference to his desire to have speed at the receiver position.
Redshirt sophomore Nate Jefferson was an extremely dynamic player coming out of Lyman High in 2019. However, the 5-11, 180-pound wideout has been slowed by injuries during the last two seasons and as a result, he’s only hauled in 11 passes for 101 yards and two scores.
Jefferson should have an opportunity to flourish in Yost’s offense, working out of the slot receiver role.
Lyndell Hudson Jr.
“As good as he wants to be.”
That’s the quote about Lyndell Hudson Jr. given not only by former Panthers’ offensive line coach Joel Rodriguez, but also by an opposing C-USA assistant who has seen Hudson Jr. play over the past two seasons.
The 6-6, 320-pound tackle has played both tackle spots during his four seasons at FIU, but has been the primary starter on the right side over the last two years. While he has been an adequate Conference USA-level starter, there’s little doubt that the quote given above rings true as Hudson Jr.’s ceiling is very much in his own hands.
There’s no doubt that he will be a starter in 2022. However, with the departures of Miles Fraizer, Sione Finau and Dontae Keys, Hudson Jr. will need to be an anchor on an offensive line that could feature several inexperienced players.
A clerical error cost Gaethan Bernadel the honor of being named to Conference USA’s All-Freshman team.
However, the 6-1, 215-pound Hallandale native was second in the league among freshman linebackers in tackles, totaling 38 tackles with two tackles for loss and a sack.
Bernadel was among the numerous underclassmen who saw significant playing time down the stretch of 2021 and responded with strong play, with a season-high nine stops in the final game of the year at Southern Miss.
With a new defensive scheme being implemented, Bernadel should be looking to have a strong spring, which in turn, should secure him a role in the starting lineup permanently next year.
At the start of the 2021 season, Andrew Volmar wasn’t listed on the public two-deep depth chart in the secondary.
At the conclusion of the season, Volmar played the third-most snaps of any cornerback on the team.
The bulk of his 355 snaps last year came in the final six games of the season and had arguably his best showing against Marshall, doing an admirable job in coverage against Herd wideouts Corey Gammage and Willie Johnson.
The 6-1, 180-pounder showed last year that he isn’t afraid to come up and make a tackle, totaling 21 tackles including five at the line of scrimmage and a sack. A strong showing in the spring could propel the Plantation native to the number-one or two corner role in 2022.
After Texas State transfer Hal Vinson left the program following the season-opener, redshirt freshman Ty Danzy saw his playing time gradually increase, culminating with a starting role in week five.
The South Carolina native tallied 21 tackles and three tackles for loss in 2021 from his defensive end spot. In fact, Danzy played the fourth-most snaps among FIU defensive linemen, after playing time sparingly in his first two seasons.
Like Volmar and Bernadel, the valuable playing time earned last year in conjunction with a strong spring showing can propel Danzy to a starting role under the new staff in 2022.
Shaun Peterson Jr.
While last season had few highlights, one of the brightest spots for the future had to be the performance of the running backs in the season-finale against Southern Miss. Underclassmen Flex Joseph and E.J. Wilson combined for 161 yards on 24 carries, giving them a measure of confidence to ride into the offseason.
Add Eric Wilson to this list. The future of the FIU run game getting valuable reps. https://t.co/VuFKOz5DkD— Eric Henry (@EricCHenry_) November 27, 2021
Joseph and Wilson will certainly look to develop and standout in the spring, but Shaun Peterson Jr. will also be looking to show that after his 2020 knee injury, he’s ready to continue his development as a runner.
A fifth-year junior, Peterson Jr. suffered a season-ending knee injury one week after a career-best 117-yard, two-touchdown performance in October 2020 and still looked to be finding his footing last year. With Joseph, Wilson, Kejon Owens and South Florida transfer Leo Parker in the running back room, establishing himself in the spring could help earn Peterson Jr. playing time in the fall.