The road to the 2022 season for the FIU Panthers was supposed to start at 9 am on Tuesday. However, by 8:45 am, the sounds of players breaking out into position groups and coaches shouting instructions could be heard well beyond the fenced-off confines of the Panthers’ practice fields.
For a program that seemingly never got out of first gear in 2021, nobody could fault this year’s bunch for chomping at the bit for an early start in putting last year’s winless season behind them.
Mike MacIntyre’s first spring practice signified the start of a new era for FIU football and while all sights are set on getting the program’s first FBS win since November 23, 2019 — the Panthers’ head coach was focused on installing the fundamentals one day at a time.
“There’s a lot of different things I’m looking for out there on day one,” said MacIntyre. “I want to see the fundamentals like ball security, guys hustling on and off the field and guys communicating because the quicker we can do that, those things help with alignment and guys being in the right places because we’re installing an entirely new system.”
Not only is MacIntyre trying to instill his culture and system in a new team, but the majority of these players took the practice field together for the first time. 27 new players joined the roster in time for the start of spring, either via transfer or early enrollee from high school or walk-on tryouts — which doesn’t include additional freshmen who will start in the fall. MacIntyre notes that part of the battle is having enough bodies to run through drills in the spring, given the departure of 19 players last year to the transfer portal or graduation.
“We added about eight or nine walk-ons from tryouts and we’re at around 96-98 players currently, we’ve worked hard to get guys out here to be able to have the numbers to have practice like the way we want to,” said MacIntyre.
As expected, one of the major attractions at the start of spring is the battle to replace Max Bortenschlager at quarterback. Duke transfer Gunnar Holmberg and returners Haden Carlson and Grayson James all split reps with different groups on offense during 11-on-11 red zone drills. Each quarterback, along with walk-on Isaiah Velez and former Nicholls State signal-caller Andrew Robison took snaps with Holmberg, Carlson and James each throwing touchdown passes during the session.
Note: Carlson threw the above TD pass to Indiana transfer Jacolby Hewitt.
Grayson James finds Tyrese Chambers in the endzone. pic.twitter.com/0w91rycS8I— Eric Henry (@EricCHenry_) March 8, 2022
Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach David Yost noted that all three have certain characteristics that he’s looking for in a quarterback, but it will come down to making the best decisions post-snap to win the job.
“I know it sounds basic, but on every pass play are you throwing to the right guy at the right time in the right way,” said Yost. “We’re a tempo offense, it’s hectic, it’s fast and I need the quarterback to be able to control that and so much of our stuff is done at the snap or post-snap, through a mesh or a read so those things need to become second nature.”
The former Texas Tech and Missouri OC emphasized that in his offense, he’s looking to get the ball in the hands of playmakers on the perimeter and let them create offense.
“We’re trying to make it as hectic on the defense as possible, because we do this 52 weeks a year, they’re only working on stopping us for one week,” said Yost. “We throw a lot of perimeter screens because we want to get the ball in the hands of guys like Tyrese (Chambers), when they talk about spread offense, the original goal was to make defenses defend the formation and the field and we’re looking to put pressure on the defense.”
After setting single-season program records for receiving yards and touchdowns, Chambers’ efforts in taking on a leadership role were evident on day one. The Baltimore native spurned multiple offers from Power Five programs in the offseason and spoke about his desire to remain at FIU.
“It’s a new day and I have to keep the smile on my face, it’s 2022, I don’t even know what happened last year,” said Chambers through a laugh. “As a kid, you want the glitz and glamour but at the end of the day, I want to be somewhere that I can start the foundation and it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do, I’m trying to set the tone for the team.”
Chambers caught touchdowns in red zone drills from both James and Carlson, ending each play with his trademark “call to God” celebration, followed by jumping up and down with offensive teammates to celebrate — indicative of his high-energy personality.
For MacIntyre, he felt that day one was a success, not just for the team, but in helping build the foundation of the program.
“This was a good day because it’s the first step in a large-scale process, we’ve got a long way to go, but this is the start of what we’re trying to accomplish at FIU.”