While there are still plenty of unknowns surrounding the fortunes of the 2022 FIU Panthers, Saturday’s Spring Showcase was less about the three-way quarterback competition and more about the culture that Mike MacIntyre and Scott Carr are trying to build.
In front of the largest spring crowd in recent memory and a litany of high school recruits in attendance for junior day, the spring session came to a close with an emphasis on building upon each day, while still understanding that the on-field product is a work in progress.
“We still have a ways to go, but I saw individual players get better day by day and that’s going to go a long way in helping the us get to where we need to go,” said MacIntyre. “These 15 practices went a long way to helping us build depth and we moved some guys around, we’ll be in even better position once we get some guys in the summer and the freshmen in the fall.”
The addition of 27 players between the end of the 2021 season and spring practice gave MacIntyre and company the ability to practice as needed, but there are still plenty of positions up for grab beyond the signal-callers.
“We’re genuinely still getting a feel for this roster and where we want to place guys, so getting the work this spring helps us in the evaluation process, but by no means are we ready to establish a two-deep,” said MacIntyre.
The showcase began with the customary positional drills and 7-on-7 session before giving way to a scrimmage that lasted just under 50 minutes.
Star wideout Tyrese Chambers made several catches during the 11-on-11 session, hauling in a pair of downfield grabs from sophomore quarterback Grayson James, who showed flashes of his mobility and arm strength throughout the session. Chambers, who made the decision to return to FIU while spurning several Power Five offers noted the shift in atmosphere on Saturday.
“As a team, we’ve been all about how it’s a new season and we’re ready for new opportunities, but look at these stands and how many people are out here,” said Chambers as he excitedly pointed to the East sidelines. “I can’t express how excited we are and it truly is a new era and we need to carry this environment over to the season.”
Duke transfer Gunnar Carlson had a pair of completions to Indiana transfer Jacolby Hewitt and a third-down conversion to JUCO transfer Jalen Bracey. Following the scrimmage, receivers coach Jay MacIntyre spoke about both wideouts and the skillset that each brings to the table.
“We’re familiar with both of those guys from before FIU, Bracey played for us at UT-Martin for a bit before going to JUCO and he’s a really dynamic athlete,” said MacIntyre. “Jacolby brings experience and we know he can make plays for us as well.”
The scrimmage featured four rotations of players with the most depth shown amongst the defensive backs and wide receivers. Noticeably less depth was seen amongst the interior on both sides of the ball, partially due to injury but also lack of bodies.
Mike MacIntyre notes that the program has already added more transfers who will join the team in the summer and that there are still scholarships available.
“We’ll have some transfers who we’ve signed who are finishing at their school and will be here in June, so once we get those guys added we’ll have a better feel for the depth and we still have some room scholarship-wise to pursue more players,” said MacIntyre.
Third-year freshman quarterback Haden Carlson showed elusiveness in the pocket and using his legs to extend plays, connecting with sophomore Kris Mitchell for a touchdown and tight end Rivaldo Fairweather for a third-down conversion — steps away from current New England Patriot and former FIU Panther, Jonnu Smith.
Smith was among over 30 former Panther players in attendance, who were welcomed back to FIU Stadium by Athletic Director Scott Carr as part of a push to build a bond between the MacIntyre-era team and those from previous years.
“This is a huge emphasis and this crowd is encouraging, but next year I want to double this, double the fans and double the former athletes,” said Carr. “It’s been great to get these guys back, we’re telling them it’s great to have you back and you’re always welcomed back, they’re telling people about the size of this university and it’s an adrenaline rush because that’s what we want to build.”
Smith and Jonathan Cyprien headlined the group of former players, who took in the game on the field behind the East sideline, joined by fans and members of the alumni association.
At the conclusion of the scrimmage, MacIntyre invited fans on the field for autographs from players and was seen interacting with fans for roughly 40 minutes. While the team heads into summer workouts looking to put the one-win season of 2021 in the rearview, one question can affirmatively be answered — FIU athletics are focused on leaving the bad taste of prior years in the past.
“It’s the right time with the right people at FIU,” said FIU Alumni Association Chief Alumni Officer Sara DuCuennois. “Athletics is the tide that lifts all ships at an institution and nights like tonight are the start of what we’re trying to build.”