With less than 70 days until the Panthers begin their season at home against Bryant University, here’s our look at the tight ends in our position-by-position preview of the 2022 FIU football team.
Sterling Palmer held down the starting role for the previous four seasons and, as a whole, the position was well recruited by the previous coaching staff, yielding three-star signees in each of the last three recruiting classes. With Palmer gone, the returnee with the most eyes on him is Broward County native Rivaldo Fairweather.
After a collegiate debut that saw the ultra-athletic Fairweather haul in a spectacular sideline catch to put FIU in position to upset Liberty in 2020, he had an excellent freshman season — followed by a see-saw 2021.
Alongside Fairweather is equally talented Iowa transfer Josiah Miamen and returners Joe Hocker, Kamareon Williams and Jackson McDonald.
Let’s take a look at the group as they enter the fall.
All stats listed are for the 2021 season. Projected starter(s) are listed in bold. Class year reflects NCAA eligibility rules for 2022 season.
Returning: Rivaldo Fairweather (Soph.) 6-4, 250, 16 receptions for 241 yards and one touchdown
Kamareon Williams (Jr.) 6-3, 245, two receptions for nine yards and one touchdown
Joe Hocker (R-Soph.) 6-5, 245, zero statistics recorded
Jackson McDonald (R-Soph.) 6-5, 220, three receptions for 23 yards
Newcomers: Josiah Miamen (Jr.) 6-4, 245, one reception for 22 yards (At Iowa)
Brandon Ravelo (Fr.) 6-2, 235, Hollywood, FL (Avant Garde Academy HS)
Heading into Fall: In terms of production, the tight end position may have been one of the most disappointing on the team last season. In all fairness, much of the lack of production can likely be attributed to the deficits that FIU faced — resulting in a large chunk of the pass game being downfield to targets like Tyrese Chambers and Bryce Singleton.
Palmer hauled in only seven catches for 99 yards while Fairweather battled injuries throughout the season. With Palmer gone, Fairweather now has an opportunity at becoming the full-time tight end, but not without competition as Iowa transfer Josiah Miamen is also competing for time.
Veteran Kamareon Williams burst onto the scene as a true freshman to earn significant playing time as an H-back/tight end in 2019 and has served as a reserve at both positions over the past three years.
Former walk-on Jackson McDonald earned his game action as a tight end last season after seeing limited action in his two collegiate campaigns — while Joe Hocker is still battling a knee injury that has plagued him since signing with the Panthers as a three-star recruit in 2019.
Summary: Depending on who you ask, Fairweather may be one of the most intriguing players in all of Conference USA. The 6-5, 245-pounder played only two seasons of football in high school, splitting his time as a receiver, tight end and on defense. He saw the field as a true freshman by virtue of sheer athleticism, but undoubtedly is still a raw prospect.
“In terms of athleticism and talent, there’s no denying that kid could be playing at the school across town,” said an opposing Conference USA assistant coach.
The fall will be huge for Fairweather as another talented tight end prospect in Miamen looks to secure his first significant playing time in college. The 6-4, 250-pound Illinois native had offers from a majority of Big Ten schools coming out of high school in 2019, but missed most of 2020 with an injury and hurt his chances of moving up the depth chart last season with an off-field indiscretion.
Both players showed flashes of potential during the spring and their competition will carry into the fall.
Williams’ development was hampered by the COVID-disruptions of 2020, but is still a very athletic and versatile player for his size.
Hocker is a player who you can’t help but want to root for. After an upbringing self-described as “I don’t come from rock bottom — I come from under the rock,” Hocker signed with FIU in 2019 but suffered a knee injury before arriving. That injury has plagued the 6-5, 245-pounder ever since and as recently as this spring, he was seen in a no-contact jersey.
McDonald is another good athlete who took a preferred walk-on spot from FIU in 2019 — earning a scholarship and game action last year. He should see time on special teams again this season.
Position Grade: C+ — This group is long on talent and size. The entire room brings an athletic and size mismatch for whoever they’re on the field with. However, there’s still much to prove — especially at the top with Miamen and Fairweather.
What will be interesting to keep an eye on is how FIU is able to use this group given offensive coordinator David Yost’s history of running 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). Fairweather’s athleticism allows for him to be a flex tight end playing in the slot and that could allow for both to share the duties.