The start of the 2022 season is less than 10 days away as FIU welcomes FCS Bryant to FIU Stadium on September 1st. In the final installment of my position-by-position preview of the Panthers, we take a look at a defensive secondary that will feature several familiar names in more pronounced roles with the graduations of multiple longtime starters.
The group will be led by sixth-year safety Dorian Hall — the only remaining member of the program who dates back to start of the Butch Davis era. Hall will be joined by several talented prospects who saw valuable playing time down the stretch of 2021.
Let’s take a look at the DBs under cornerbacks’ coach Corey Bell and safeties’ coach Nate Taye.
Note: The defensive back preview was pushed back in release out of respect of the death of Luke Knox. As a result, the specialists will be previewed as part of the Bryant game preview.
All stats listed are for the 2021 season unless noted. Projected starter(s) are listed in BOLD. Class year reflects NCAA eligibility rules for the 2022 season.
Dorian Hall: (Grad) 6-4, 195, 28 tackles and four pass breakups
Henry Gray: (Soph.) 6-0, 175, 10 tackles
Jamal Potts: (Soph) 6-2, 185, 35 tackles and one pass breakup
Joe Perkins: (Soph) 6-0, 196, 26 tackles
Andrew Volmar: (Soph.) 6-1, 175, 22 tackles with two pass breakups and one sack
Pierce Withers: (R-Sr.) 5-11, 195, 32 tackles with one pass breakup
Brian Blades: (Fr.) 5-10, 165, six tackles
Demetrius Hill: (R-Fr.) 6-2, 190, three tackles
D’Mor Jean-Baptiste: (Soph.) zero appearances in 2021
Gio Richardson: (R-Soph.) 6-1, 200, 17 tackles and one interception
Newcomers: Adrian Cole: (Soph.) 5-11, 190, 28 tackles and three pass breakups in two seasons (At Syracuse)
CJ Christian: (Soph.) 6-1, 185, transfer (Iowa Central Community College)
Hezekiah Masses: (Fr.) 6-1, 160, two-star recruit (Deerfield Beach, FL/Deerfield Beach High)
Larry Preston: (Fr.) 6-0, 180, transfer (Apopka, FL/Wekiva HS/McDougle Technical Institute)
D’Verick Daniel: (Jr.) 5-10, 215, transfer (Gainesville, FL/Gainesville HS/Catawba College)
Olsen Louis Baptiste: (Fr.) 6-1, 190 (Coral Springs, FL/Coral Springs High)
Kyan Brumfield: (Sr.) 6-1, 185, 12 tackles in five seasons (At Colgate/Texas Tech/Nebraska)
Miles Jones: (R-Fr) 6-0, 200, transfer (Valdosta State)
Nehemiah Cher-Frere: (Fr.) 6-4, 180, (Hialeah, FL/Hialeah High)
Heading into Fall: The 2022 season will be the first time in four seasons that there won’t be a member of the Dames family patrolling the FIU secondary. Longtime stalwarts Richard and Rishard Dames graduated last season along with three-year starter Josh Valentine-Turner, while Jesson Walker and Benny McCray chose to transfer at the conclusion of the season.
While the departure of five key members of the defensive secondary rotation and transfer of three others would typically cripple a new staff, Mike MacIntyre didn’t take over a completely bare cupboard. Because of injuries down the stretch of last season, several underclassmen saw playing time and they will be depended upon to assuming starring roles in 2022 after serving as the supporting cast in 2021.
Andrew Volmar, Jamal Potts, Henry Gray and Joe Perkins are all former highly-touted recruits played in at least eight games and will have the chance to playing significantly this year. Former three-star recruit Demetrius Hill and Pierce Withers will also have valuable roles in the secondary.
Standout safety Dorian Hall returns after missing all of spring ball with an epilepsy diagnosis. Hall’s presence as a sixth-year player is one that will be heavily depended upon with the younger players moving into new roles. Also, keep an eye on Syracuse transfer and South Florida native Adrian Cole, who arrived at FIU with two seasons of playing time at cornerback in the ACC.
Summary: As is the case with any defensive secondary in the nation, their success or lack thereof will depend on the success of the front seven. With that being said, there’s more than enough talent in the secondary for the unit to be a strength and provide support for the front seven as they grow into the new 3-4 defense.
Cole is a former three-star recruit who has two seasons of experience playing on an island in the Power Five and should step into a starting role immediately.
Gray has bided his time after arriving at FIU following a brief stay at Nebraska and has looked promising during spring and fall. However, his status may be in question after suffering an injury in the fall.
Volmar was tested as a freshman last season at corner and responded well by having several standout plays. He logged the most snaps at outside cornerback of any returner from last year’s team.
Withers’ role will be one to keep an eye on during the season. He was one of the more versatile defensive players last season, playing equally in the box and in the slot as the “Star” in last year’s 4-2-5 scheme and is capable of playing both safety and slot corner.
Joe Perkins has steadily grown each season after arriving in 2020 and his back to full-strength after missing time in the spring. He’ll play a role on special teams, but should also see time in the secondary. Perkins played the second-most snaps at free safety (115) of the returners and also can play in the slot.
Potts and Hill are developing players who have played extensively during the fall and will see extended time this season. After beginning his collegiate career as a quarterback, Gio Richardson has developed into a rotational defensive back and his play increased with more snaps in the final games of last year.
Final Grade: B- This is another unit that come season’s end should grade out higher than they are currently entering the season. Bell is a veteran coach who has had several successful tenures and Taye has almost a decade of experience working with safeties.
The addition of Cole and return of Hall are the biggest pieces for this secondary, but their depth is a close second, with a number of talents who will need to rise the challenge as this defense grows. If they can, it will prove invaluable, especially as the front seven grow into their roles.