MIAMI, FL — This time last year, the entirety of the FIU football program may have needed “Hello, My Name Is” stickers adorned across their chest to keep up with the number of new faces between players and coaches alike. Fast forward to current times and there’s a noticeable shift in continuity and buy-in coming off a season that saw the Panthers exceed nearly all of 2022’s preseason prognostications.
Mike MacIntyre’s club opened spring practices Tuesday morning under clear skies — a sharp contrast from the clouds that hovered over the program was just over a year ago. Following the two-hour, 32-minute session, it was made clear that standard operating procedure has been set and this year’s club is focused on raising the bar.
“You always have to start with the foundation each year, but the difference is with day one this year, we’re able to get to and get through everything quicker because the team knows what to expect,” said MacIntyre. “Our installs, how we practice, what we expect from practice and how we do things, those things are much smoother and I’d expect them to be at this point.”
After starting 10 contests as a true sophomore, junior quarterback Grayson James is again in a quarterback competition, but opens his first spring practice as the most experienced signal-caller in the QB room and looking to solidify his spot as the starter.
“At this point, (outside of Mike MacIntyre) I definitely feel like this is my team and the guys do rally around me,” said James when asked if he felt as if this was his team. “I feel like I’ve put in enough time and work, effort and gained the respect of my teammates, now it’s about being able to go out there and do it consistently and hone in on the attention to detail.”
One of three true freshmen enrolled for the spring session, Miami Central product Keyone Jenkins is among the four-man quarterback competition, alongside last year’s backup in Haden Carlson and redshirt freshman Amari Jones.
James spoke about being in Jenkins’ shoes when he arrived at FIU in 2021.
“I was in his shoes before, so I want to teach him as much as I can,” said James. “He’s definitely a talented kid and having him in the room is good for us, competition is why you love the game, all of us pushing each other in the room is good for us.”
The team practiced in shells on Tuesday and will do so again on Thursday, but MacIntyre noted that he was pleased with the four arms at quarterback.
“As far as executing all the things were doing and the first install, I thought they did well,” said MacIntyre. “They all threw the ball well and they have the understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
With the departure of last year’s two leading receivers via the transfer portal (Tyrese Chambers, Rivaldo Fairweather), early battles have emerged as to who will be the pass catchers.
Kris Mitchell enters spring as the leading returner and the most veteran contributor from last season. Now in his fourth season, Mitchell says he’s ready to become a go-to player in the offense.
“Coming in four years ago, watching guys like Bryce (Singleton), Shemar (Thornton), (Austin) Maloney, taking tips from them and developing my game, I’m really expecting big things from myself because I truly believe I’m ready,” said Mitchell.
The Jacksonville native arrived as a 5-11, 155-pound receiver, but looked noticeably larger from his playing weight and frame at the end of last year.
“Kris Mitchell has put on about 10-12 pounds of muscle from last season and it really shows out there,” said MacIntyre. Mitchell states his current size as 6-0, 180 pounds.
Last season’s tight ends coach, Joshua Eargle moves over to lead an offensive line group that has been bolstered in numbers and in size.
“We had six scholarship offensive linemen last season and this season we have 16,” said MacIntyre. “That’s a huge help and of course Coach Eargle played offensive line and has coached offensive line in the past so he has a ton of experience and knows what he’s doing with that group.”
Former Duke assistant Zac Roper takes Eargle’s spot with the tight ends, having an extended relationship with MacIntyre going back to when Roper was MacIntyre’s student assistant coach at Ole Miss in 2001 and both men served under David Cutcliffe in 2008 & 2009.
“I’ve known Coach MacIntyre for a long time and our relationship and connection has stayed consistent throughout, which is what led me to FIU,” said Roper.
Regarding a tight end room that lost Fairweather to Auburn, Roper notes that there’s room for players to emerge.
“We’ve got six total guys in the room and I’m excited about them, Josiah is the veteran and it starts with him, followed by Jackson McDonald as far as the reps that he’s had and we’re excited about Kamareon and Pedersen and all our guys as far as building depth,” said Roper. “I expect my guys to run and pass block, run good routes and catch balls, we want to try and play as many people who have shown us that they’re capable of executing.”
After bringing the practice to a close, MacIntyre gathered the entire team at the 50-yard-line and reiterated his expectations for the club entering year two.
“Today was a good day and a good start to the foundation that we’re trying to build here at FIU,” said MacIntyre. “The guys are picking things up quicker and now the expectations have been established as we look to elevate everyday.”