MIAMI, FL — Almost halfway through FIU’s 15 spring practice sessions, the Panthers are coming off of their first spring scrimmage and now look towards Saturday’s open practice at Miami’s Charles Hadley Park.
“It’s always a welcomed opportunity to connect with our home base here in Dade County and we’re really looking forward to getting out there on Saturday,” said head coach Mike MacIntyre.
As the Panthers enter the midway point in the spring, here’s the second spring practice notebook.
Roughly two-and-a-half hours south of FIU Stadium lies Marathon, Florida — deep in the heart of the Florida Keys. An area that’s known more for it’s tourism and fishing attractions than high school football, redshirt junior Jackson McDonald was a jack-of-all-trades at Marathon High, starring on both sides of the ball on the gridiron and playing baseball and basketball.
As a 6-4, 190-pound quarterback, he threw for over 1,500 yards and rushed for 300 in his senior season, but the majority of his interest from college programs came at the FCS level, leading McDonald to accept a preferred walk-on spot at FIU in 2019.
“I really wanted to play football at the FBS level and with Miami being close to home, FIU was the right choice,” said McDonald. “Getting here, I had the idea that because Division I programs don’t really recruit the Keys, I’ll be able to come in and open some eyes as a quarterback but spent my first two years on scout team where I really learned everything about this level.”
In addition to honing his craft on scout team as a reserve quarterback, tight end and long snapper, McDonald took advantage of the weight room — committing to shaping his body into one that would allow him to compete at the FBS level.
“A huge thing was taking advantage of the rec center being steps away from my dorm,” said McDonald. “I’d go there every day to lift in addition to the work as part of the team and I committed to eating 5,000 calories a day, in order to give myself the best chance to contribute for FIU.”
Bulking up to 225-pounds, McDonald saw his first extended action at tight end during the latter stages of the 2021 season, earning his first career reception at Marshall and two catches in the home finale against North Texas.
“It’s a dream come true to be able to play at this level and I’m just trying to make everyone back home in the Keys proud,” said McDonald.
He followed that up by seeing consistent time as the third-string tight end last season, appearing in nine contests on offense and special teams. Now, in his fifth collegiate campaign, McDonald has a strong chance to compete for the reserve tight end role.
“We’ve got six total guys in the room and I’m excited about them, Josiah (Miamen) is the veteran and it starts with him, followed by Jackson McDonald as far as the reps that he’s had,” said tight ends coach Zac Roper.
McDonald made a point to emphasize the role that tight ends in FIU’s past have helped him get to where he’s at now.
“Sterling Palmer is the most positive guy ever, David O’Meara helped me so much with my blocking, the list goes on,” said McDonald
Despite the increased reps on offense, McDonald has been squarely focused on helping the Panthers return to a bowl game — as one of nine players left on FIU’s roster from 2019’s bowl team.
“I want to continue to be a leader and just push all the young guys as much as I can, really the goal is to help FIU get back to bowl and be the best program we can be,” said McDonald.
With more prominent South Florida natives such as Shaun Peterson Jr., Claude Larkins, Latarie Kinsler and Jeramy Passmore on the defensive line, it’s easy for Tampa native Jordan Guerad to get lost in the shuffle amongst Panthers’ fans.
A three-star recruit as part of the 2021 class, Guerad signed with FIU over offers from UAB and FCS Tennessee State, appearing in five contests as a true freshman. Recruited as a 4-3 defensive tackle, Guerad seemed like a prime candidate to be lost in the shuffle playing in Mike MacIntyre’s 3-4 scheme.
Instead, the 6-3, 300-pounder worked his way into the rotation, appearing in 11 games with six starts as a defensive end.
“It’s a huge difference between playing in a 3-4 and 4-3, in a four-man front, you have a little more leeway and freedom but in a three-man, you really have to hold your gaps and play your responsibility,” said Guerad.
He finished last season with the second-most tackles of any defensive lineman on the team (34) and was the second-highest rated Panther d-lineman, per Pro Football Focus.
Entering his third season, Guerad looks to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, former UCF Knights and Jacksonville Jaguar defensive tackle, Tony Guerad.
“He was a dog, that’s my older brother and I look up to him without a doubt, he calls or facetimes me all the time and we’re always talking about how things are going and how I can get better,” said Guerad.
Quarterbacks Grayson James and Haden Carlson are experienced veterans in being part of quarterback competitions, as both have competed for the starting role multiple times in their careers.
Given that, it may seem natural that the furthest thing from the minds of both players is mentoring the underclassmen signal-callers, especially at this point in their careers. However, both James and Carlson have spoke about the close-knit nature of the quarterback room and being able to relate to the younger quarterbacks in true freshman Keyone Jenkins and redshirt freshman Amari Jones.
“All us four, we’re all boys to be honest,” said Carlson. “Keyone is a fun guy with a fun personality. We all have a chip on our shoulder and we want to compete, but we also know how to come together as a four-man unit and work as a group.”
James offered similar sentiments.
“I’ve been in his (Keyone & Amari) shoes before, so I want to teach him whatever I can,” said James. “He’s a really talented kid, so to have him in the room is good for us because it pushes all of us to be at our best each practice,” said James.
- FIU picked up two 2024 commitments in Miami Northwestern DB Sadonnie Gay and Fort Lauderdale Stranahan WR Nick Smith. Both took visits to campus in recent weekends.
Fort Lauderdale Stranahan WR Nick Smith and Miami Northwestern DB Sadonnie Gay give their verbal commitments to FIU. Both 2024 targets took visits to campus in recent weekends.— Eric Henry (@EricCHenry_) April 3, 2023
Smith chooses FIU over an offer from Pittsburgh. #PawsUp
- Former FIU DB Dorian Hall is garnering interest from NFL clubs in the upcoming NFL Draft, per Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2 NBC Houston. Hall, along with former Panthers’ Noah Curtis and Kaylan Wiggins took part in Pro Day last Monday.
Florida International @FIUFootball safety Dorian Hall (6-foot-3 1/2, 190) garnering late-round interest, size, length, career production intriguing teams: 161 tackles, six interceptions, 17 passes defensed. Career @PFF grade 89.7, fourth among draft-eligble safeties— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) April 1, 2023