Football begins spring practice with hopeful optimism

Around this time last spring, FIU football was in a much different place.

Not only was the team getting acclimated to a new coaching staff – led by Butch Davis – and a new system, they began the spring practice season at FIU Soccer Stadium while construction began on their future practice fields next to the Ocean Bank Convocation Center.

But it’s amazing what can change in just one year. On March 5, they were on those finished practice fields coming off one of the best seasons in program history and filled with hopeful optimism for the season to come.

“Last year was basically arithmetic. It was all about fundamentals,” Davis said. “Today, we’re probably at Algebra II. We’re light-years further ahead.”

The Panthers will be getting back to speed as they prepare for the 2018 season with a month of practices, culminating in the annual FIU Spring Game at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Friday, April 6.

The biggest task facing the Panthers going into spring practices is finding a replacement for starting quarterback Alex McGough. The competition to replace McGough, who has been the Panthers’ signal caller for the past four years, is wide open.

Quarterbacks Maurice Alexander, Christian Alexander and Kaylan Wiggins will be sharing snaps with the first team throughout the spring. Bowling Green graduate transfer James Morgan and incoming freshman Caleb Lynum will join the team in the summer and are also expected to compete for the starting job.

“What we’ve tried to do is give all of these guys a great opportunity to win the job,” Davis said.

Running back Shawndarrius Phillips completes a running drill during FIU’s first practice of the spring. Photo courtesy of FIU Athletics.

Davis wants to make sure his team doesn’t end up in the same position they were in the Gasparilla Bowl in December, when McGough went down with an injury and the offense struggled in his absence.

“We learned a big lesson from the bowl game, that we clearly were not prepared for Alex to not finish a game,” Davis said. “It was an eye opener for us.”

But one area that shouldn’t be a question mark is in the running game. Despite losing leading rusher Alex Gardner, the Panthers backfield will have a revolving door of capable rushers ready to enter the game at any time.

Senior running back Napoleon Maxwell is the most experienced of the bunch and junior Shawndarrius Phillips and sophomore D’Vonte Price showed flashes of brilliance during the Panthers’ bowl run last year. Redshirt junior Anthony Jones, who missed all of last season due to an injury, will also be back for the Panthers.

Each will have plenty of opportunities to wear down opposing defenses this fall.

And speaking of defense, the Panthers are looking to fill some big gaps left behind by linebackers Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams, who provided a strong and stable leadership core for the Panthers defense the last few seasons.

Junior linebacker Sage Lewis is expected to play a big role in filling that gap.

“During spring practice, we want to find out defensively who the leaders are,” Davis said.