By Nick Sutton
The annual FIU-FAU matchup known as the Shula Bowl takes place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, and fans should grab the opportunity to watch the South Florida rivalry at FIU Stadium.
Named for the late Don Shula – who in 1972 coached the Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in NFL history and had ties to the head coaches at both FAU and FIU when the programs debuted in 2001 and 2002, respectively – the game gives folks a chance to catch up with friends and family from the next county over.
FIU and FAU currently have identical season records: 4 wins and 5 losses. The outcome on Saturday will give one team a definitive advantage toward its end-of-year bowl game aspirations.
Among the Panthers suiting up is redshirt sophomore Julius Pierce, an offensive lineman from central Florida who is majoring in sports science. The student-athlete shared his take on the season, his appreciation for the coaches who work with him and the one person he counts on always being in the stands.
Julius, overall, how are you feeling about the season, which already is a great improvement, in terms of wins, over last year?
Definitely, I’d have to agree with that statement. It’s a big improvement. I think a lot of that comes from the culture change. The guys believe in each other and the staff and the process a lot more than we have in the past. Obviously, you want to win every game, but I think we’re trending in the right direction.
Tell me about your relationship with the coaches. How are they motivating you guys?
In particular, I’d have to say the offensive line coach, Greg Austin, does a lot to help you believe in yourself. He gets you really prepared for the game that’s coming up. He tells you everything to know about the opponent: different blitz packages, sub packages, who’s gonna be playing, what they’re best move is. He does a lot from a mental aspect. From a physical aspect, he’s pushing you, just makes you wanna go out there and play for him. Then the graduate assistant that works with us, Aaron Haigler. He’s one of the hardest workers. He’s a good guy. Those guys get you really ready for the season and for each game that’s coming up.
People want to know: How do you decompress when you are not practicing, playing or studying?
I play a lot of the video game Call of Duty, especially the new one that just came out. A couple of the guys on the team have it, so that’s how we spend our time together outside of football. That or sleeping or eating. I do a lot of eating.
You are from Florida, about four hours from Miami. Have your family or any friends come down to watch you here? Who is your biggest fan?
That’s an easy one. I’d have to say my mom. She’ll be down this weekend for the Shula Bowl, and she is crazy excited for it. She’s been with me through the roller coaster at FIU the last couple years, you know, sitting behind a couple guys and developing. I played tight end in high school, so coming in and having to mold myself into a college ready offensive lineman, Mom has been there with me.
What do you want to say to fans about coming out to the game?
We had a rough couple years against [FAU], but it’s time [for a win]. It’s about the work we put in this year, and even the last couple years. We’re hungry and we’re ready. That’s the biggest message.