By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Florida Atlantic program has made great strides in its short existence under head coach Howard Schnellenberger, but last season the Owls digressed. After going 7-6, including a bowl win, in 2008, the Owls
dipped to 5-7 overall last season. The team however, did finish 5-3 within
the conference and that is something positive heading forward.
A slow start to the 2009 season did in the Owls, as they dropped their first
four games. The last two came by a combined total of just four points and
those two losses ultimately prevented the squad from duplicating the success
of 2008. FAU did rebound with a back-to-back wins over North Texas and UL-
Lafayette before returning to the lose column with a tough 27-20 result
against Middle Tennessee and 56-29 beating at UAB.
The Owls finished up the campaign with some momentum though, posting wins
in three of their final four games, including a 28-21 triumph over rival
Florida International in the finale. Still, it was a bit of a disappointing
showing for a team that had high expectations entering the season.
OFFENSE: Quarterback Rusty Smith set a few Sun Belt records in his career and
is considered the most decorated player in the short stint of the FAU program.
He is now gone and replacing him won't be easy, but FAU does have an option in
Jeff Van Camp. The 6-5, 210-pound Van Camp auditioned last season when Smith
was lost for the season due to injury and he responded by going 3-2 as a
starter, throwing for 1,175 yards with 12 scores and only two interceptions.
He ended the season by throwing 128 straight passes without a pick and is
clearly established as the starter.
"He allows us to move the chains and is a pretty good runner," Schnellenberger
said about Van Camp.
Van Camp's top target will be Lester Jean, one of the few proven performers at
wide out. The 6-3, 195-pound Jean caught 38 passes for 501 yards and four
touchdowns last season and those numbers figure to rise now that he is the top
option. Tight end Rob Housler (6-5, 210) could also prove to be a nice weapon,
as he posted 32 catches for 519 yards and four scores in 2008. He, however,
has a reputation for dropping passes and also sat out last season.
In the backfield is where FAU's most dangerous weapon resides, as Alfred
Morris is back after a breakthrough sophomore campaign. The 5-11, 222-pound
Morris was a second-string fullback entering last spring, but moved to running
back after injuries decimated the Owls' ground attack options. All Morris did
was lead the Sun Belt in rushing and rank 13th nationally with a school-record
Unfortunately, Morris may find running room hard to come by, as the Owls lost
all five starters from a unit that helped pave the way for 432.1 total ypg in
DEFENSE: The Owls return a wealth of experience on the defensive side of the
ball, but that is necessarily good news after last season's dismal showing.
Not only did the unit rank 106th in scoring (33.8 ppg) and 112th in total
defense (453.2 ypg), but the group managed only 12 sacks and five
interceptions as well.
Kurt Van Valkenburgh took over as the new defensive coordinator and he has a
big task in front of him. Along the line, FAU has an emerging star in end
Kevin Cyrille (6-4, 275), who had 11 TFLs last season. Defensive tackle Dino
Cox (6-3, 280) matched Cyrille for the team lead in sacks last season and he
is also back to anchor the line.
FAU also returns a pair of starters at linebacker in Michael Lockley (6-2,
220) and Malik Eugene (6-3, 235). Lockley ranked second on the club with 97
tackles last season, while Eugene recorded a team-high three recovered
A wealth of experience returns in the secondary, highlighted by free safety
Marcus Bartels (5-9, 165), who paced the team with 112 stops in 2009. Corner
Tavious Polo (5-11, 175) is also welcomed back and the senior still has the
potential to regain the form that made him a freshman All-American.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Owls bring back both kickers from a year ago, but must do a
better job in protection after allowing three punts and four field goals to be
blocked. Ross Gornall made 8-of-12 field goals last season and also had eight
touchbacks on kickoffs, while Micky Groody averaged a decent 40.6 yards per
OUTLOOK: The Owls have been consistent winners in the Sun Belt over the last
three seasons and figure to be in the mix in 2010. Van Camp and Morris give
the team the potential to light up the scoreboard, although the success of the
offense hinders on a new line. The defense has nowhere to go but up and this
group's improvement could make the difference when all is said and done.
"The defense worked on forcing turnovers throughout the spring. If our offense
can eliminate the obvious we can have a productive offense. The pieces are
there on both offense and defense." said Schnellenberger.