By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The FIU program was initiated in the 2002 season and has yet to post a winning record, although it has made strides under head coach Mario Cristobal. In 2009, Cristobal's third year running the program,
the Panthers finished 3-9 overall, which isn't all that bad considering FIU
won just one game combined between the 2006 and 2007 seasons. All three wins
came in league play, giving the Panthers hope for this season.
FIU got off to a slow start in 2009, with the team falling in each of its
first four games. The Panthers though, hung tough in a few of those games,
including a respectable showing in a 23-15 loss at Rutgers.
The team finally earned its first win of the campaign with a 37-20 triumph at
Western Kentucky before giving Sun Belt champion, Troy, all it could handle in
a 42-33 defeat. After a loss to Arkansas State, FIU won two of its next there
games by a combined total of 10 points. Playing close games was obviously
something the Panthers became accustomed too, as they closed out the campaign
with a 28-21 loss to rival Florida Atlantic.
OFFENSE: Scott Satterfield takes over as the new offensive coordinator for FIU
and while he plans to continue to run the spread offense, there will be many
new plays and looks in his version.
The player getting the chance to run this offense under center is still up in
the air, with Wesley Carroll and Wayne Younger being the likely candidates.
The 6-1, 202-pound Carroll is in the lead for the starting gig, as the
Mississippi State transfer has the experience and talent to make this offense
go. As for the 6-3, 190-pound Younger, he started in 2007 but has been a
The top option for either quarterback will be T.Y. Hilton, who was limited by
a knee injury last season. Despite being slowed, the 5-10, 175-pound Hilton
still led the team with 57 catches for 632 yards, landing him a spot on the
All-Sun Belt Second-Team.
As for the tailback position, FIU suffered an emotional loss this offseason,
as Kendall Berry was fatally stabbed on campus last March. Berry led the
Panthers' backs with a 4.2 yard per carry average and six scores and was
expected to take on a bigger role.
"Kendall had an infectious personality; he was loved and respected by everyone
who had the privilege of knowing him," stated Cristobal. "It was truly an
honor to have known and coached Kendall."
Jeremiah Harden (5-11, 190), a highly touted Syracuse transfer, and Darriet
Perry (5-9, 200), who rushed for 301 yards last season, are now the team's top
options in the backfield.
Two starters return along the offensive line, which lacks depth. Center Brad
Serini (6-3, 300) is a three-year starter and he will anchor the young line.
DEFENSE: Much like the offense, Cristobal brought in a new coordinator to run
the defense, as Geoff Collins steps in after spending time working under Nick
Saban and twice under George O'Leary, at Georgia Tech and UCF. A change was
obviously needed following a 2009 campaign that had FIU ranked 119th in total
defense, allowing 491.6 total ypg.
Along the defensive line, FIU welcomes back an intriguing option in end Tourek
Williams (6-4, 255), who registered a sack and five TFLs as a true freshman in
2009. He put on 25 pounds since last season and has a bright future ahead of
The linebacking corps is highlighted by the return of Toronto Smith, who is
known as "Little Canada." The 5-11, 225-pound Smith racked up 50 stops,
including a team-high nine for loss, last season and should compete for all-
league honors in 2010.
"Football culture is a way of life," said Smith. "Coach teaches us to have no
excuses and to get it done no matter what, and eventually you will be on top."
The most experienced part of the defense is the secondary, as two proven
starters return in corner Anthony Gaitor and safety Jonathan Cyprien. The
5-10, 185-pound Gaitor earned first-team all-league accolades last season
after recording 45 tackles and two interceptions, while the 6-0, 205-pound
Cyprien ranked second on the team with 78 stops as a true freshman.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Panthers must replace both kickers, but their return game
should be terrific. Hilton, who returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score
against Alabama in the opener last season, averaged 28.8 yards per return, the
highest in FIU history. As for the kicking game, Jack Griffin takes over, but
he has never attempted a field goal or extra point in a collegiate game. Josh
Brisk (6-0, 180), a transfer from Duquesne, is set to handle the punting
OUTLOOK: Cristobal has done a nice job in his tenure to get this program
moving forward and the next step would be a .500 or better campaign. FIU
though, has some new coaches as well as plenty of fresh faces along both
lines, meaning the team could struggle to come together at first. An 0-4 start
is more than likely considering the schedule, so the Panthers would have to be
outstanding down the stretch to compete for a winning mark.