Signing Day 2018: Florida Atlantic has benefited from recent last-minute flips

Florida Atlantic Owls running back Devin Singletary (5) is congratulated by Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Lane Kiffin after a touchdown against the North Texas Mean Green at the 2017 Conference USA Football Championship at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida on December 2, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — For any Florida Atlantic fans concerned about how Lane Kiffin’s second signing day will go, one thing should ease your nerves.

In recent years, when signing day finally arrived, the Owls have had success convincing some of their main targets — some of whom have become the team’s top players — to flip at the last minute.

[RELATED: Check out FAU’s 2018 recruiting class as it currently stands]

For proof, look no further than running back Devin Singletary, who two years ago this month was all set to sign with Illinois. Singletary, then a two-star prospect by Rivals, was set to go to a Power 5 program led by former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith … until he flipped to FAU and then-Owls coach Charlie Partridge on signing day.

“It feels great to stay home,” Singletary told The Post after making his choice. “Why not? Why change my climate? I’ve been playing in this my whole life.”

Staying in his “climate” has paid off for Singletary, who after only two seasons is FAU’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 44 and counting. This past season, Singletary was also named the first All-American and first Conference USA MVP in school history.

FAU landed another key, Power 5-bound prospect via signing-day flip in that same recruiting class, when Homestead linebacker and three-star recruit Rashad Smith — all set to sign with Syracuse and then-new head coach Dino Babers — decided to stay in the Sunshine State by signing with the Owls. Smith had previously flipped from FAU to Syracuse the previous month before changing his mind on signing day.

One of only two freshmen to start a game on defense in 2016, Smith led the Owls with six sacks this past season and enters next month’s spring camp fully entrenched as one of two starting linebackers alongside Azeez Al-Shaair.

The flips weren’t limited to Partridge’s classes, though, as three-star wide receiver Willie Wright — originally headed for Memphis — signed with FAU last year. Wright became the first true freshman in FAU history to lead the team in catches (56), receiving yards (657) and receiving touchdowns (6).

FAU’s 2018 recruiting class will continue to take shape before Wednesday’s National Signing Day, but if recent history is any indication, some of the more productive freshman this upcoming season will have made a last-minute choice to play under Kiffin.

And if those players do flip, expect them to do so with a sentiment similar to what Singletary said two years ago.

“I know we’re going to be able to do a lot of great things,” the running back said. ‘This program is definitely about to explode very soon.”

FAU men’s basketball facing must-win stretch against key rivals

BOCA RATON — In the midst of its most successful season under fourth-year coach Michael Curry, the Florida Atlantic men’s basketball team again faces a must-win, three-game stretch.

Is Curry — who will set a personal-high in single-season wins (11) at FAU with the team’s next victory — thinking about the possibilities the next three games can create?

“Got Southern Miss [on Saturday night] and we’ll try to beat Southern Miss here,” Curry said after FAU’s 67-62 loss to La. Tech on Thursday. “That’s it. You win tonight and think about the other three and lose the other three, what does it matter?”

FAU (10-12, 4-6 in Conference USA) will host Southern Miss (11-12, 4-6) on Saturday before road matchups with Western Kentucky (8-1, 16-6) and Marshall (5-4, 14-8) next week. Though the Owls would make their third straight C-USA tournament under Curry if the season ended today, the upcoming three-game slate pits FAU against two teams that have had its number in recent memory.

Since Curry’s hire in April 2014, FAU is a combined 2-8 against Western Kentucky and Marshall, with both of those wins coming in the 2014-15 season against the Thundering Herd. In their last four games against Marshall, FAU has lost by an average of nearly 18 points, though three of the four losses to Western Kentucky have been within two scores.

FAU has had some success against Southern Miss, however — the Owls are 2-2 against them and have won their past two matchups – including a key win against the Golden Eagles last February during a season-changing, three-game winning streak which also included victories over FIU and Charlotte. If the Owls are serious about making their fourth year under Curry their best, taking down Southern Miss. on Saturday night (7 p.m., FAU Arena) would be a good start.

Ingram continues to improve: Though Jailyn Ingram hasn’t had the high-profile success of senior teammates Ronald Delph and Gerdarius Troutman, the sophomore forward has quietly been efficient over the past month. Ingram’s average of 9.5 points per game in C-USA play this season is more than two points above last year (7.3), as the second-year forward is hitting 41 percent of his shots compared to 39 percent as a freshman.

Ingram ranks fourth on the team in field-goal percentage since conference play began and enjoyed one of his stronger nights this season on Thursday, with his 16 points representing his most since scoring 18 against NAIA Edward Waters on Nov. 16. Thursday was only the third time this season Ingram has posted 12 or more points after doing so six times as a freshman.

“I thought he had a matchup situation in the post and we were able to get him some post-ups,” Curry said. “It was good to see the ball go through the bucket for him.”

Florida Atlantic looking to find replacement athletic director for Pat Chun ‘soon’

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus (L) chats with Pat Chun (R), FAU’s former athletic director, before the start of the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame award ceremony Mar 22, 2015, at The Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic Univeristy is looking to have a new athletic director in place “sooner rather than later,” sources tell The Palm Beach Post.

FAU is currently in the hunt for a new athletic director after Pat Chun, who had held the position since July 2012, was hired last month by Washington State to serve in the same role. High ranking athletic department member Brian Battle was named the interim AD later that week, but he is not expected to become the full-time athletic director, an FAU official told The Post on Thursday.

FAU president Dr. John Kelly is hoping for an expedited hiring process that will bring about a replacement in the coming weeks. Chun’s hiring in 2012 came after a four-month-plus search following the firing of Craig Angelos. That hire was made by then-FAU president Mary Jane Sanders.

A replacement for Chun could be hired in the coming weeks. Reports that Chun was leaving for Washington State began to come more than two weeks ago, though he was not officially hired until Jan. 22. Kelly and the athletic department have tried to find replacements for vacant spots within roughly a month after the jobs became open.

Chun fired former Owls football coach Charlie Partridge in Nov. 2016, with Lane Kiffin being hired as his replacement just over two weeks later. Kiffin led the Owls to an 11-3 record in his first season as head coach and verbally agreed to a six-year contract extension in December, though the move has yet to be officially announced.

Current men’s basketball coach Michael Curry took the role at FAU in April 2014, a month after Mike Jarvis resigned his post. Jim Jabir was hired as women’s basketball coach on April 6, 2017, as a replacement for Kelly Lewis-Jay, who was fired on March 6.

No candidates have been made public at this time, though the university is conducting a “national search” for its next AD.

 

One year after infamous recruiting video, FAU coach Lane Kiffin is uncharacteristically quiet

BOCA RATON — A year ago this week, Lane Kiffin reintroduced the world to Florida Atlantic University.

Just a month after FAU hired him as the fifth head coach in program history and just before a signing day that many recruiting services called the best in Conference USA, Kiffin went viral for a recruiting video in which he appeared … eh … less than enthusiastic.

“That was a trick,” Kiffin told assembled reporters several days later. “We did it so bad because we knew we would get so much attention.”

Kiffin immediately went viral for his combination of monotonous speaking, lack of eye contact, and his lackadaisical “Go Owls!” The jokes about Kiffin — previously the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, Southern California Trojans and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders — being so ecstatic to have the opportunity to coach a Group of 5 team which hadn’t posted a winning season since 2008 became far too easy to make.

And yet, Kiffin and FAU attracted major attention — in large part from the coach’s tweet storms (in which celebrities would be recruited to “#cometothefaU” or he took shots at Alabama head coach Nick Saban) — en route to an 11-3 finish, the most wins FAU has recorded as a Division I team.

“We had a really good marketing idea,” Kiffin told FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd last spring. “If we just do a normal video, nobody’s really going to play it outside of Boca (Raton, Florida). So let’s do, like, the worst one ever so everybody will put it on TV and say, ‘Look how bad this is.’ All of a sudden, you’ve got all kinds of publicity for the program. You’ve got people looking up FAU who don’t even know what FAU is. Pretty good, huh?”

Now, with the Owls’ second signing day under Kiffin approaching on Feb. 7, the Twitter-loving head coach has been uncharacteristically quiet. Instead of making social-media pitches on the benefits of coming to FAU, Kiffin’s Twitter focus has mainly been retweeting prospects announcing their commitment and the occasional inspirational message.

Normally, the social media activity of a football coach is only news when he tweets something controversial or newsworthy, like when Kiffin retweeted a video of an FAU student with cerebral palsy and later promised him sideline passes. But with Kiffin, who generated so much attention in the last year for “recruiting” former Boynton Beach star Lamar Jackson to “come home” or joking about point spreads, a quiet Twitter account might be disconcerting for his 400,000-plus followers.

A quick scroll of Kiffin’s Twitter page shows a lack of #cometothefaU tweets, though one was — of course — directed at Saban.

Once signing day comes and goes, however, Kiffin will likely get back to tweeting his own philosophical messages from the Dao of Lane.

In the meantime, FAU fans can only hope for a sequel to last year’s recruiting video.

Florida Atlantic officially announces Lane Kiffin’s 2018 coaching staff

Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Lane Kiffin holds up 10 fingers as fans cheer 10 more years. Kiffin agreed to a contract extension before the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Florida on December 19, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — Lane Kiffin’s second coaching staff at Florida Atlantic will look slightly different than the one that helped bring about the program’s first Conference USA title last season.

Though several hires had already been reported by various outlets, FAU on Tuesday confirmed that Atlanta Falcons assistant Charlie Weis Jr. is officially replacing Kendal Briles as the Owls offensive coordinator, while former Alabama assistant Wes Neighbors will coach the safeties.

Former UNLV offensive-line coach John Garrison will man the same position at FAU, replacing Garin Justice, who left after the Owls’ Dec. 19 Boca Raton Bowl win over Akron to take the same job at Arizona under former coach Rich Rodriguez. When Rodriguez was fired earlier this month, Justice was not retained by new Wildcats coach Kevin Sumlin and, ironically, will replace Garrison as the Rebels’ offensive-line coach.

FAU also announced two promotions, with player-development assistant Jaron Fairman now set to coach special teams. Fairman — who was hired by Kiffin before the latter’s final season at USC at 2013 and joined him in Boca Raton last spring — and Neighbors will replace Corey Batoon, who held both positions last year before being hired as Hawaii’s defensive coordinator last month. Strength and conditioning coach Wilson Love, who quickly became a fan favorite with his signature barks and shouts at practice, has been named assistant head football coach as well.

Kiffin does not normally make assistant coaches available to the media and did not make a statement on the hirings. When asked about Weis Jr. in a recent interview with Bleacher Report, Kiffin compared hiring the 24-year-old to former USC coach Pete Carroll giving him coach a job when he was just 27.

“I know for a fact [Falcons coach] Dan [Quinn] wasn’t happy losing him,” one NFC scout told Bleacher Report’s Matt Hayes. “You won’t talk to one person who has a bad thing to say about Charlie. He’s going to be a star in this business. Lane is way ahead of the curve on this.”

All other staffers from last season are still on the roster at this time. Lane’s younger brother Chris will continue to serve as the team’s defensive coordinator and their father, soon-to-be 78-year-old Monte Kiffin, will likely stay in the same role as a pro liaison/adviser. Former Florida State/West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett (tight ends), Eric Matheis (defensive line), Kevin Smith (running backs) and Keynodo Hudon (cornerbacks) will all return as well.

Kiffin is expected to comment on the coaching hires, as well as his 2018 recruiting class, in a Signing Day press conference on Feb. 7.

Lane Kiffin’s second recruiting class at FAU taking shape

Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Lane Kiffin at the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Florida on December 19, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

With just over a week until signing day, Lane Kiffin’s second recruiting class at Florida Atlantic has shades of his first class.

As of Tuesday morning, Kiffin has 16 players who have either signed a letter of intent or announced their commitment to FAU. Per 247 Sports, 10 of those players (247 has 12 listed) are three-star recruits. 247 gives the Owls’ 2017 class a current overall grade of 83.51, higher than last year’s 82.

The Orlando Sentinel first reported Longwood-Lyman defensive back Deon Woods’ commitment last week. FAUOwlAccess.com wrote on Tuesday morning that Tulane center Junior Diaz will be signing with FAU as a graduate transfer, while safety Armani Adams (St. Petersburg-Lakewood) has not publicly announced his commitment, but did confirm his intention with The Post earlier this month.

Former Auburn wide receiver Kyle Davis transferred to FAU and already is enrolled in classes for the spring semester. Davis was a four-star recruit in 2016 who caught 19 passes in two years before being dismissed from the program in October.

The Owls will also likely list quarterback Chris Robison (Oklahoma) and wide receiver Jovan Durante (West Virginia) among their 2018 signees, despite the two having been with the team since last August. Robison is the likely front-runner for the Owls’ starting quarterback job after Jason Driskel’s retirement and ex-Dwyer star Daniel Parr’s transfer to Duquesne University.

Palm Beach Lakes star Teja Young is one of the more notable commits so far, though he is the only Palm Beach County player at this point to commit to FAU for next year. Three-star quarterback Cordel Litlejohn (Roswell, Ga.) announced his commitment on Sunday, days after two in-state prospects, offensive lineman Doug Johnson (Fort White) and running back Malcolm Davidson (Osceola), did the same. Both Johnson and Davidson are listed as three-star recruits.

Landing top recruits at FAU has become a slightly easier task for Kiffin after leading the Owls to an 11-3 finish in his first season. Even after three straight 3-9 seasons from 2014-16 under previous coach Charlie Partridge, Kiffin had what many recruiting services called Conference USA’s best signing class last season.

“It’s always easier for (recruits) to buy into something that has proof,” Kiffin said late last season. “When you first get to a place, you’ve gotta say, ‘Well, OK, here’s what we did with Reggie Bush or these people and here’s all these records,’ and then people have to believe that to come.”

Kiffin landed five players in the first-ever early-signing period in December, three of whom came from junior colleges. Kiffin reached out to the junior college ranks for several of his 2017 signees, leading to him joking that FAU was becoming “Last Strike U” in reference to JUCO powerhouse East Mississippi. Ex-EMCC stars De’Andre Johnson and Tim Bonner will return for their second seasons in Boca Raton, though a third former Lion — quarterback/wide receiver John Franklin III — has exhausted his eligibility.

Defensive tackle Charles Cameron (Copiah-Lincoln, Miss.) is the only early commit to have enrolled on campus for the spring semester. Cameron will practice in spring camp before being joined this summer by three-star wide receiver and former teammate Nero Nelson.

Nelson will compete for snaps against another JUCO transfer in DeSean Holmes (College of the Canyons, Calif.), a former USC commit for Kiffin as the Trojans’ head coach in 2013. When Kiffin was infamously fired on an airport tarmac by USC athletic director Pat Haden that September, the school’s hiring of Steve Sarkisian led Holmes to de-commit.

“When [Kiffin] left and I went down to USC the next year to meet the new coaching staff, I didn’t get the same feeling I did with Kiffin,” Holmes told The Post by phone earlier this month.

National signing day is set for Feb. 7. Kiffin is expected to speak to the media that day for the first time since FAU’s 50-3 win over Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 19.

Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic gain advantage as C-USA rivals lose key players

Florida Atlantic Owls senior running back Gregory Howell Jr. (9) breaks off a big run against Bethune Cookman Wildcats in Boca Raton, Florida on September 16, 2017. Howell is one of several key FAU players who will not be back in 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — As Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin continues recruiting potential impact players to South Florida, the second-year Owls coach can take pleasure in one thing.

Unlike some of FAU’s Conference USA rivals, the Owls’ depth at positions of loss should keep Kiffin’s team in contention for a second consecutive conference title. After closing its first season under Kiffin on a 10-game winning streak and having earned top-25 votes in both the AP and Coaches Polls, FAU is losing over 20 players from its 2017 C-USA championship roster.

That’s not to say FAU isn’t losing any important players. Three of the Owls’ starting offensive linemen have exhausted their eligibility, as have running back Buddy Howell, wide receivers Kalib Woods and Kamrin Solomon, and defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni.

FAU will also have to address its quarterback situation, as 2017 starters Jason Driskel (retirement) and ex-Dwyer star Daniel Parr (transfer) are no longer on the roster. Former Oklahoma recruit Chris Robison is the likely front-runner in a quarterback battle that could also feature former Florida Mr. Football Award winner De’Andre Johnson.

However, Kiffin still returns a notable cast that includes All-American running back Devin Singletary (American Heritage), dynamic wide receiver Willie Wright, linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair and safety Jalen Young (Seminole Ridge). Singletary, Al-Shaair and Young were all captains in 2017 and each made the all-conference first team.

Two other first team all-conference players — offensive tackle Reggie Bain and cornerback Shelton Lewis — will each be back for their senior seasons. Second-team tight end Harrison Bryant also will look to build upon a strong sophomore season that saw him finish with five receiving touchdowns.

Some of FAU’s conference rivals will not be as fortunate. FAU’s eight C-USA opponents next year are losing a total of 13 players who made either the all-conference first or second team.

Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White is a potential NFL draft pick, joining tight end Deon Yelder and wide receiver Nacarius Fant among those leaving the Hilltoppers. In addition, junior first-team all-conference linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe declared early for the draft.

Marshall quarterback Chase Litton announced earlier this month that he too will declare early for the draft, meaning the Thundering Herd will have to replace both their three-year starting quarterback and their all-conference tight end Ryan Yurachek (47 catches and nine touchdowns). Rising junior Garet Morrell started two games for the Herd in 2016 and is the only quarterback on the roster to have thrown a pass at the FBS level.

When FIU hosts FAU in the Shula Bowl this November, the Golden Panthers will be without their three most dangerous offensive players. Quarterback Alex McGough, running back Alex Gardner and wide receiver Thomas Owens have all exhausted their eligibility.

North Texas loses senior running back Jeffery Wilson, though gunslinging quarterback and reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year Mason Fine will return for his junior season. Though Louisiana Tech loses all-conference senior cornerback Secdrick Cooper, Bulldogs defensive lineman Jaylon Ferguson decided against the NFL and will stay for his senior season.

The losses don’t only affect the teams FAU will face in conference play. When FAU starts its 2018 season in Norman, Oklahoma, the Owls won’t have to deal with 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, a projected first-round pick in April’s draft.

FAU will close non-conference play against self-proclaimed national champion Central Florida, which lost head coach Scott Frost to Nebraska. Five of the Knights’ nine all-conference first-teamers will not be on next year’s roster either due to graduation or early entry into the NFL Draft.

FAU’s Trey Hendrickson selected by New Orleans Saints in 3rd round of 2017 NFL Draft

Defensive end Trey Hendrickson and coach Charlie Partridge at the end of the Owls’ victory over UTEP on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. (Getty Images)

TREY HENDRICKSON, DE
FLORIDA ATLANTIC 
6’4″, 267 pounds

Hendrickson, the 2016 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, was drafted with the 39th pick in the third round (No. 103 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.

Bio:

Once looked at as nothing more than a two-star recruit from Apopka who showed potential as a situational defensive end, Hendrickson dominated in Conference USA play en route to becoming the top defensive player in FAU history.

Breaking out onto the national scene after a 13.5-sack performance in 2015 — as well as nearly helping the Owls upset the Florida Gators in Gainesville — Hendrickson finished with 9.5 sacks in 2016 despite being double- and triple-teamed on nearly every play.

Hendrickson also shined on special teams, leading the nation in blocked kicks with four, including one against the Hurricanes in Miami.

Though his future at defensive end remains uncertain as teams have contemplated moving him to linebacker, the Saints are getting a steal by picking Hendrickson in the third round.

Scouting Report: 

Pros: Strength and a high motor, even against double or triple teams. Displays an excellent vision on defense and made improvements in stopping the run this past season. Dominant on special teams and forcing turnovers, as evidenced by his nation-best four blocked kicks in 2016. Fantastic swim move that will only get better in the NFL. High leadership capabilities that helped keep an FAU locker room fresh and motivated even through three straight losing seasons.

Cons: Could still be too small to play defensive end, and a change to linebacker at the NFL level is possible. Needs to work on his awareness, especially against quarterbacks who will call multiple audibles. Emotion is good, but often shows too much emotion and doesn’t take failure well. “Needs to do better job of thumping and setting a strong edge. Plays too tall in his tackle-end twist transitions, allowing blockers under his pads.” — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

NFL Combine results:

40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds (did not run at FAU’s Pro Day)
Vertical jump: 33.5 inches
Broad jump: 122 inches
Three-cone drill: 7.03 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.20 seconds
60-yard shuffle: 11.43 seconds

The expert says:

“His lack of length on the edge will be a turn-off for some, but he flashes enough to warrant a third-day draft selection as a backup 4-3 defensive end who could continue to develop as a rusher with additional work.” — Lance ZierleinNFL.com

Atlantic LB Chanler Ferguson stays close to home by signing with FAU

 

Chanler Ferguson with Atlantic High School football team smiles during media day for south Florida high school football teams at Nova Southeastern University Aug. 08, 2015 in Ft. Lauderdale. The event was sponsored by the Miami Dolphins. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)
Chanler Ferguson with Atlantic High School football team smiles during media day for south Florida high school football teams at Nova Southeastern University Aug. 08, 2015 in Ft. Lauderdale. The event was sponsored by the Miami Dolphins. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)

DELRAY BEACH — After a 12-1 season, the Atlantic High football program saw several of its graduating seniors choose the schools where they’ll continue their education and their playing careers.

One player was Chanler Ferguson. The linebacker chose to join Charlie Partridge’s program at Florida Atlantic. The first and most important aspect of his decision was his level of contentment.

“If I’m going to be spending the next four years away from home, I need to be comfortable,” he said.

Ferguson saw the Boca campus as part of school activities, and later visited the campus officially to meet players and coaches.

“It felt like home,” he said. “So why not stay home?”

FAU receivers coach Dan Shula took the lead in Ferguson’s recruiting.

“He stayed with me through the ups and downs of the [recruiting] process. I’d say he had a big impact on my decision,” Ferguson said.

For an extensive look at the Owls’ complete recruiting class — along with each recruit’s high school highlights — check out the FAU sports website.