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, 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

Former FAU coach Charlie Partridge resurfaces at Pittsburgh

Coach Charlie Partridge leads his team in drills during fall camp. (Palm Beach Post staff photo)
Coach Charlie Partridge leads his team in drills during fall camp. (Palm Beach Post staff photo)

After only a few months away, Charlie Partridge is back in the college football coaching ranks.

The former Florida Atlantic head coach has joined Pat Narduzzi’s staff at the University of Pittsburgh. Partridge will serve as defensive line coach, one of several assistant positions he filled during his first stint at the school from 2003-07.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to return to Pitt and work with Coach Narduzzi and his staff,” Partridge said in a statement. “I’m fully aware that the University of Pittsburgh is a special institution in an amazing city with a top-notch football program that competes at the highest level in the ACC. I look forward to applying all the lessons I’ve learned since previously being here while also learning from this tremendous staff.”

Partridge spent three seasons at FAU, posting identical 3-9 records in each. Before coming to Boca Raton, he held assistant head-coach positions under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas.

Partridge’s defensive resume is littered with success stories.

During his first tenure at Pittsburgh, he worked with Scott McKillop, the nation’s leader in tackles in

2007 and a 2009 fifth-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers. At Wisconsin, Partridge’s line included J.J. Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. At Arkansas, Partridge coached Trey Flowers, who helped the New England Patriots with 2.5 sacks in their Super Bowl LI victory. At FAU, Partridge helped Trey Hendrickson become the program’s all-time sack leader.

Partridge, a Plantation native, has also been lauded for his recruiting skills and South Florida ties. Two of his three recruiting classes at FAU were graded among Conference USA’s top three.

“Charlie’s familiarity with Pitt is a major asset and the fact that he has experience as a head coach will benefit our entire staff,” Narduzzi said. “His reputation as a strong recruiter is highly deserved and will serve us well all across the ACC footprint, including Pittsburgh.”

Lane Kiffin signs former FSU QB De’Andre Johnson at FAU

De'Andre Johnson #14 of the Gold team runs for yards against the Garnet team during Florida State's Garnet and Gold spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium on April 11, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
De’Andre Johnson #14 of the Gold team runs for yards against the Garnet team during Florida State’s Garnet and Gold spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium on April 11, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Lane Kiffin is already making a big impact in recruiting for FAU, signing a former Florida State quarterback Wednesday.

East Mississippi C.C. QB De’Andre Johnson has signed his letter of intent with the Owls, according to 247Sports’ Ryan Bartow. The 3-star quarterback signed with Florida State out of high school in 2015 but transferred after last season.

Johnson is the second-ranked pro-style JUCO quarterback in the country. He will enroll at FAU in January and will be able to play immediately. He has two years of eligibility remaining.

Kiffin accepted the head coaching job at FAU on Monday. He will continue to serve as Alabama’s offensive coordinator through the College Football Playoff.

Alabama plays Washington in the playoff semifinal in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.

FAU softball wins Conference USA championship game over UAB

FAU players run out of the dugout after the game winning run crosses the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning on April 3 during the Owls game versus Louisiana Tech. (FAU University Press)
FAU players run out of the dugout after the game winning run crosses the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning on April 3 during the Owls game versus Louisiana Tech. (FAU University Press)

Ever since Conference USA’s softball coaches named Florida Atlantic the top team in the conference’s preseason poll, the Owls have been thought of as the best team in the league.

Entering the Conference USA tournament as the No. 1 seed and on an 18-game winning streak, the vision of FAU hoisting a championship trophy at the end of the season started to become more probable.

The team confirmed all those beliefs on Saturday afternoon, defeating the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers in the conference championship game by a score of 6-0.

Prior to this year’s softball campaign, no FAU athletic program ever hoisted a Conference USA championship trophy. Last year’s softball team came the closest, but fell to Western Kentucky 3-1 in the championship game.

Junior pitcher Kylee Hanson pitched in last year’s title game and allowed three runs and six hits in six innings of work. This time around, Hanson, one of 10 finalists for NCAA’s USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, threw her 15th shutout of the season — tops in the country — while striking out eight batters and allowing just three hits.

The Owls, who won 22-of-24 conference games in the regular season, beat Louisiana Tech 7-4 on Thursday and mercy-ruled UAB 11-3 in five innings in Friday’s semifinal game (the tournament was in double-elimination format, which allowed the two teams to play in both the semifinal and the championship game).

Junior right fielder Delaney Rickey recorded five hits in seven at-bats during those first two games of the tournament. She knocked in three runs, scored twice and hit a triple in each game.

In Saturday’s championship game, Rickey scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the first inning on a double off the bat of senior third baseman Carnesha Thompson. Thompson scored the second run of the inning when she scored on a throwing error.

Senior second baseman Melissa Martinez singled in the third run in the third inning. Her twin sister, senior center fielder Christina Martinez, scored and knocked in two more runs in the fourth inning to help the Owls take a commanding 6-0 lead.

The Owls are a projected two-seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, but they will have to wait for the selection show on Sunday night to see who and where they will play. The show will air on ESPNU at 10 p.m.

Brendan Feeney is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email brendanrfeeney@gmail.com or tweet him @feeney42.

FAU starter, Kylee Hanson named finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year

iFormer Jupiter pitcher Kylee Hanson has followed her stellar high school career by being just as dominant at the college level.

The Florida Atlantic ace and 2013 Palm Beach Post Large Schools Player of the Year is one of 10 finalists for USA Softball’s Player of the Year Award on Wednesday. She has already been named the Conference USA Pitcher of the Year and a member of the all-conference first team.

Hanson has dominated opposing hitters this season. She is 26-3 with 273 strikeouts in 195 2/3 innings. She has posted a 0.64 ERA this year, which is second in the nation. She has 25 complete games and leads the country with 14 shutouts.

The final three candidates for Player of the Year will be announced on May 25, and the winner will be announced on May 31 before the start of the Women’s College World Series.

FAU’s Cre’von LeBlanc signs with Patriots as undrafted free agent

CRE’VON LEBLANC
FAU
5-foot-9, 194 pounds, CB

Florida Atlantic Owls defensive back Cre'von LeBlanc (7) at FAU football practice in Boca Raton, Florida on August 7, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Florida Atlantic Owls defensive back Cre’von LeBlanc (7) at FAU football practice in Boca Raton, Florida on August 7, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc signed with the New England Patriots on Saturday night as an undrafted free agent.

Bio:

The Glades Central graduate was a four-year contributor to Florida Atlantic’s offense. He earned second-team All-Conference USA status as a senior. He was named FAU’s Defensive Most Valuable Player. LeBlanc spent the first three seasons with the Owls watching and learning from fellow cornerbacks D’Joun Smith and Keith Reaser, who have been chosen in the past two NFL drafts, respectively. LeBlanc picked off four passes in 2015.

Scouting report:

Former FAU coach Carl Peline told NFL.com that LeBlanc‘s ability to cover receivers and help stop the run and blitz the quarterback make him very versatile. He made up for some some of the size disadvantages he had against bigger receivers with an aggressive style. He is good at getting his hands on receivers early in their routes to disrupt them. However, according to NFL.com, at the pro level his size will be a liability and he lacks the desired recovery speed to play on the outside. Scouts love his competitiveness and project him to cover slot receivers and return kicks.