EXCLUSIVE: Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell talks Lane Kiffin, football in Florida

Former rapper Luther Campbell, who is a linebackers coach at Miami Central High, conducts practice in preparation for Miami Northwestern in state playoff game on Friday, November 26, 2010. (Miami Herald)

BOCA RATON — Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell always has something to say about one of three things: hip-hop, his beloved Miami Hurricanes and football.

And the former 2 Live Crew star loves talking college football. When coaching veteran Lane Kiffin was named Florida Atlantic’s head football coach in Dec. 2016, Campbell was quick to tweet his allegiance to FAU. He quickly became friends with the Owls coach, and invited the team down to Liberty City’s Charles Hadley Park last August. Kiffin and FAU will hit the road again this year during spring camp for a second practice in Liberty City on April 7.

[Hurricanes superfan “Uncle Luke” Campbell praises Lane Kiffin, FAU, for second trip to Liberty City]

In an exclusive, lengthy phone interview with The Post, Campbell discussed the current state of college football in Florida, and he began with the Lane Train in Boca Raton.

Campbell on the rise of FAU: “From what I’ve seen, the future looks real good for this team. The culture, the coaches … obviously Lane changed the culture along with the coaches. The strength coach (Wilson Love), I just love him. I learn so much from him being a high school coach — I talk to him all the time. I call (Love) up and see how he pushes the kids to the maximum. Football, when it’s on that level, everybody is good — it’s just a matter of the individual who’s pushing them. Do they really want to (work hard) for that coach?

“Obviously, those guys who have been just getting beat down for years turned their season around in one year because they bought into the program and bought into everything else that the coaches preached (to) them.”

Campbell on the state of Florida football: “It’s great because the best part about it, I always say, is there’s so many more opportunities for these kids to be able to go to college. I tell people all over the country, I tell my friend Snoop Dogg, I tell my friends in Texas and get into arguments all the time with (Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who played high school in Georgia and spent 2007-08 with the Florida Gators) about who’s got the best football players. I always remind him that Florida has the best players because we got the best football. I mean, it’s football all over the place and (it’s) good football!”

Campbell on jumping on the FAU bandwagon: “I went when (former FAU coach Charlie) Partridge was coaching! I always liked going out (to FAU). I’ve been going to FAU games for probably the last six years, have a good time … I just feel like it’s the best atmosphere for football.”

Campbell on predicting FAU’s success: “Everyone jumped on me last year when I said FAU is gonna win its conference, FAU is gonna win its bowl game. FAU has the best coaching staff of all the teams in the state of Florida.”

Campbell on the Hurricanes’ biggest need entering 2018: “One thing about me is that I call a spade a spade. I looked at Miami’s staff and I always say — and I’ll say it right now — we need an offensive coordinator. I love Miami.”

Miami had the fifth-best scoring offense in the ACC (29.1 points per game) and seventh-best total offense (403.4 yards per game) in 2017 under second-year offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. Miami averaged 34.3 points (6th) and 425.9 yards (8th) in 2016.

Campbell on former Florida State and current Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher: “I said Jimbo Fisher has lost a little bit of spunk and he lost some good guys off his staff. When you looked at Lane’s staff at the time with him and (former Owls offensive coordinator Kendal Briles) and (wide receivers coach and Miami Northwestern star Gary “Flea” Harrell), I mean he had some hot coaches over there. So to see (Kiffin) win like that, that was a no brainer (putting Kiffin over Fisher).”

Campbell on the importance of recruiting from Florida: “You can recruit the nation, but you’re in the backyard of that area. (FAU recruiting heavily in-state) is something that happened because (former FAU coach Carl Pelini, who was 5-15 in 20 games with the Owls before resigning in Oct. 2013 amid alleged drug use) was like, ‘OK, I ain’t getting no kids from Dade or Broward County. What he did, it was just a matter of time before he got sent out (of) the room.”

Campbell will continue to have plenty of takes on FAU and the Sunshine State’s other collegiate teams as the spring and summer go on. When FAU begins its spring camp on March 20, look for Campbell and Kiffin to talk shop both on the field and on Twitter.

Hurricanes superfan “Uncle Luke” Campbell praises Lane Kiffin, FAU, for second trip to Liberty City

Former rapper Luther Campbell, who at the time was a linebackers coach at Miami Central High, conducts practice in preparation for Miami Northwestern in state playoff game on Friday, November 26, 2010. (Miami Herald)

BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin is no stranger to contracts and agreements ending early, whether voluntarily (as seen in Tennessee) or with someone else making that decision (either on a tarmac or a projector).

There’s one deal Kiffin made after signing with the Owls in Dec. 2016, though it may not be notarized and signed, that the second-year FAU coach is sticking to in 2018: traveling to Liberty City for a football practice.

“I said (at the beginning), ‘listen, you ain’t gonna do it one time, we gotta do a two-year deal,” said Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell, the rapper-turned-high school coach and football icon. “Because so many people are not gonna believe that it’s happening and so many kids (are) gonna love that it’s happening! For it not to happen again at least one more time, it would be hard on the kids.”

Campbell and his local fans, many of whom know the hip-hop legend for his coaching rather than his days with the 2 Live Crew and raps feuds, will have another chance to see Kiffin’s Owls practice in Liberty City on Saturday, April 14. FAU will also visit Fort Lauderdale’s Carter Park on April 7.

In the weeks leading up to their historic 11-3 season last summer, FAU traveled to Charles Hadley Park on Aug. 5. — though Kiffin was not in attendance that day, instead attending the funeral of father-in-law and former Florida quarterback John Reeves. Campbell still wasted no time that day in praising Kiffin, calling him a “rock star” when many were still doubting how the former Raiders, Tennessee, and USC head coach would fare at Florida Atlantic.

“Last year, that was a freakin’ treat for the kids to be able to have a college team come into the heart of Liberty City,” Campbell told The Post by phone. “[Liberty City is] the mecca of football … I had guys who played NFL calling up, they couldn’t believe it. They were looking at it on Twitter, on social media, and they just couldn’t believe it. A college team was playing on the park where they grew up at!”

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, former All-Pro wide receiver Chad Johnson (or Ochocinco, depending on the day), and ex-Miami Hurricanes star Duke Johnson — now with the Cleveland Browns — were among those to get in touch with Campbell.

Former Hurricanes running back Clinton Portis was among the ex-NFL players to visit Kiffin and the Owls last year, a list which also included future Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson and Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Campbell and Culpepper were joined by Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake for the Owls’ Nov. 3 win over Marshall. Drake’s teammate and Dolphins offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James also tweeted his intentions to see the Owls practice this spring.

“We wanted to get out as much as we could,” Kiffin said last summer of the “road practices.” “It allows maybe some people who can’t get up here to come see us, whether it’s coaches, players or fans.”

Campbell added that the Owls coming to Liberty City again also provides examples of stability and hope for the younger fans, many of whom come from single-parent households.

“It’s a real tough area as far as dads leaving kids,” Campbell said. “When these kids get showed a lot of things, they get a lot of things taken from them. Just being able to say, ‘look. they’re gonna do this again next year,’ that’s a great thing.”

Campbell said that construction on Hadley Park’s football stadium, which was scheduled for this spring, has been pushed back to accommodate FAU’s arrival.

Times for the Owls’ practices this spring, including the visit to Hadley Park, have yet to officially be announced, but last year’s open scrimmage began at roughly 3 p.m. The Post obtained an email sent to students last month for a volunteer football job which said Tuesday and Thursday practices this spring would be held between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Saturday practices are expected to be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

FAU’s leading receiver Kalib Woods suspended following arrest

FAU wide receiver Kalib Woods (4) during the Florida Atlantic University Owls spring scrimmage football game in Boca Raton, Florida on April 22, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — Less than two months before the start of training camp, Florida Atlantic University has suspended redshirt senior and star wide receiver Kalib Woods indefinitely following an arrest on Tuesday morning.

Woods, who caught 68 balls for 934 yards and a touchdown in 2016, was officially charged with two counts of felony battery and was released on $50,000 bond from Palm Beach County’s Main Detention Center.

Online records show that Woods, a Jacksonville native, was arrested by FAU police and was booked shortly before 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

“We are aware of the matter with Kalib Woods,” FAU released in an official statement Wednesday. “He was suspended from the team on Tuesday and will remain suspended pending the outcome of the charges.”

Chuck King of FAUOwlAccess.com reported Wednesday night that the arrest stemmed from a January incident at a bar involving a female patron. Woods reportedly denied that he was there on Jan. 13, the night that an incident report was filed.

A warrant for Woods’ arrest was issued last month. Court documents state that while Woods can continue to attend classes — FAU’s second summer semester begins June 26 — he is not allowed contact with the victim or witnesses.

In addition, Woods is prohibited from using weapons or social media. As of late Wednesday night, Woods’ Twitter account was deleted, though his Facebook account remained active.

Woods, one of the few remaining players left from Carl Pelini’s first team in 2013, was expected to play a big role for the Owls in 2017. Woods enters the campaign only 52 receptions behind Cortez Gent’s school record and 1,005 behind Gent’s record for receiving yards.

Woods, who will turn 23 in September, served as a captain last season and took part in last week’s satellite camps as a volunteer coach. With a strong senior season in new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ scheme, Woods could raise his draft stock and become FAU’s first offensive player selected in the draft since Alfred Morris in 2012.

Now, Woods’ future in an Owls uniform remains uncertain.

Ironically, the team’s official Twitter account released a promotional video on Wednesday featuring Woods along with several other players. The video remained up even after the arrest was made public.

Woods will be due in court on June 27 for an arraignment.

Experts expect growth, albeit somewhat limited, for FAU under Lane Kiffin

Lane Kiffin, the newly announced head coach of Florida Atlantic University football, speaks to the press at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton on December 13, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Lane Kiffin, the newly announced head coach of Florida Atlantic University football, speaks to the press at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton on December 13, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The Lane Kiffin era has begun at Florida Atlantic, as the former Tennessee, USC and Oakland Raiders head man was officially sworn in last week as the Owls’ new head coach.

The move to hire Kiffin — most recently the offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama — is one that the university hopes will bring revenue and a winning tradition to a program aiming for relevancy as it tries to continue building itself from scratch. It is anticipated that the high-profile coach will bring high-profile talent, as evidenced by last week’s signing of dismissed Florida State quarterback De’Andre Johnson, but college football experts warn that there is a ceiling to just how competitive and nationally relevant the Owls can be in the near future.

“It depends on your definition of ‘nationally relevant,'” Rece Davis, the host of ESPN’s College GameDay, told the Post. “If you mean the occasional cycle up and maybe sneak into a major bowl as UCF has done and USF has threatened to do, then there’s no reason FAU under Kiffin can’t do that.”

But what about aiming higher?

“If [nationally relevant] means becoming the equal of the big three in the state,” Davis continued, referring to Florida, Florida State and Miami, “I don’t think that is a realistic goal or even one worth worrying about.”

ESPN national college football reporter Adam Rittenberg provided a similar comparison for FAU’s potential growth.

“When you look at what a school like Western Michigan has done, which was in far worse shape than FAU, now playing in the Cotton Bowl, and you look at periods of success schools like UCF and USF have had, it provides hope,” said Rittenberg.

Both Central Florida and South Florida have developed track records of relative success over the past decade-plus, but despite their growth on the field, the two American Athletic Conference programs are still considered a tier below Florida, Florida State and Miami in Florida’s college football hierarchy. While a leap into that UCF/USF tier seems feasible for FAU under Kiffin, striving to quickly surpass those schools and taking up residence among the state’s elite could actually prove costly for the Owls.

Though an extreme example, the struggles and ultimate shutdown of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s football program serves as a cautionary tale for the Owls’ young football program. UAB, which began playing FBS football in 1996, 10 years before FAU, was forced to close its program due to a financial gap created by the school’s hasty efforts to make it a big-time program. According to FiveThirtyEight, UAB found little in the way of fan support or funding in its attempt to compete with the University of Alabama, relying mostly on subsidies to cover their athletic expenses.

In 2013, FAU’s attendance, win percentage and athletic revenue, expenses and subsides were all comparable to UAB. With Kiffin and his nearly $1 million-a-year contract in the fold, FAU will rely heavily on a winning product and fan support to get a return on its investment.

The foundation for that winning product can be built through recruiting, but big-time recruits in South Florida don’t necessarily need to be swayed from the state’s top-tier universities for Kiffin’s tenure to be successful.

“They don’t have to go far in recruiting to field a highly competitive team,” Rittenberg said. “There is no reason to believe FAU cannot be highly relevant in Conference USA.”

With the competition level in CUSA, Kiffin’s ability to find overlooked local prospects may contribute to a quick turnaround, and if even a semblance of a winning tradition is formed, higher-caliber recruits may begin to consider coming to Boca Raton for their college careers.

“Recruiting will rely on finding the slightly overlooked player. … They need to be very strong in the bounce-back market,” Davis suggested, “meaning kids who started elsewhere and are looking for a fresh start or second chance.”

Johnson, the FSU castoff, is a perfect example. “That carries its own risks,” Davis pointed out.

That risk, much like the risk of paying a high-profile coach in an attempt to jump-start the program, is one that FAU appears willing to take.

— Post reporter Joe Schad contributed to this story

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.