Signing Day 2018: Tulane center Junior Diaz transferring to Florida Atlantic

BOCA RATON — With Seminole Ridge alum Antonyo Woods set to graduate, Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin needs a new center. He seems to have found him.

Tulane center Junior Diaz, who earned his undergraduate degree in December, has confirmed through social media that he will be using his last year of college eligibility at FAU as a grad transfer. Diaz would immediately be able to play and would seemingly be the odds-on favorite to replace Woods, one of seven Owls named to Conference USA’s all-first team in December.

“I can’t get wait to get to work with Coach Kiffin,” Diaz wrote in a Twitter note announcing the commitment.

Diaz returns home to South Florida after playing at Miami Springs High and claiming first-team All-Dade County honors as both a junior and senior. Current Owls offensive tackle Reggie Bain was a high school teammate of Diaz, and the two could start together once again.

Kiffin added several notable grad transfers prior to his first season at FAU, including former Florida State and Auburn quarterback-turned-receiver John Franklin III and defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni. At this time, Diaz is the Owls’ only graduate transfer this season, though Kiffin could add more in the next few months.

FAU also landed a commitment from JUCO center Zack Bennett in January.

Owls quarterback chart taking shape: Gulf Coast quarterback Kaden Frost announced Monday night that he will be committing to the Owls as a preferred walk-on. Frost is only the second quarterback to commit to FAU this year, joining Roswell (Ga.) quarterback Cordel Littlejohn.

“I have a lot to prove and I feel that their offensive scheme is a great fit for myself … and that I will be able to become the best QB I can possibly be,” Frost told The Post in a Twitter message.

FAU is also expected to get good news about one of its current quarterbacks. FAUOwlAccess.com reported on Tuesday morning that De’Andre Johnson, who missed the bulk of last season following surgery for blood clots in his arm, is expected to be cleared for spring camp. An ex-Florida State signee who played at East Mississippi Community College after an assault incident in Tallahassee, Johnson headlined last year’s signing class before serving as the backup for one game to former Dwyer star Daniel Parr.

One source told The Post on Monday that Kiffin may make a statement on Johnson’s status during his signing-day press conference Wednesday.

Johnson would join Oklahoma transfer Chris Robison and last year’s backup Conor Miller as the team’s top three quarterbacks in spring camp. Parr and last year’s starter, Jason Driskel, are no longer on the roster after, respectively, transferring and retiring.

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.

 

How would proposed NCAA transfer rule affect Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic?

Florida Atlantic Owls quarterback Jason Driskel (16) talks with head coach Lane Kiffin at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida on November 19, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — The most common talking point entering Florida Atlantic’s 2018 football season has nothing to do with the Owls potentially repeating as Conference USA champions or how many rushing touchdowns rising junior Devin Singletary (American Heritage) will score after posting an NCAA-high 32 this past season.

The most common talking point is how much longer head coach Lane Kiffin will stay at Florida Atlantic.

While that conversation will continue even after Kiffin’s verbal agreement to a six-year extension that would keep him in Boca Raton for the next 10 years, a new aspect of the conversation has arisen. Per CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, two Big 12 faculty representatives have proposed a rule that would allow all players to transfer to another school — regardless of the level — and play immediately so long as they are not joining their previous coach.

NCAA rules currently mandate players who transfer from one FBS school to another sit out their first season as a redshirt unless they are playing as a graduate student. Exceptions have been made in years past for major scandals, such as the Penn State sexual-abuse scandal in 2012 and at Ole Miss late last year.

“Basically, we’re saying kids can go anywhere they want,” Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard told Dodd. “For the first time ever in college athletics, the student-athlete is empowered.”

If this proposal were to pass, all Florida Atlantic players would essentially become free agents if Kiffin took another job. FAU also would be unable to block transfers from one school to another, which programs usually do to prevent in-conference transfers. With the new proposal, an FAU player wanting to join FIU or Western Kentucky could do so regardless of the school’s opinion. Players would also no longer have to be “released” from their scholarships in order to seek aid at another school.

However, such a proposal could change a head coach’s mind about going from one school to another. If Kiffin were to take a Power 5 job at a perennial contender but the players didn’t want to play under Kiffin, they could all leave without any consequence. Hypothetically speaking, would the pay raise of leaving FAU for a Penn State or an Oklahoma still be enough for Kiffin to consider leaving if he’d have to rebuild the entire roster?

Given how often Kiffin praised former Owls coach Charlie Partridge for building the program that the well-traveled coach inherited upon his arrival in December 2016, perhaps not. Kiffin — and more coaches than many will admit — understand that the success their team enjoys when they take over is partly dependent on the recruiting success of the previous coach. Five of FAU’s All-Conference USA first-team players this season were recruited by Partridge and his coaching staff well before Kiffin even considered coming to South Florida.

“Charlie, he don’t wanna hear it, but this is really Charlie’s team,” Kiffin said after the C-USA championship game. “I’ve told him that. I’ve never met Charlie in my life, but once I started meeting this team and what he put together, I send Charlie videos of the locker room, some clips .… He must be a great guy.”

Had this proposal been in effect for the 2017 season, however, the question then arises of how many Partridge recruits would have left when FAU made the coaching change. Quarterback Jason Driskel was one of several players to use social media to express his frustration with Partridge’s firing, so it is conceivable that the freedom to transfer without sitting out a year would have forced those players to consider leaving.

Dodd added that the NCAA is expected to “push forward one or two proposals for legislation by June,” which would change the NCAA’s transfer rules potentially as early as the 2018 season. After bringing in several transfers last August to red-shirt their 2017 season, could Kiffin be adding more this summer with the expectation they’d contribute this year?

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.

Lane Kiffin says horrible Signing Day hype video was ‘a trick’

Lane Kiffin, the newly announced head coach of Florida Atlantic University football, shakes hands with Spanish River football coach Bill Ceasar 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, shakes hands with Spanish River football coach Bill Ceasar at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton on December 13, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Comatose coach squinting through sunlight? Check. Choppy editing and cheesy soundtrack? Check and check.

FAU and first-year football coach Lane Kiffin used the above recipe to create either the week’s most awkward or most sneaky-genius hype video ahead of National Signing Day.

The video, which was posted to and later deleted from FAU’s official Twitter account, was objectively cringeworthy. It had the enthusiasm of a child sleep-walking through daily chores and the soundtrack of a mandatory corporate retreat.

All of that helped it catch viral fire, pushing FAU into the national spotlight in a week typically reserved for college football’s superpowers. That the Owls subsequently enjoyed their best signing day ever — tops in Conference USA, 72nd overall on 247 Sports — suggests the clip actually helped, not hurt, their sales pitch.

That, Kiffin said Wednesday, was the plan all along.

“That was a trick,” Kiffin said of the non-hype video. “We did it so bad because we knew we would get so much attention. That was actually on purpose.”

Some remain skeptical even after the explanation. If the video was intentionally atrocious and made solely as an attention-grabber, why did FAU feel the need to expunge it from its Twitter feed?

But no matter the intent, the clip served its purpose. The Owls were buzzing across the football landscape and continue to do so after Kiffin’s first recruiting haul.

FAU announced 24 signees Wednesday. The class included 15 three-star players, according to 247 Sports, including former Florida State quarterback De’Andre Johnson, former Texas wide receiver DeAndre McNeal and former Miami safety commit Ahman Ross. McNeal, the nation’s No. 8 junior college receiver, picked FAU over UCLA.

Maybe the Bruins should have invested in their own awful (but maybe purposely awful) recruiting video.

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.