BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic took the field for most of Tuesday without arguably its most valuable player, as reigning Conference USA MVP and junior running back Devin “Motor” Singletary (American Heritage-Delray) was limited in practice with what multiple sources called a “hamstring injury.”
Singletary, the program’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 44, suffered the injury during Saturday’s scrimmage at Carter Park in Fort Lauderdale. Though Singletary participated in positional drills, he mainly spent practice in a black jersey on an exercise bike with other injured Owls.
Singletary did not participate in contact drills.
It is not known at this time how long Singletary will be out, though one source believes the running back will return — but be limited in how much he can do or see a lighter workload — as early as Thursday.
This is Singletary’s first notable injury in his nearly three seasons at FAU. Gerald Hearns (Dwyer) will likely take the bulk of first-team snaps for however long Singletary is out.
Singletary led Division I with 32 rushing touchdowns last year, but also led the nation with 301 carries.
FAU head coach Lane Kiffin will address the injury later Tuesday morning.
BOCA RATON — At only 21 years of age, Florida Atlantic running back Gerald Hearns has already written books, spoken at events and is planning to run his own business when his football career ends.
But when Hearns isn’t mapping out his future, the fifth-year senior is trying to soak in what could potentially be his final season of football. Part of the fun comes from Hearns enjoying increased carries as a first-team replacement running back to start spring camp.
“One thing about me (is) I can control what I can control,” Hearns said. “Things that I can control (are) coming up here every day, watching extra film. I control calling my coach to ask him questions or (FAU offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr.) if I’m unsure about a certain blitz or a particular play. It’s my job to control going home and re-reading over my install, coming back (the) next day and focusing on the small details.”
Controlling the effort he puts into things is nothing new for Hearns, a former star running back at Dwyer High who earned local attention for receiving the Coach Frank D.B. DiCocco Memorial Scholarship in 2014 because of his leadership and individual success in school. After starting his collegiate career at Florida A&M, Hearns joined the Owls in August 2016 and redshirted during FAU’s 3-9 season.
Though Hearns was lower on the depth chart last season, the redshirt junior had 11 carries for 67 yards late in blowout victories. Buddy Howell’s graduation created a spot higher on the depth chart, allowing Hearns — a four-year starter in high school — to compete for more carries and opportunities.
Hearns has joined his teammates in picking up tips from running backs coach and former Detroit Lion Kevin Smith. While many of FAU’s other running backs rely on their speed to make plays, Hearns continues to work with Smith on elusiveness and agility.
“(We’re working) on getting in and out of my cuts, working on my elusiveness and awareness as to understanding the defensive fronts,” Hearns explained. “This year would be a great year for me to show that (and) what I worked on in the offseason.”
Rising junior and 2017 Conference USA MVP Devin Singletary (American Heritage-Delray) called Hearns “amazing” and praised his teammate’s effort to earn more snaps.
“I take notes from him as far as the way he works,” said Singletary, whose Stallions played Hearns’ Panthers in high school. “He never takes any days off, on or off the field.”
Defense vs. offense: Lane Kiffin and the Owls ended practice with an interesting personnel change, as Singletary played linebacker and safety Jalen Young (Seminole Ridge) took snaps at quarterback in a five-on-five showdown. Known more for his speed and ability to score touchdowns, Singletary showed impressive strength with a hard hit on safety James Pierre.
“I played (defense) growing up since Little League, so it was fun to get back on defense,” said Singletary. “I kinda miss it. … I probably surprised a few people.”
When Kiffin and coaches looked for a quarterback, there was no hesitation in Young’s mind that he would be the man for the job. Young played quarterback for the Hawks in high school and enjoyed his brief return to the position.
“Just to play it for one play, it was awesome,” Young said, “I had a great time.”
BOCA RATON — The Lane Train — and all that entails — has left the station for its second trip around the college football world.
Fresh off an 11-3 season which featured a Conference USA title and a Boca Bowl victory over Akron, Lane Kiffin and the Florida Atlantic Owls hit the Oxley Center fields Tuesday morning for one of 15 spring-camp practices.
“I thought the defense had a good day today … good leadership by those guys,” Kiffin said. “Lot of veterans coming back … Same issue (on offense) as a year ago, even though (there are) different players. We had a snap issue much like we did a year ago. Too many turnovers.”
Even with the turnovers, the start of spring camp marked a return to action for an FAU offense that averaged over 40 points per game last year. Former Florida State and “Last Chance U” quarterback De’Andre Johnson was a full participant in his first practice since undergoing surgery for blood clots in his arm last September.
Kiffin told his players early to avoid the “rat poison” and positive talk which came from the Owls’ first winning record since 2008 and first-ever C-USA title.
“(At) 7:45 this morning, we made sure we understood that this was a different team,” Kiffin said, adding he reminded his players their current record is 0-0. “(This has) nothing to do with what that team did. … (That was a) very special season, but that means nothing — like a preseason ranking.”
Kiffin drew from his past experience as a head coach to motivate his players, explaining that his 2012 USC Trojans were No. 1 in the AP preseason polls, but “ended up out of the rankings.”
All-American running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Devin “Motor” Singletary (American Heritage-Delray) was among the players who took Kiffin’s words to heart.
“It was good. Everything that we did, of course, that’s gonna be remembered forever,” Singletary said, pausing. “But it’s 2018! We gotta make a new name for ourselves.”
QB battle: With Chris Robison suspended indefinitely, Johnson took roughly 75 percent of the snaps on Tuesday. Kiffin indicated Robison could be back at any time, but the starting job is Johnson’s for the time being. Former walk-on and Cypress Bay quarterback Conor Miller is the backup until Robison returns.
Hold the line: Joining returning tackles Reggie Bain and Brandon Walton on the offensive line were guards BJ Etienne and Will Tuihalamaka and center Tarrick Thomas. Thomas primarily served as the backup center last season after starting four games in 2016 before suffering a season-ending injury.
Whyte in: Redshirt-junior running back Kerrith Whyte (Seminole Ridge) was a full participant in practice on Tuesday. Whyte was in a boot this winter for an Achilles injury.
Cameron impresses: JUCO transfer defensive tackle Charles Cameron showed no signs of struggling to adjust to the Division I level, blowing past offensive linemen without any issues. Cameron is the only player who signed with the Owls during the inaugural early signing period who is participating in camp this spring.
“He made a lot of plays out there,” Kiffin said of Cameron. “There’s no pads, but he was in the backfield.”
BOCA RATON — All aboard the Lane Kiffin Train for its second round, something likely no one saw coming when the well-traveled head coach arrived at Florida Atlantic in Dec. 2016.
Kiffin and FAU pulled off the improbable in 2017, winning their final 10 games after starting 1-3 to complete their first winning season since 2008. FAU posted its first winning record in Conference USA since entering the league in 2013 and dominated its opponents en route to not only winning the conference, but also its first bowl game since 2008.
Now, the pressure is on Kiffin — who verbally agreed to a six-year contract extension in December — and the Owls to replicate last year’s success. The challenge begins with the Owls’ second spring camp under Kiffin, which starts Tuesday at the Oxley Center.
Here are five storylines to watch as FAU begins its title defense.
1. Big-name quarterback battle: Kiffin promised a quarterback competition not even an hour after FAU’s 50-3 Boca Bowl win over Akron on Dec. 19, but the pieces and circumstances have changed quite a bit since then. Last season’s starter, Jason Driskel, has retired to focus on school and Daniel Parr (Dwyer) transferred to Duquesne, but “Last Chance U” star and former Florida State recruit De’Andre Johnson returns from blood clots which sidelined him for nearly all of 2017. Competing with Johnson is ex-Oklahoma recruit Chris Robison, who transferred to the Owls last August after violating team rules. Even if Kiffin doesn’t name a true starter by the end of spring camp, this year’s battle will have plenty of star power attached.
2. Will Devin Singletary’s workload be limited? Singletary ran for 1,920 yards and an FBS-best 32 touchdowns in his first year as the Owls’ primary running back, but lost in his success was the junior-to-be leading Division I with 301 carries. Singletary was adamant last season that he could keep working as much as the coaches needed him to, but Kiffin may want to ease his All-American back into action this spring. Without their Motor, the Lane Train only runs so far.
3. Can Charles Cameron transition from JUCO? Three-star defensive tackle Charles Cameron (Copiah-Lincoln C.C.) is the only player who signed during the inaugural Early Signing Period in December that will be in camp this spring. Other players who transferred from junior colleges, including defensive linemen Ernest Bagner and Tim Bonner, were open about their own troubles adjusting to Division I. Cameron, who could earn first-team reps following Jeremiah Taleni’s graduation, will try to avoid those same struggles.
4. Finding blockers may not be easy: FAU was already losing All-Conference USA center Antonyo Woods, left guard Roman Fernandez and starting right guard Jakobi Smith to graduation, but finding their replacements is becoming tougher by the day. Rising junior Jack Breshears retired due to a nagging shoulder injury and versatile backup Matt Murphy took a job with the athletic department. Former walk-on and Suncoast alum Matt Weiner’s status is uncertain after tearing his ACL last August.
There is good news for Kiffin and new offensive-line coach John Garrison, however: All-CUSA tackle Reggie Bain and Brandon Walton will both return for their senior and junior seasons, respectively.
5. Who’s really calling the shots? Kiffin hired Charlie Weis Jr., 24, to be the offensive coordinator of a team that averaged over 40 points per game last year. Kiffin allowed Kendal Briles to run the offense last year while the first-year Owls coach took more of a hands-on role with both the offense and defense for the first time in his career. Will Kiffin aim for the same balance with the baby-faced Weis, who isn’t much older than the team’s longest-tenured players?
BOCA RATON — The good news for Florida Atlantic star linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, as he traverses the school’s Boca Raton campus, is that the rising senior is finally being recognized by some of his classmates.
The bad news, if one wants to call it that? Every conversation with Al-Shaair and other students includes them asking him the same question: What is Owls coach Lane Kiffin like?
“That’s the No. 1 question you’re gonna get!” a laughing Al-Shaair told The Post on Thursday.
Al-Shaair, Kiffin, and the rest of the 2017 Owls were honored at halftime of what turned out to be the FAU men’s basketball team’s 79-76 overtime loss to Rice. Al-Shaair and All-American running back Devin “Motor” Singletary (American Heritage) briefly spoke to fans, while wide receiver Kalib Woods gleefully held up the team’s Shula Bowl trophy.
As teammates posed for pictures after the ceremony, Al-Shaair spoke about how happy he was for the team to be recognized after an 11-3 campaign and a Boca Raton Bowl win over Akron. FAU had won a combined nine games from 2014-16 before Kiffin was hired in Dec. 2016. Several outgoing Owls players joined the team for one final reunion on Thursday night.
“Since I’ve been here as a freshman, those guys have been here, so this is like the last hurrah,” Al-Shaair said. “For a final, final last time and they’re going to build their lives. … It was good to see them.”
Given where FAU was only a year ago — not to mention Al-Shaair, who missed all of last year’s spring camp with a labrum injury — the senior linebacker said it was a different feeling to be part of a school-wide celebration like this.
“I think it was more so weird during the season as we were winning (because) it was a new feeling,” said Al-Shaair, who elected to return to FAU for his senior season rather than take a chance by declaring for April’s NFL draft. “Now, it’s something that we want to build the tradition for and the foundation has already been laid down. So if this was a year ago and we were talking about this, I think it’d be pretty weird.”
BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin has talked about wanting to turn the Owls into a “national program.” Two of Kiffin’s best players, at least for one night, helped the coach make some progress in his goal.
Star running back and reigning Conference USA MVP Devin Singletary (Delray-American Heritage) and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, both of whom were first-team All-CUSA players this past season, were honored by the 63rd Touchdown Club of Columbus Awards as players to watch in 2018. Singletary led Division I with 32 rushing touchdowns and finished 80 yards shy of 2,000 as a true sophomore, while Al-Shaair finished third in the nation and led C-USA with 146 tackles.
“I would like to thank the Touchdown Club for inviting me to Columbus,” Singletary said through a university spokesperson. “I also want to thank them for labeling me as a player to watch in 2018.”
Singletary, who became the first Owls player in program history to be named an All-American, inspired a Heisman campaign throughout the season with his record-setting numbers. As FAU fans jumped on the #Motor4Hei5man movement, Singletary ran for more touchdowns in a single season than previous program leader Alfred Morris did from 2008-11. Morris had 27 touchdowns before becoming a sixth-round pick of the Washington Redskins in 2012.
Al-Shaair, a former USA Today All-American Freshman in 2015, surpassed Frantz Joseph as the leading tackler in program history in the Boca Raton Bowl and announced immediately after the 50-3 win that he would return to FAU for his senior season.
Singletary joined Justice Hill (Oklahoma State), Benny Snell Jr. (Kentucky), Alexander Mattison (Boise State), David Montgomery (Iowa State) and Darrell Henderson (Memphis) as running backs who were honored. Al-Shaair was one of three defensive players honored alongside Nick Bosa (Ohio State) and Buffalo Bulls linebacker Khalil Hodge.
BOCA RATON — Through his first two seasons at Florida Atlantic, rising-junior shortstop Tyler Frank (American Heritage-Delray) has seemingly accomplished everything on his to-do list.
Make All-Conference USA first team? Check. Dominate in his backyard, star for the Owls and raise his MLB Draft stock? Check. Frank even became the first Owl in a decade to be named to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watchlist last month.
With Frank potentially entering his final season in Boca Raton before MLB teams come calling in June’s draft, the shortstop-turned-catcher-turned-shortstop again is trying to focus on returning to the NCAA Tournament.
“We have a great team atmosphere and the focus is always on what can you do for the guy beside you,” Frank said Monday, four days before the Owls begin their season against George Washington (6:30 p.m., FAU Baseball Stadium). “What can you do for the organization of FAU? We’re always trying to win and we have some things to do compared to last year when we didn’t.”
Much like another FAU athlete, All-American running back Devin Singletary, Frank has become a national star since graduating from American Heritage in Delray. A .448 hitter for the Stallions, Frank was named to the Class 4A all-state baseball team following his senior year in 2015. Frank also shares a soft-spoken, humble attitude with Singletary, who ran for an FBS-high 32 touchdowns this past season.
In part because of Singletary and the football team’s success, the baseball program is operating under the idea, too, that more eyes are on them.
“Having good athletes around the university and having good coaches and winning? Of course we love it,” Frank said. “We’re ready to take on our season now and show them what we got. … We’ve kind of established and accomplished ourselves for a very long time now.”
After hitting .285 with a solo home run as a freshman, Frank broke out last season to slash .336/.448/.540 as a true sophomore, hitting 11 home runs and posting more walks (41) than strikeouts (29), not to mention six stolen bases and 15 doubles. Frank was named first-team All-Conference USA en route to earning a spot on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.
“The whole is probably better than the sum of the parts,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “Him as a baseball player, if you’ve graded out the tools, they’re certainly good. But he exceeds that with his desire and willingness to do anything for the team.”
Added reliever and team captain Weston Clemente: “He’s pretty funny and he’s really good at what he does. … He’s definitely matured a little bit. Obviously he’s getting stronger and faster as much as he can. He’s starting to mature a lot.”
MLB scouts have already begun attending FAU’s early practices to scout Frank, who will be eligible for the first time since high school to be drafted by an MLB organization. With a strong junior season, Frank can potentially surpass his former mentor, shortstop C.J. Chatham, as the highest-drafted player in program history. Chatham was the 51st overall pick by the Boston Red Sox in 2016 and reached A-level ball last season.
“As many accolades as he’s gotten, he really defers it to the team,” McCormack said. “He doesn’t see it in that light. It’s nice for him and the team, but the one thing is you wouldn’t know it.”
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.
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.”
In what has otherwise been a quiet recruiting season locally, Florida Atlantic has offered Dwyer defensive end/linebacker Dalton Hustad a chance to play for the Owls as a preferred walk-on.
“I can’t let my opportunity of playing for FAU pass me up,” Hustad told The Post in a Twitter message, adding that he will announce his commitment prior to Wednesday’s signing day.
Hustad (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) was named to The Post’s Fall 2017 All-Conference Team for Division 7A last month after recording 13 sacks, four forced fumbles, seven fumbles recovered and 14 tackles for losses this past season. Hustad also played in last month’s Palm Beach County All-Star Game.
If Hustad signs with FAU, he will be one of likely a small handful of local players to commit to play for Lane Kiffin this year. Under previous head coach Charlie Partridge, FAU stressed the importance of recruiting in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. FAU had 16 players from Palm Beach County on last season’s Conference USA-winning team and 49 total from those three counties.
Three of FAU’s seven first-team all-conference players this past season were from Palm Beach County schools, with former American Heritage running back Devin Singletary leading Division I with 32 rushing touchdowns. Seminole Ridge graduates Antonyo Woods, Roman Fernandez and Jalen Young were all named to the first team as well.
Only one Palm Beach County player, Palm Beach Lakes athlete Teja Young, has committed to the Owls at this time. Young told The Post last month that he will play defensive back and return kicks at FAU.
FAU has awarded several walk-ons with scholarships in past years, with another defensive end — the recently graduated Haiden Nagel — earning one before the start of his redshirt junior season in 2016.
“[Earning a scholarship is] what I am aiming for by working hard and proving myself — just like at Dwyer,” Hustad wrote.
BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin has potentially found his quarterback of the future.
North Carolina quarterback and three-star recruit Cordel Littlejohn (Lincolnton) took to Twitter on Sunday evening to announce he would be committing to FAU. A former Illinois commit, Littlejohn was in Boca Raton this weekend to tour the university.
In a posted note that thanked his parents and coaches, Littlejohn said he was “thankful” for the recruiting process.
Standing 6-4, 185 pounds, Littlejohn threw for 3,654 yards and 50 touchdowns to seven interceptions as a junior in 2016, but was held to seven passing touchdowns against eight picks this past season. Littlejohn did run for 620 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
Littlejohn cannot sign his letter of intent until Feb. 7, though his potential arrival adds another element to FAU’s quarterback battle. Both of the Owls’ starting quarterbacks from 2016 and 2017, Daniel Parr (Dwyer) and Jason Driskel, are no longer with the program. Parr announced he would be transferring to Duquesne University shortly after the Owls’ 50-3 win over Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl, while Driskel announced his retirement from football earlier this month.
If Littlejohn does sign with the Owls, he would likely compete with former Oklahoma recruit Chris Robison and former Mr. Florida honoree De’Andre Johnson for the starting quarterback job. Johnson’s future in football remains uncertain after September surgery for blood clots in his arm, though teammates are reportedly more optimistic about the former Florida State quarterback’s return to form than they were during the season.
FAU is familiar with an Illinois commit changing his mind for Boca Raton, as former American Heritage running back Devin Singletary did exactly that two years ago. Singletary led Division I 32 rushing touchdowns this past season and was named Conference USA’s MVP for his efforts.