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LOCATION Boca Raton, Fla.
CONFERENCE Sun Belt
LAST SEASON 2-9 (.167)
CONFERENCE RECORD 2-5 (t-7th)
OFF. STARTERS RETURNING 8
DEF. STARTERS RETURNING 7
COLORS Blue & Red
HOME FIELD Lockhart Field (20,500)
COACH Howard Schnellenberger (Kentucky '56)
RECORD AT SCHOOL 28-30 (5 years)
CAREER RECORD 128-107-3 (21 years)
ASSISTANTS ? Kurt VanValkenburg (Springfield College '71),
Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers/Special Teams
? Gary Nord (Louisville '79),
? Kirk Hoza (Slippery Rock '85),
? Joe Corozza (Florida Atlantic '00),
? Eli Rasheed (Indiana '95),
? David Serna (UTEP '99),
? Johnny Frost (Louisville '06),
? John Vandevere (Millersville '99),
? Dale Williams (West Virginia '96),
TEAM WINS (last five yrs.) 4-2-11-9-2
FINAL RANK (last five yrs.) NA-NA-NA-NA-111
2005 FINISH Lost to Florida International in regular-season finale.
2006 Schedule | 2005 Results | 2005 Statistics
COACH AND PROGRAM
Howard Schnellenberger has always been known as the man to call when it comes time to rebuild a college football team.
He started by resurrecting the Miami Hurricanes, a team on the edge of extinction, and leading them to a national championship in 1983.
Inside the Sun Belt
Take an Inside look at the Sun Belt with Blue Ribbon's 2006 team reports:
Arkansas State Indians
Florida Atlantic Owls
Florida International Golden Panthers
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
North Texas Mean Green
Schnellenberger headed to Louisville next and eventually turned the Cardinals into a 10-1-1 team in his sixth year at the school.
So what was the Bob Villa of college football thinking when he decided to return to coaching in 1998, not to rebuild a program but to build one from the ground up?
Although Schnellenberger is a bit longer in the tooth now than he was back at Miami, it became clear right away that he hadn't lost his touch. He started by attaching his name to the school and helped raise $15 million to get the program off the ground. Then he got busy recruiting.
His initial class came together and became a tough football team from the get-go. Despite a quick jump to Division I-A, the Owls won 11 games in 2003 and followed that with nine more wins in 2004.
The 2004 season included wins over Hawaii, North Texas and Middle Tennessee, but it also marked the end of the road for Schnellenberger's first recruiting class.
When the Owls settled in as full-fledged members of the Sun Belt last year, they did so with one of the most inexperienced teams in the conference. The result was a two-win season, matching Schnellenberger's worst year since arriving in Boca Raton.
So the coach who has built his reputation on rebuilding football programs is now busy rebuilding the program he built. While several young starters took their lumps in 2005, 15 return with some experience.
Add to that what may be the best recruiting class in school history, and the future is once again looking bright.
So let the rest of the schools in the Sun Belt be forewarned – if you want to beat Florida Atlantic, you'd better do it this year, because the master rebuilder is rolling up his sleeves.
When a program is in its early stages, there are a lot of firsts to be witnessed.
The Owls have marked many milestones, including their first win at home, their first win on the road, their first D-I-A win, and so on. Now Florida Atlantic is witnessing another milestone – its first quarterback controversy.
Jared Allen was the only starting quarterback the program had known before he departed after the 2004 season. Allen led the Owls to nine wins during his senior year before handing the controls over to Danny Embick, his longtime backup. Embick's senior season was his first as a starter, and the Owls' offense struggled mightily in 2005.
Now the job is up for grabs with four would-be signal callers jockeying for playing time.
The favorite after spring workouts seems to be, oddly enough, a former tight end at Michigan State. Sean Clayton (6-5, 225), who transferred to Florida Atlantic in 2004, picked up some valuable experience near the end of last season.
Clayton fought his way off the scout team and into the backup role during spring practice. He appeared in nine games last season and started the last two. In his first start, he led the Owls to a 26-23 win over North Texas, finishing the game with 151 yards passing and a touchdown. The second start was a 52-6 loss to Florida International in which Clayton threw three interceptions.
So it's safe to say that the jury is still out on whether Clayton will be the man under center for Florida Atlantic this year or not. On the positive side, he has plenty of size, good foot speed and he has shown the ability to make plays.
If Clayton does get the job, the junior will have to increase his completion percentage (barely over 50 percent) and cut down on the interceptions (three compared to just one touchdown pass) in order to give the offense a chance to score more often than it did last year.
Nipping at Clayton's heels will be Rusty Smith (6-4, 201), Frank Messina (6-3, 205) and McKinson Souverain (6-0, 185). Smith, a redshirt freshman, seems to have all the tools the Owls need but none of the experience. He completed 105-of-176 attempts with 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions as a senior at Sandalwood High School in 2004. Smith's high completion percentage coupled with his low number of interceptions will earn him a look, but how he handles the speed of the college game will determine how long that look is.
Souverain figured to be the backup a year ago, but holes at other positions limited his time at quarterback. The sophomore saw time at both wide receiver and at kick returner in 2005, and he may play more receiver than quarterback again this year. If he does play some quarterback, his athleticism would make him quite a threat.
Messina, a redshirt freshman, made the most of his snaps in spring practice while establishing a reputation as a good decision maker. While he needs some work, Messina could see some action this season.
If you want to know why the Owls managed to score just 148 points in 2005, look no further than the running game. Florida Atlantic managed just 112 rushing yards per game last year to go along with only six touchdowns.
Fortunately for the Owls, help is on the way in the form of DiIvory Edgecomb (5-10, 180). Edgecomb started out as a wide receiver a year ago, catching a 65-yard touchdown pass against Kansas. After making the move over to running back, he consistently saw his carries increase as the season went on.
The sophomore had his best outing in 2005 against North Texas, where he rushed for 118 yards. Edgecomb is not the fastest back on the roster, but his soft hands and overall athletic ability make him the most dangerous offensive player the Owls have.
Backing up Edgecomb will be Charles Pierre (5-9, 195), the Owls' leading rusher last season. Pierre had 145 carries for 517 yards, but he never showed the ability to break off big runs. The sophomore has more speed than Edgecomb and will get his share of touches in 2006.
The third option will be B.J. Manley (5-9, 187). The junior has seen most of his playing time at special teams and, barring injuries to Pierre and Edgecomb, that will be the case again this year. Aaron Sanchez (5-10, 220) is back at fullback after a thigh injury kept him out all of last season. The senior has made his mark at Florida Atlantic as a great run blocker, but he has also shown the ability to float out of the backfield and make some plays. Sanchez hauled in 24 catches for 200 yards in 2004. His run blocking and his soft hands should add the spark that was missing in the backfield last year.
William Rose (6-1, 213) will back up Sanchez. Rose is a bruising runner who is capable of carrying the ball when he's not busy opening up holes for the tailbacks.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
While nobody knows who will be making the throws come opening day, it's pretty clear who will be making the catches for the Owls. Although Florida Atlantic loses its top two receivers from a year ago, Casey McGahee (5-9, 155) and Frantz Simeon (5-10, 172) gained plenty of experience and made plenty of catches in 2005. McGahee came over from the defensive backfield before last season and had little trouble making the adjustment. The sophomore snagged 23 catches for 269 yards in 2005, with most of his receptions coming during the last four games.
The coaching staff is hoping McGahee can continue his progression and become more of a deep threat this year.
Simeon will start at the other receiver position, and he already showed the ability to stretch the field at times last season. Although he isn't very big, the senior has plenty of speed and put it to good use in 2005. Simeon made 18 receptions for 274 yards, and his 15.5 yards-per-catch average proves he can make plays downfield.
With a new quarterback, it is crucial Simeon and McGahee make catches when the ball comes their way.
If you're looking for size at the receiver position, you'll find it in the backups. Cortez Gent (6-2, 170) and Chris Bonner (6-3, 178) don't have the speed that McGahee and Simeon have, but they will be able to provide some physicality at the position.
Gent will start out as McGahee's backup, but he will be a hard man to keep off the field. The redshirt freshman possesses 4.6 speed and turned some heads during the spring. Bonner, a sophomore, is also a great athlete and will get a chance to make some plays in 2006. While the receivers focus on going deep, the tight ends will try to be reliable short-range targets.
Jamari Grant (6-4, 177) will probably be the starter at tight end. In the framework of the Owls' offense, it makes more sense to think of the tight end as a third receiver that happens to line up at the end of the offensive line.
Grant, a redshirt freshman, will have to establish himself as a dependable option underneath while the receivers stretch the field. With his height, Grant should be an ideal target over the middle as long as he can consistently make tough catches in traffic.
Backing up Grant will be Jason Harmon (6-3, 184). Harmon, a sophomore, may be a slightly better blocker than Grant.
Last season was a long one along the offensive front. With only two returning starters lining up at the start of the 2005 season and very little experience surrounding them, what followed was probably to be expected. The offensive line surrendered 34 sacks and failed to consistently open holes for the running backs.
In retrospect, the offense didn't really have much of a chance of getting off the ground a year ago, but there is a silver lining around the otherwise dark cloud.
Several players got meaningful experience last year and three starters return on a unit that should be much improved in 2006. Antes Perkins (6-4, 285), Nick Paris (6-1, 329) and Nello Faulk (6-6, 264) all return to anchor the offensive front. Perkins and Faulk will man the tackle positions this season.
Perkins, junior, has started all three years he's been at Florida Atlantic. He bulked up to 285 pounds last season and developed into the most consistent blocker on the line. Faulk will start at the other tackle position. The senior has long enough arms to make him a good pass blocker and enough size to make him effective on running plays. Paris played a tackle position last season, but he will slide over to play center this year. The sophomore should provide plenty of much-needed size in the middle of the line.
Starting at the guard positions will be Chris Munoz (6-3, 285) and Brandon Jackson (6-3, 245). Munoz will take over Paris' position at left guard. The senior has been around and should not miss a beat now that he's in the starting rotation. His size should give the unit more pop than it had last year, and his experience will be helpful as well. Jackson, a sophomore, is returning from an ankle injury he suffered a year ago and will be the starter as long as his recovery goes as planned.
John Rizzo (6-3, 285) and Peter Pantelakos (6-2, 247) are both examples of the experienced depth the Owls lacked last year. Rizzo, a sophomore, started the final three games of the year at right tackle in 2005 and should be ready to play if called upon this year.
Pantelakos, a junior, is a bit small for the offensive line, but his quickness will provide some variety at the guard position.
Warley Leroy (5-10, 160) will handle the kicking and punting duties this season. Leroy, a sophomore, replaces Daniel Kenard, who led the Owls in scoring last season. Leroy is a homegrown product who became the all-time leader in field goals and extra points at American Heritage School.
It's not surprising a guy with such a strong leg was also a soccer standout in high school. Leroy didn't set the world on fire with his kicking in 2005, connecting on just 1-of-3 field-goal attempts. He was, however, solid during spring drills and the coaching staff is hoping that will carry over into the season.
The Owls have four future stars starting along the defensive line. The only problem with that is they have to play now.
After managing only six sacks in 2005, the D-line needs to get better right away. With four sophomores set to start, however, the prospects of things getting better right away are not promising.
E.J. Jones (6-3, 249) and Michael Hancock (6-7, 230) will start at the end spots. Jones spent 2005 learning the position, so he should develop into a better pass rusher with a year of experience behind him. Jones collected 18 tackles in 2005. Hancock moves over from tight end to take over at the other end spot.
Hancock could develop into a very good end given his tools. His height will make him hard to throw over while his athleticism could help him develop into a good pass rusher. The only question is his weight. At 230 pounds, it remains to be seen how well he'll be able to defend against the run.
Jervonte Jackson (6-3, 280) and Vinnie Henderson (6-5, 252) will anchor the tackle positions. Jackson is easily the best returning defensive lineman. He made 38 tackles during his freshman year in 2005 and figures to only get better this season.
Henderson will start alongside Jackson and should give the unit a boost. Although he appeared in only six games in 2005 and made just four tackles, Henderson has a combination of speed and size that should ensure Jackson will be going up against single coverage.
Henderson will have to be effective against the run in order for the unit to improve.
Josh Jenkins (6-3, 212) will provide depth and experience at the end position. After appearing in only five games a year ago because of injury, Jenkins should be more productive if he can get healthy and stay that way. Redshirt freshman Robert St. Clair (6-4, 201) will offer further depth at the end position while sophomore Randy Hunter (6-3, 260) will lead the reserves at the tackle position.
At first glance, there seems to be more inexperience at the linebacker position than there is up front. After all, the three starters listed on the depth chart have just two career tackles between them.
However, the youth movement must have something going for it, because the trio has managed to squeeze Cergile Sincere (6-0, 213) right out of his starting position. That's not an easy feet – especially when you consider that the junior had 70 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for loss in 11 starts last year. If Sincere can't manage to reclaim his starting job by the fall, it's safe to say that the coaching staff will find a spot somewhere for such a proven playmaker.
For now, however, George Allen (6-0, 200), Ted Czepiga (6-0, 230) and Edward Bradwell (6-1, 200) are the starters. Allen, a redshirt freshman, has gained the reputation of being a good tackler and will start on the strong side. Although he doesn't have the size that some linebackers around the league have, he does have good speed to go along with the ability to play physically.
Czepiga, a sophomore, will take over in the middle. Czepiga was once a physical running back in high school, piling up 3,345 yards at Amity High School in Connecticut. Now he's the one dishing out the punishment, and it seems to suit him. Like Allen, he's a dependable tackler and his speed should help him get to the football.
Bradwell, a sophomore, has the starting unit's only two collegiate tackles. Although he is the biggest lineman on the field, he will be manning the weak-side position as long as Sincere doesn't take it away from him in the fall. In order to keep his job, Bradwell will have to improve when it comes time to drop back into pass coverage.
Duston Forston (6-0, 228) and Markee Drummer (6-4, 205), both freshmen, will provide some depth at linebacker. Forston, a transfer from Ole Miss, will press Czepiga for playing time in the middle from the moment he steps onto the field this fall. Drummer is extremely athletic and will probably get a chance to play some end if he doesn't find his way into the rotation as a starter at linebacker.
If there is a strength on the defensive side of the football, this is it.
It's hard to tell how good the defensive backfield is, though, because opposing offenses were content to run the ball against a soft defensive front last year.
Still, there is plenty of talent here, especially at the safety positions.
Kris Bartels (5-10, 190) is back to wreak more havoc from his strong-safety position. Bartels made 82 tackles last season after winning the starting job from Christian Amaya. The redshirt junior has a knack for always being around the football, even though his speed is nothing exceptional.
Taheem Acevedo (6-1, 201), a junior, returns to take over his free-safety position after missing all of 2005 with an ankle injury. The coaches had high hopes for Acevedo before he went down in spring practice a year ago, and he should cash in on his potential if he can stay healthy.
Acevedo's return has shuffled Greg Joseph (5-11, 185) to the bench. Forced into action as a freshman last season when Acevedo went down, Joseph responded with 67 tackles and two interceptions. The sophomore will be ready when called upon, offering some rare experienced depth on the defensive side of the ball.
The cornerback positions are not quite as solid as the safety spot.
Although John Jones (5-10, 183) and Rickey Bethel (5-10, 176) have loads of potential, both are untested. Jones, a redshirt freshman, spent his high school career as a receiver. He averaged 26.8 yards per catch in high school before spending last season learning how to be a cornerback.
The freshman has plenty of speed and athleticism, but there will be a learning curve once he hits the field in a game situation. Bethel, a senior, is a junior college transfer who missed all of last season. While the senior isn't very big, the upside is that he's had experience at corner and he has speed to burn.
With the departure of Mike Brown, Leroy will take over the punting duties. Much like the kicking situation, Leroy doesn't have a tough act to follow as he settles in as the punter. Brown averaged only 38.8 yards per punt as a senior, leaving plenty of room for improvement.
The return game was just awful in 2005. The Owls could muster only 15.4 yards per kickoff return and 5.2 yards per punt return. Suffice it to say those numbers have to improve this season, especially with a new quarterback under center. Poor return numbers mean poor field position, and the Owls can't afford to have a young quarterback starting drives in the shadows of his own goal post.
Edgecomb is the team's leading kickoff return man returning, but he will need to improve on his 15 yards-per-return average. Casey McGahee averaged only 4.2 yards per punt return last year, so he will also have to improve on his numbers as well if he holds onto his return job when the season starts.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
The nine victories earned in 2004 are now a distant memory. Many of the starters on this year's squad weren't even on the roster the last time Florida Atlantic had a winning season.
It is clearly a time of transition for the Owls, but nobody's wasting any time reflecting on the 20 wins the program earned between 2003 and 2004. That's because the future may be even brighter than the past.
Grading the Owls
Special teams C-
Schnellenberger and his staff are quietly stockpiling young talent, and this is not just a case of snatching and grabbing good players without considering how they will fit into the program.
On the contrary, Schnellenberger has a very specific blueprint for the future of his team. If all goes according to plan, the Owls will be a well-balanced team in 2007.
"If you get to that point, then you have your recruiting where you really want it and you can focus on the guys you really want," Schnellenberger said. "By that time, we will hopefully be a more beautiful suitor than we are at the present time, so we attract the best kids."
For now, however, it seems like one more season of character building lies ahead before the winning returns to Boca Raton. Florida Atlantic opens the season with five-straight road games against Clemson, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and Louisiana-Monroe.
Spending the entire month of September on the road likely translates into a sluggish start to the season. But this year's win total is irrelevant. The goal is to establish a quarterback and improve along the defensive front. While Florida Atlantic will struggle to stay out of the Sun Belt cellar in 2006, the Owls could rise quickly up the standings in '07.
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