So much is made of "culture" shifts. With each new head coach, it is critical to quickly implement and refresh processes that make the program run. Often, the training off the field can be just as important as the training on the field.
Achieving championships is a long process, but in the first six months of the "FAU Tom Herman Era" a ramped-up recruiting effort, heightened academic expectations, and advanced community service projects have created a monumental shift for the Owls.
The new era began with H.O.O.T. (Helping Our Owls Thrive) developed by newly hired Matt Smidebush, FAU football's chief of staff, and Regine Hill, a newly hired director of player development. H.O.O.T. is the most extensive football life skills program to date. Players have undergone training and will continue lessons throughout the year in social media etiquette, leadership, development of personal core values and goals, leadership, community discussions as well as financial literacy. The Owls have bonded via movie night, an NFL Draft Party as well as watch parties for the men's basketball team's Final Four run. They have reached out to help with two local Boys & Girls Clubs, a cancer charity, and Boca Helping Hands. The Owls have had fun with kickball, karaoke, golfing, bowling, and paintball, and the fun will continue.
Academically, the football team has witnessed the direct and immediate impact of H.O.O.T. coupled with the academic plan of Eric Zeaman, the senior associate director of SASC and the FAU academic staff. During the spring 2023 semester, the football program posted its highest semester-ending GPA on record and a significant increase over the previous fall semester came to fruition.
On the recruiting front, Shane Marinelli, FAU's director of high school relations, led the staff in the month of February by hosting a series of coaches' socials. High school programs throughout the area were invited to campus for a "meet and greet" with the FAU coaching staff. More than 100 coaches and their respective programs were represented. Then came "Spring Practice" during the months of March and April. The 15 NCAA allowable practices were open to high school coaches and players. More than 600 prospective student-athletes attended and observed the Owls' workout, met with players and coaches, and toured the facilities.
Following the 2023 Spring Game, Jeff Love, FAU's newly hired director of player personnel, and the Owls' personnel/recruiting staff began utilizing the much talked about transfer portal. Their goal was to add a few puzzle pieces to the team, all aligning with the program's shift in culture. A months' worth of visits and on-campus interviews led the Owls to four-star wide receiver Devin Price (Texas A&M), four-star quarterback Casey Thompson (Nebraska/Texas), four-star linebacker Desmond Tisdol (Auburn), four-star tight end Elijah Brown (Alabama), three-star safety Jalen Huff (Georgia Tech), three-star tight end Kahlil Brantley (Miami), three-star linebacker Zyere Horton (Georgia Southern), three-star defensive back Jarron Morris (Texas state) and FCS All-Conference graduate transfer Jackson Ambush, a linebacker (Albany) and defensive tackle Jude Okolo (Illinois State). All are scheduled to begin classes at the end of May.
While the goal is to win titles and garner rings, the connecting, managing, and developing day-to-day interactions with the community and people are key to FAU football's NEW ERA, that includes not only winning championships but also a focus on being successful and prepared for the hustle of everyday life.