The fourth week of Spring Practice continued this Thursday at Howard Schnellenberger Field with the Owls being full of energy while hosting a scrimmage with plenty of recruits watching them throughout the afternoon. For today, the linebackers will have the spotlight.
"We have seniors and some older guys who have been around and they really want to step up," said defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni from a prior session. "Leadership starts with getting yourself right and then bring around other guys with you to follow the leadership and I don't know who that's going to be, but it's gonna be fun to watch that develop and see what kind of leaders we have."
Below is a quick glance at the makeup of the position for the Spring.
Key Returners: Eddie Williams (Sr. 6-1, 200), Courtney McBride (Jr. 6-3, 235), Justice Cross (R-Soph. 6-2, 210), Jarrett Jerrels (Jr. 6-2, 218), Makai Sawtelle (R-Soph. 6-2, 211), Morven Joseph (Jr. 6-3, 222), Jaylen Wester (Soph. 6-0, 200), Xavier Peters (R-Sr. 6-4, 255), Rhys McDonald (R-Fr. 6-1, 215), Julius Barfield (R-Soph. 6-4, 234), Tre Jackson (R-Sr. 6-3, 237), De'Aris Thomas (R-Fr. 6-1, 220).
Key Losses: Jamie Pettway (Left the program), Jaleel McRae (Retired from playing, now a player-development coach for the Owls), Warren Sapp II, Brandon Schabert, Braxton Baptiste.
Newcomers: Jackson Ambush (Transfer/Albany, won't join the team until the fall), Ja'Corey Hammett (Transfer/West Virginia, won't join the team until the fall), Curtis Roberts (Recruit/Clearwater, won't join the team until the fall)
Defensive line coach Roosevelt Maggitt made himself available to media for the first time this spring.
"How I measure success is finding ways to grow everyday, and we can't take steps back," Maggitt said. "Everyday we're getting better, and I like how they're open and accepting the challenges of finding ways to be at their best."
Here is the ninth of our parliament Owl position previews, beginning with three names from the linebackers, and some notes from today's media availability.
On The Lookout
- Expected to Lead The Owls looked for a player in the transfer with last year's starter Eddie Williams making a recovery from knee surgery, and they appear to have found their guy in Jackson Ambush. While he has yet to arrive to the program for Spring Practice, Ambush transfers from Albany where he played a big defensive role for the Great Danes. He played all 11 games for Albany last season, making an astounding 83 tackles (45 solo) with five of them creating a loss of eight yards and catching an interception. He started last year with a tough matchup against No. 10 Baylor last September, standing his ground with a solid six tackles (three solo) despite the 69-10 defeat against the nationally-ranked Bears. Getting praise from FAU staff members, he could have an opportunity to start for the Owls heading into the fall. For the outside linebackers, Courtney McBride would be leading the way. McBride became more involved with the team during his sophomore year, seeing his numbers grow to 29 tackles (14 solo) with 5.5 of them building a loss of 14 yards and a sack for a loss of six yards as he played the entire season. His most noteworthy performance was against Rice last October where he made five tackles (one solo) and got the crucial sack for six yards to help the Owls squeeze out the win. McBride could provide balance to outside linebacker as someone who is capable of enduring an entire season while maintaining a high level of performance.
- Keep An Eye On Jaylen Wester: Wester (pictured top) has plenty of momentum in his favor heading into this year. He had a bigger role in the rotation during the second half of last season, making a valiant effort to help the team get out of their struggles to find more success on the defensive side of the ball. He made the most of this opportunity, finishing with 58 tackles (30 solo) with 4.5 of them creating a loss of 20 yards and a sack for a loss of nine yards, and an interception which he returned for 18 yards. His best games were against UAB and Western Kentucky when he combined for 24 tackles (11 solo) with 2.5 of them making a total loss of 11 yards, so keep an eye out for what he could do this year. Coming up next would be Eddie Williams. Before his 2022 campaign was cut short due to injury, Williams (pictured below) was excellent in his eight appearances by putting together a career-high 65 tackles (24 solo) with 5.5 of those tackles collecting a loss of 14 yards and 2.5 sacks for a loss of seven yards. While he seems to be slightly ahead of schedule rehabbing from his injury throughout Spring Practice, having him at full strength would prove wonders for the team as they search for stability at inside linebacker.
- Dark Horse Candidate Julius Barfield: Barfield could be a name from the linebacker unit who can break out this year. Having been a reserve for the last two seasons, he has an opportunity to impress under a new coaching staff with head coach Tom Herman taking over. Coming from Eau Gallie High School, he made 30 tackles with a sack and six quarterback hurries in six games during his senior year, which had him lead the team to a 7-2 record and an appearance in the regional finals. As a player who was once rated three stars by 247Sports and ESPN, he might be able to make surprises with great IQ and solid playmaking to stand out from his outside linebacker colleagues.
OwlBytes for April 6th
- Out Goes Pettway Inside linebacker Jamie Pettway, who we reported during the first week that he had a sling on his right arm and was was going to miss the start of Spring Football, has left the program and is no longer on the team's roster due to undisclosed reasons. The loss creates a hole at inside linebacker with Pettway having had a starting role last year. This could leave a big opportunity for Justice Cross and Makai Sawtelle to potentially have more starting reps in the rotation.
- Wester Wins During the beginning of the session, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni (pictured below) had the linebackers practice catching balls for interceptions. Outside linebacker Jaylen Wester, in particular, took huge advantage of this when the team moved on to their scrimmage by making a great interception to return to the end-zone. It was a great moment for the player who made a breakthrough during his freshman year last season, as he looks to secure a starting spot at the position.
- Coaching The D-Line Serving as an assistant director of player personnel for a UTSA squad that ranked as high as 22nd in the country and won the C-USA Championship last season, Roosevelt Maggitt Jr. said he was excited to have the opportunity to coach FAU's defensive line under head coach Tom Herman, who he worked together with over at Houston and Texas from 2015 to 2018 where they won multiple bowl games together. "I'm familiar with how he coaches and his culture," Maggitt said. "One of my goals was to be a position coach in The American, and that coming to life is amazing and I can't thank coach Herman enough for believing in me and blessing me with this opportunity."
Defensive line coach Roosevelt Maggitt and defensive linemen Marlon Bradley and Jacob Merrifield headline today's video play.
The team will host multiple activities throughout Friday afternoon for their High School Coaches Clinic before taking the field to practice that night and won't hold a session or scrimmage for Saturday due to Easter weekend taking place. They will return Tuesday to start the fifth and final week of Spring Practice.