First day of fall practice starts with high expectations

Luis D. Gutierrez/ Staff Writer

With the dog days of summer dwindling into August, water breaks and ice buckets were a hot commodity today at Alfonso field during FIU’s first fall practice.  Yet, the temperature wasn’t nearly as high as the expectations placed upon the Panthers as they opened up their 2012 campaign.

Just two and a half weeks removed from being tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt, FIU got back to work with these expectations in mind.  However, players and coaches expressed exuberance at the mere fact of being together for the first time as a squad since the conclusion of spring practice.  

“It’s the best first day we’ve ever had since I’ve been [at FIU],” quarterback Jake Medlock said.  “Everyone was on point.”

Linebacker Winston Fraser also showed enthusiasm similar to Medlock’s, but acknowledged that nothing came easy.

“It was a great first day of practice,” he said.  “But, the coaches threw a lot at us. It wasn’t simple; we had to make plenty of adjustments in our play calls, on both sides of the ball.”

“Everyone came out today very excited to be here,” safety and team captain Jonathan Cyprien said.  “Just being able to have everyone together again throwing the ball around was real fun.”

FIU’s defense, considered by many to be the strength of this Panther squad, was also on display at the practice.  However despite the recognition, defensive lineman Tourek Williams knows the ceiling has yet to be reached.

“As one unit, we need to be relentless on the field,” he said.  “We need to be ferocious competitors and if we can do that, we’ll be a solid unit.”

Fraser emphasized a sense of unity between himself and his defensive peers, knowing it is essential towards any success brought upon by the upcoming season.

“I want us to come together collectively,” he said.  “We need to become one unit if we want to win games.  We all need to produce and have each other’s backs.”

Cyprien reflected on the defense’s performance during the practice and realized there is still work to do in order to accomplish the goal of becoming “one unit.”  However, he acknowledged that the defense has the experience to learn from their errors.

“We’re a veteran group,” he said.  We hit a few bumps in the road, but we’re going to hit the film room and we’ll be better tomorrow than we were today.”

Alongside being tabbed the favorites of the Sun Belt, FIU placed a program-record seven players on the preseason all-conference team.  Yet, as head coach Mario Cristobal states, the preseason accolades only offer so much in perspective when it comes to the greater goal of winning games.

“We always want to get to the point where expectations are higher and higher, but at the same time we need to realize that its preseason hype,” Cristobal said.  We welcome it, but we realize there is a lot of competition out there, between ourselves and our opponents.”

Williams, who received the preseason nod as conference defensive player of the year, shrugged off all preseason recognition in its entirety.

“It really doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said.  “All that matters is that my teammates and I are successful by getting the job done and I’m sure we will be.”

Fraser expressed the same indifference towards the accolades and saw the first practice of the season as the road leading towards a third straight bowl appearance with the right mindset.

“It’s just like every other year,” Fraser said.  “As long as we keep the same humble but, relentless mindset, we’ll be fine.  The hype and the numbers don’t mean anything unless we go out there every Saturday and get the job done.”

The first practice of the fall removed the rust and angst left over by the off-season.  Now with their feet wet, the Panthers have put the accolades in the rearview mirror, but still hold their expectations firmly in front of them.

“We want to be the best we can be,” Cyprien said at the conclusion of the practice.  “We want to be ranked by the end of the season and we believe we have the players to do it.”

Here are some images from the first day of practice as football season gets set to kick off.

Photos by Photo Editor Andres Bedoya.

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