Jaymz Cosme | Staff Writer
The FIU football team wrapped up their 2023 season with a series of highs and lows.
After getting off to a 3-1 start to the season, they were only able to win one of their final eight games. Despite finishing with a 4-8 record, they still had multiple players who found individual success throughout the year.
In the realm of pass-catching excellence, redshirt junior wide receiver Kris Mitchell emerged as the Panthers’ leading target downfield.
Throughout the season, he consistently showcased his prowess at his position. He displayed a unique blend of speed, route-running precision, and reliable hands.
Mitchell’s ability to stretch the field and make critical plays in crucial moments made him a focal point of the offensive strategy. By the end of the season, he accumulated 64 receptions for 1,118 yards and seven touchdowns.
Due to his output in the season, he set a program record for most receiving yards in a single season and surpassed wide receiver Tyrese Chambers, who set the record in 2021.
While Mitchell had a record-breaking season for FIU, his feats would not have been possible without the contributions of freshman quarterback Keyone Jenkins.
Amidst seasoned veterans, Jenkins established himself as a cornerstone for the future of FIU football. Despite his freshman status, he exhibited poise and composure beyond his years.
Throughout the season, he showcased potential of an accurate arm, sound decision-making, and a natural ability to lead an offense.
Jenkins quickly gained the trust of his teammates and coaching staff, as he started 11 out of 12 possible games last season. Utilizing the opportunity, he finished with 2,414 passing yards and 17 all-purpose touchdowns.
When head coach Mike MacIntyre was asked about the growth of Jenkins throughout the season, he said: “he’s growing up with the team and has a lot of tools we’re excited about.”
Able to seize the starting job as a true-freshman, he is primed to lead the offense once again in the 2024 season.
Donavan Manuel Leads the Defensive Charge
On the defensive side of the ball, the driving force of the Panthers unit was undoubtedly senior linebacker Donavan Manuel. His leadership, football IQ, and relentless pursuit of the ball carrier defined the defensive identity of the team.
Whether stuffing the run, dropping into coverage, or rushing the passer, Manuel consistently displayed a high level of intensity and determination.
Leading the defense in multiple statistics, he finished his season with 121 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles. Beyond setting the tone for the Panthers’ defensive efforts, his five forced fumbles set a new single season record for FIU.
These successful individual seasons stood out among what was an up and down season for the FIU football team. Starting off the season 3-1, the best start to a season since 2017, the Panthers had momentum heading into the middle of the season.
Over their next four games, they dropped to 4-4 and were matched up exclusively with Conference USA opponents. To end the season, they went on a four-game losing streak and couldn’t recapture their momentum from earlier on.
FIU has struggled to find success against conference opponents in recent history, with their last winning record coming in 2018. However, MacIntyre has continued to preach about building a culture and foundation for this program.
“We are making progress. There wasn’t any foundation when we got here at all and now, we’ve built some foundation. We got to step on top of that foundation next year,” said MacIntyre.
While a 4-8 record wasn’t ideal, the staff and players have high hopes for the 2024 season.
Looking into the future of the program, MacIntyre added: “we are making strides, our character and culture as a team, our work ethic in the weight room, the effort has been really good from our kids.”
As the FIU Panthers reflect on the 2023 season, the performances of Mitchell, Jenkins, and Manuel serve as a testament to the resilience embedded within the program.
They look to build off the foundation that was built this season and “step on top of it” next year.
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