Commentary: Owls welcome 25 football recruits in what Pelini calls “best class” in FAU history

Zack Kelberman

As National Signing Day winded down, Owls head football coach Carl Pelini took to the podium, donning a big smile, and delivered an enthusiastic message.

FAU head football coach Carl Pelini addressing the media after the Owls' 2013 recruiting class was announced. Photo by Max Jackson.
FAU head football coach Carl Pelini addressing the media after the Owls’ 2013 recruiting class was announced. Photo by Max Jackson.
“If you look at the average quality of a player,” Pelini said, “this is the best class in the history of this university.”

Bold words, but they hold a ton of merit. This was a landmark day for FAU football.

The Owls’ 2013 recruiting class, consisting of 25 new student athletes, is diverse, locally-bred, accomplished, and, perhaps most importantly, intelligent.

It’s worth wondering how someone like Pelini, normally tight-lipped and reserved, could pull off this kind of haul or make such a headline-grabbing statement.

After one year on the job as a D1 coach, Pelini may be getting more comfortable in his duties. He knows what he wants in a player and goes for it.

Smarts is near the top of the list.

Pelini places significant emphasis on education, a “bragging point” in comparison to other D1 schools.

Nine of the aforementioned 25 recruits hold at least a 3.0 grade point average, and the overall GPA of the freshman class is an impressive 2.95. Five players, all of whom came in over the semester break, have earned A.A. degrees.

“In order to offer them a scholarship at Florida Atlantic, they needed to be more than great football players,” Pelini said. “We wanted kids who are going to be good citizens and good students.”

Another factor in Pelini’s success with this class is his continual interest in staying within Florida — 17 players were recruited in-state, with no proverbial rock left unturned.

“We set out to develop relationships with the high school coaches all across the state,” Pelini said. “And I think that shows. We signed kids all the way from Dade County up through the panhandle.”

Florida is one of the biggest breeding grounds for athletes, and, in turn, a very competitive field. This has translated to players who’ve tasted success at the highest of their respective levels.

Pelini realizes this, and has traveled to cities such as Jacksonville and Pensacola to make his best pitch.

And it’s worked.

“We signed 10 kids from the I-10 corridor,” Pelini said, referring to the highway that runs across the panhandle. “Believe me, I know. I made the drive out there.”

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In all, 15 recruits have earned all-state honors, including what may amount to be their most prized acquisition, Austin Bland.

Playing for Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas, a school which has produced several NFL stars (including Steelers OL Marcus Gilbert and Falcons OL Sam Young), Bland dominated as an interior offensive lineman.

Bland, who stands 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds, was considering offers from, among other programs, Cincinnati and Purdue. He ended up choosing FAU, however, and figures to make an immediate impact along the Owls’ line.

It was hard for Pelini to hide his delight, a stark difference from his typically stoic nature.

“[Bland] was here doing our camps, our junior day,” Pelini said. “To me, that was so important. We were able to build a relationship with Austin, get him to commit to us early, get him excited about us. He never wavered from the very beginning and we’re very proud to have him as part of this team.”

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Though who Bland will be blocking for remains a mystery.

FAU added three quarterbacks — Jaquez Johnson, Greg Hankerson, and D.J. Juste — to a roster that already includes redshirt sophomore Stephen Curtis.

Pelini revealed that all four quarterbacks will battle for the starting job, and the best man should win.

Johnson appears to be an early favorite, considering his 225 pound frame and dual-threat ability, but Pelini hinted as to not sleep on Juste, a 6-foot-1 athlete from Port St. Lucie.

“He’s an extremely talented young man,” Pelini said of Juste. “And I know he will come in and compete hard for the quarterback position.”

Juste’s skillset compares, albeit in a lesser degree, to dynamic Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III. A genetically-gifted individual, Juste played various positions in high school, but you’ll see him in one place at FAU: under center.

In the Owls’ pistol attack, Juste could be an ideal match, capable of burning defenses with either his arm or legs.

“He’s going to help us in so many different ways,” Pelini said.

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Bland and Juste are just two examples of the supreme amount of talent and potential this recruiting class holds.

Following a three-win season, the Owls had a bevy of needs and addressed most of them in one fell swoop.

Stud offensive linemen, including a top prospect? Check. Fresh blood at the QB position? Check. Fast athletes that could play a multitude of positions? Check. An injection of talent to a defense that sorely lacked consistency? Check.

A satisfied head coach, burrowing out from his shell and wooing both parents and recruits?

“We have the best recruiting class that we could’ve possibly had,” Pelini said. “I’m excited about that.”

Check and mate.

Entering a new conference (Conference USA), FAU is hoping to make a good first impression with the product on the field.

After today, that product looks a whole lot better. No matter how Pelini made it happen.