Florida Atlantic University put together its first football team back in 2001 and stumbled through a rough, 40-7 loss to Slippery Rock University in the Owls’ first game.
After its fourth season, FAU elevated from the FCS level to FBS play — joining the Sun Belt Conference in the process.
After nine seasons, the Owls made the switch from the Sun Belt to Conference USA.
Now, the program is in the hands of Charlie Partridge, who coached playmakers like Darrelle Revis at Pittsburgh and J.J. Watt at Wisconsin.
Being from Broward County, essentially down the road from FAU, Partridge believes he knows how to refurbish the program and turn it into a contender — not just in the C-USA — but in the state of Florida in general.
The first step for the Owls comes on the recruiting trail.
“Well, first, I think it starts with recruiting,” Partridge told the Gator Nation Football Podcast. “I was a really, really smart D-line coach when I had J.J. Watt, right? I was one of the best punt return coaches in America when Darrelle Revis was back there returning punts for us, so your Xs and your Os become a lot more powerful with your Jimmies and Joes.”
There are certain kinds of players in South Florida, and Partridge is willing to adjust the formula to leverage the types of athletes in FAU’s backyard.
“The thing you have access to here is speed,” he said. “So, a lot of your decisions from a schematics standpoint should be tailored on that. When I was at Wisconsin, the flip side of it was that people up there are very, very big people. It seems all the guys are 6-foot-5 and the women are 6-foot-1. You built your program starting with the O-line and from there you work the tailback, and that’s the formula that made sense there.”
In his first-full recruiting class with FAU (’15), Partridge brought in 26 commitments, but none of them were rated with more than three stars.
In the class of 2016, FAU currently has 12 commitments, with the highest-rated prospect being three-star defensive tackle Kevin McCrary, from Daytona Beach, Fla.
Of course, a big-time win would go a long way towards helping Partridge finish out this recruiting cycle strong and maybe even sway some bigger recruits to play for the Owls. Luckily for him, he has an opportunity on Saturday when FAU visits Gainesville, Fla. to take on the Gators.
Florida is 2-0 in the series against FAU and has outscored the Owls by a total of 100-23.
Partridge isn’t going in with the intention of adding a recruiting tool to his arsenal. He just wants his team to keep a clear mind and “enjoy the moment of what has really become one of the more tradition-rich stadiums in the country.”
“We want our kids not to get overwhelmed with the scenery beyond our own football team,” he said. “We’ll use crowd noise all week and all that kind of stuff. I want ‘em to embrace it and enjoy it, but at the same time, when their helmet goes on and we’re really going to work, they need to keep their eyes on their keys and do their best to not get distracted.”
He knows the Owls haven’t had a lot of success since the team was created. He even acknowledged the “coaching turmoil” FAU has undergone before he arrived.
But as big of a game as this could be against a Florida team that has struggled in back-to-back weeks against Vanderbilt and South Carolina, Partridge is focused on living it up and executing the small tasks.
“You wanna enjoy those moments, but the best way to enjoy it is to play your best football out there and put on a heck of a show,” he said.
It would be a “heck of a show” if the Owls pulled out a miracle win against Florida, who already clinched a spot in the 2015 Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
It might not be as tough to recruit if Partridge put that win on his resume.