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Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic change focus to ‘national’ recruiting plan

Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Lane Kiffin at the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Florida on December 19, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — Lane Kiffin began his tenure at Florida Atlantic in Dec. 2016 by saying he wasn’t intending to send any types of messages, subliminal or otherwise.

After his second recruiting class, Kiffin has sent two vocal messages: FAU is en route to becoming a “national program” and the foundation of the old program, a heavy recruiting base in South Florida, is being left in the past.

[RELATED:  Five takeaways from Lane Kiffin’s second recruiting class]

“When we came here, there were people that said there so many great players [that] there is no reason to go outside South Florida,” Kiffin said earlier this week. “I get that and … we’re going to recruit South Florida. It’s more important than any other area, but at the same time, too, we didn’t come here to be the old FAU. We came here to be a national program.”

Among the nearly 20 players Kiffin signed this year, Palm Beach Lakes defensive back Teja Young was the only high school player to come from Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade counties. Former Tulane center Junior Diaz (Miami-Central) and ex-West Virginia wide receiver Jovan Durante (Miramar) each played high school football south of FAU.

Kiffin did add two local stars as preferred walk-ons, with Dwyer defensive end/linebacker Dalton Hustad signing with the Owls on Wednesday and Seminole Ridge offensive lineman Nicholas Screichu doing the same on Friday.

Seminole Ridge OL @N_Screciu signed with @FAU_Football as a preferred walk-on Friday. He turned down seven scholarship offers to play with the Owls, and will join numerous former Hawks in Boca Raton. @SRHSHawks

— Jodie Wagner (@JRWagner5) February 9, 2018

“How many programs only recruit their area, national programs?” Kiffin asked. “They don’t. … You want to be a top-20 program year-in and year-out. You don’t say, ‘I’m going not going over there.’ We’re developing into a national program that we can go into California, we can go into Alabama, we can go into Georgia.”

With FAU having long been considered a realistic option for local players who either don’t have many Division-I offers or who want to stay closer to home, Kiffin’s decision to stray away from his base has some worried about the long-term implications. Former FAU coach Charlie Partridge made such a habit of recruiting within South Florida that 49 of last year’s Conference USA-winning Owls came from the aforementioned South Florida counties.

Though Palm Beach Lakes High coach Al Shipman has tried selling his players for years on the potential good of leaving Florida to “experience some different things,” FAU’s newest philosophy of focusing less on local kids might not work out.

“I think if you don’t recruit the hot bed of the country, you’re making a big mistake,” Shipman told The Post. “You’re making a huge mistake. This is the most-recruited state in the country and for you to openly … say you’re going to recruit this area less, I just personally think that’s mistake. Like a Teja, you have a lot of local kids who want to stay home and have that opportunity.”

FAU has officially signed a total of 10 in-state players among their 17 total recruits this year, down from 13 (of 24) last year and 17 (of 19) in 2015. Of last year’s 12 in-state high-school recruits, however, five came from the three South Florida counties.

Quarterback De’Andre Johnson (2016) and Diaz both opted to return to Florida after out-of-state stints, though Johnson had originally signed with Florida State in 2015 before being dismissed following an assault charge.

“The issue, I think, with FAU is that now they’re more known so they can go outside the county and grab kids they think might be better,” former Seminole Ridge High coach James Parson added. “I think when Kiffin came in, they went (with) a lot of bigger-school, D-I guys who weren’t happy, got those guys and some JUCO kids. … When [Partridge] was there, Charlie brought a few more Palm Beach County guys in.”

Parson did bring up a point that may interest some local players in wake of the changes at FAU. With its heavy emphasis on recruiting locally, Keiser University — which will play its first season this fall under former Oxbridge coach Doug Socha — could become the next FAU in terms of its in-state impact.

“Keiser snatched up a lot of guys,” Parson said. “You can actually stay at home and go to Keiser!”

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