FAU football team faces Miami program that many Owls grew up hoping to join

Florida Atlantic University tight end Nexon Dorvilus dreamed of playing for Miami and flashing the “U” under the bright lights of Sun Life Stadium. Dorvilus even owned Hurricanes apparel.

That was before he was ignored by his hometown school.

“Being the hometown kid I was always looking up to the ‘Canes before I got to college,” said Dorvilus, a senior from Miami Senior High. “Now I have no love for them. They’re the enemy right now.”

As for that apparel?

“When I got to FAU I gave it away,” he said.

FAU is five days from perhaps the biggest game in the program’s history. There have been other matchups with high profile programs (Nebraska, Texas, Georgia) in which the Owls walked away with $1 million to play the punching bag. But this one is different.

The Owls will receive $1 million total for playing in Miami on Friday and in 2016 (UM is scheduled to play at FAU Stadium in 2015), but this is the first time the Owls will play a major college program from the same neighborhood in which many of its players were raised. The Owls’ roster consists of 19 players from Miami-Dade County and 13 from Broward, many of whom at one time sat in the stands on a sultry Saturday afternoon and envisioned wearing the orange and green.

“This is the most special game in my career,” said cornerback Keith Reaser from Killian High. “I grew up a UM fan. I had family play at UM.”

Sean Taylor, the former All-American safety at UM and Pro Bowl honoree for the Washington Redskins, was Reaser’s first cousin. Taylor was killed by intruders who broke into his home in 2007.

Owls coach Carl Pelini’s job this week not only is to figure a way to keep this game closer than the 32-point spread many are predicting, but making sure his players are not too emotionally vested.

“I don’t believe in emotional ups and downs for those types of games,” Pelini said. “You see those teams that come out and have the big upset and next week lose to someone they should beat.

“Our players will be emotionally ready when they take the field. Now it gets down to: Are they ready to play?”

As big as this game is on a personal level, the Owls have a more important game six nights later when they travel to East Carolina for their inaugural game in Conference USA.

Pelini prefers Saturday games but agreed to the Friday kickoff for two reasons: The exposure the program will get with the game being televised by ESPNU and the short week with the East Carolina game scheduled for Thursday.

Playing a game six days later is not ideal but better than a Saturday-Thursday turnaround. East Carolina opens Saturday against Old Dominion.

Pelini witnessed a year ago what can happen when his team takes a backyard-brawl type of game too personally. In the second-to-last game of the season the Owls faced an FIU team with two wins and one in which FAU clearly was the better team. The Owls had won two of the previous three games and played Navy tough in their loss.

FAU, though, stumbled to a 34-24 loss, a game that Pelini called his “most disappointing” of the season.

“I thought we played that game differently than we played the three weeks prior,” Pelini said. “It became personal for our guys and you can’t. You’ve got to focus on football and the execution and the fundamentals. You can feed on the emotion for about three plays and then it gets down to who’s going to block and tackle well.”

Of course, it may not matter how well the Owls block and tackle as far as Friday’s outcome. FAU is 1-25 against teams from top six (BCS) conferences, having allowed an average of 33.6 points per game.

Friday’s game, though, likely will be more emotional than any of those.

“You want to have those emotions but you don’t want to go overboard and forget your responsibilities and what you are supposed to do,” Reaser said. “You have to find balance between the emotion and focus.”