Earls becomes leader of the football pack

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

BOCA RATON During Florida Atlantic's pre-season training camp, the Owls' linebackers got a surprise when they walked into their daily meeting.

Instead of linebacker coach Kurt Van Valkenburgh by the dry-erase board at the front of the room, it was senior Shomari Earls who was armed with the marker.

Earls drew up the day's plays in front of his teammates, but more importantly, erased any doubt he's the leader of the defense.

Whether Earls, a Palm Beach Gardens graduate, will embrace a leadership role is perhaps the only question mark surrounding his game.

"I like helping the younger guys," Earls said. "I just want go out there and show them what FAU football is all about."

The 6-foot-2, 253-pound Earls is quick to get to the ball and a vicious tackler. Last year against Hawaii he hit a Warriors ball carrier so hard, the running back's helmet went flying. Earls immediately gave chase to the bouncing helmet and the play made ESPN's SportsCenter and was the defensive highlight of the season.

Earls has always been big on talent, just not big on firing up the troops. That could be changing as FAU's leading tackler last season realizes his team needs him to be a leader this season after being hit hard by graduation.

"We're going to miss those guys a lot, but there are other guys who do the job," said Earls, who was named to the pre-season All-Sun Belt team and was named to the pre-season watch list for the Butkus Award. "There are older guys who can provide some guidance. The main thing is just to keep thinking about the task at hand."

Teammates are listening to the big man in the middle.

"I learned a lot last year playing behind Shomari," said senior Erik Benson, who will start at FAU's strong-side linebacker next to Earls this season

The Owls like what they have seen from Earls in pre-season training camp.

"After he came back her in summer school, the trainer jumped him and got him into shape," said FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger. "Since that time he's taken charge."

Earls didn't mind assuming the role of a coach during training camp. He aggravated a nagging hamstring injury on the second day of camp and didn't return until last week.

"I just tried to stay active and use my time wisely," Earls said. "I knew those were things that would help me and help my team. Some of the linebackers found out they could come to me and ask questions."

FAU linebacker coach Kurt Van Valkenburgh got a glimpse of Earls' mental toughness while he was out.

"He did a phenomenal job while he was out, of being honed in to what was going on," Van Valkenburgh said.

While the Owls were glad to see Earls stay involved while he was hurt, he needs to be on the field to do the most damage to opposing offenses.

With just three starters returning, FAU's defense will be needed to keep the Owls in games this season.

"We have a lot of new guys, but the coaches do a great job putting people in the right places," Earls said. "I have guys next to me that know exactly what's expected. I have confidence in all the guys out there with me. I'm going to do my best to show the young guys what we're going to face."