MIAMI -- Florida International coach Mario Cristobal says his team has grown closer following the slaying of running back Kendall Berry.
Speaking Monday on a preseason videoconference, Cristobal clearly did not want to say much about the ongoing grief following Berry's death. Cristobal has made very few public comments about the March 25 killing, but noted that his team is merely trying to remain focused on the coming season and not the tragedy.
"Kendall will always be a brother of our family," Cristobal said. "We're a strong football team. We'll always keep him in our mind and we're looking forward to a great football season."
Berry was stabbed to death outside the front doors of a recreation center on FIU's main campus, an incident was witnessed by a number of shocked students.
Quentin Rashad Wyche, who once tried out for FIU's football team, has been charged with Berry's murder and remains held without bond in a Miami jail awaiting trial. He turned himself in to police about 24 hours after the killing, and court documents show that Berry was stabbed after he and Wyche fought over Berry's girlfriend.
Wyche tried unsuccessfully to make FIU's team as a walk-on last summer.
"We've had a great offseason," Cristobal said. "Guys have really been working hard. And you know, one beautiful thing about college football, it always brings groups of young men together with a common goal and a common purpose. These are strong-minded young men that have very, very high standards and goals, and I'll tell you what, it's been a great, great offseason."
Berry had 164 all-purpose yards in limited use as a freshman in 2007, appearing in all 12 FIU games that season. He sat out the 2008 season with a knee injury and then had some breakout moments in 2009. He rushed for three touchdowns in a span of 13 minutes against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 7 and followed that up with two more scores the following week in a win over North Texas.
Berry finished last season with seven touchdowns, six of them rushing, and would likely have been a key player for FIU this fall.
FIU opens training camp Aug. 9, and starts the new season Sept. 11 against Rutgers. The Panthers were picked to finish sixth in the Sun Belt Conference this season, according to the league's preseason poll released Monday.