FIU Team Report
Ron Turner’s first signing class at Florida International, put together in about a month after he was hired to replace the fired Mario Cristobal, wasn’t the complete disaster it could have been.
Turner managed to bring in a couple of three-star recruits in defensive backs Vontarius West and Xavier Hines, and he snagged a sleeper running back prospect in Silas Spearman III.
Versatile Wilkenson Myrtil from Orlando, who can play running back, linebacker, or safety and is a quality sprinter, also is a good snag.
But of the 13 or 14 players who had committed to FIU before Cristobal’s axing, Turner, who didn’t get into specifics, kept about half.
Some he just couldn’t keep, others he didn’t try to retain, he said.
The result is an 18-member recruiting class that overall is probably the lowest rated of the last couple of years.
But Turner also noted that though it is called “signing day,” it actually is just the first day in a process that will continue until April 1.
With seven scholarships still available, Turner will continue to search for some overlooked linemen to beef up the offensive interior and possibly another quarterback.
“We may use all of them before camp starts, we may not sign anyone,” Turner said of the leftover scholarships. “It depends on what’s out there. We have targeted some positions.”
Top Of The Class
DB Vontarius West (Bartow, Fla.)—The secondary is a big position of need for FIU, and West was one of the Panthers’ two recruits rated with three stars (Rivals.com). He can play corner or safety.
CB Xavier Hines (Belen Jesuit, Miami, Fla.)—Hines also received three stars from Rivals.com and also fills a need in the secondary, which has had a tendency to give up big plays in recent years.
RB Silas Spearman III (Seminole Ridge, Loxahatchee, Fla.)—Spearman may have been overlooked by some larger programs, and FIU is grateful for that. He has the potential to give the running back spot some much-needed backup.
• Assistant coach Jeff Popovich, the lone holdover from Mario Cristobal’s staff, was fired shortly before coach Ron Turner met the media to review the results of his first recruiting class at Florida International. Popovich coached the secondary, which gave up several big plays in 2012, but also was largely responsible for bringing four defensive backs in the 18-member signing class.
• FIU won’t play its first conference game in its new league, Conference USA, until Oct. 5 when the Panthers go to Southern Mississippi. The Panthers open the season Aug. 31 at Maryland.
Practice priorities: First-year coach Ron Turner faces the task of rebuilding a defense that disappointed in 2012. Considering how brittle QB Jake Medlock has proven to be (injuries in the last two years), building depth at quarterback has to be an issue as well.
Quote To Note: “One thing about Florida kids, they love football. They love the game of football. The talent we have in South Florida, in Central Florida, really all over the state of Florida, I really don’t see the need to go to a whole lot of other places.”—Coach Ron Turner, whose 18-member signing class included 17 players from Florida and one (QB Israel Paopao of Oceanside) from California.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Key Losses: SS Johnathan Cyprien, DE Tourek Williams, OT Caylin Hauptmann.
Players To Watch In 2013:
RB Kedrick Rhodes—Rhodes is looking to bounce back from the ankle problems that plagued his 2012 season. He rushed for 1,149 yards as a sophomore in 2011 and finished last fall with 305 yards rushing over his last four games.
WR Willis Wright—Wright is the leading returning receiver for 2013 after catching 25 passes for 633 yards in 2012. He has the speed to break off big plays.
DE Greg Hickman—Hickman has the ability to make plays off the edge as well as drop back into pass coverage. He had nine tackles-for-loss plus an interception in 2012.
CB Richard Leonard—Leonard’s speed and quickness are huge assets in the return game. He averaged 29.2 yards running back kickoffs and 14.2 on punt returns. Ball security can be a problem at times for him, however.
• SS Johnathan Cyprien was among the leading tacklers for the North team in the Senior Bowl with five stops, including an assist on a tackle-for-loss.
• WR Cody Hodgens (Tampa, Fla., Robinson High) will be a preferred walk-on for FIU, according to the Miami Herald.