Panthers picked to finish atop the Sun Belt for second consecutive year

By: Luis D. Gutierrez/Contributing Writer

In its last season as an official member of the Sun Belt Conference, FIU football is expected to go out with a bang.

Kedrick Rhodes was selected as the running back on the All-Sun Belt squad.

In a poll conducted by all ten conference head coaches and select media members during media day on July 16, the Panthers were picked to finish first atop the preseason conference rankings for the second consecutive year. FIU received five first-place votes, while last season’s Sun Belt champion, Arkansas State, and runner-up Louisiana-Lafayette received two first-place votes apiece. Western Kentucky also received one first-place vote.
The Panthers set a program-record seven players on the all-conference team including running back Kendrick Rhodes, offensive linemen Rupert Bryan Jr. and Caylin Hauptmann, defensive linemen Isame Faciane and Tourek Williams, linebacker Winston Fraser and defensive back Jonathan Cyprien being those recognized.
Williams garnered recognition from coaches and select media members, being tabbed as the preseason conference defensive player of the year. He is the second Panther to be awarded the prestigious honor as T.Y. Hilton was named the preseason conference co-offensive player of the year in 2011. The upcoming senior is currently in position to finish his career as FIU’s leader in sacks, just behind leader Antwan Barnes (21.5), and is rated the Sun Belt’s number one NFL Prospect, according to Lindy’s magazine.

Cyprien broadened the program’s horizons last week being named to the Jim Thorpe award watch list. The award is given each year to college football’s most outstanding defensive back. Cyprien currently has 33 career starts under his belt, three all-conference selections to his name, and is 30 tackles shy from becoming FIU’s career-leading tackler. Head coach Mario Cristobal describes him as more than just a football player.

“He’s a better leader than he is a football player,” Cristobal said

In addition, Hauptmann, who has notched 25 starts over the past two seasons, was named to the Outland Trophy preseason watch list, which is given to the nation’s top interior lineman. The California native is recovering from a shoulder injury sustained last season.

Kicker Jack Griffin was also named to the Lou Groza award watch list, given to the nation’s most outstanding placekicker.

The accolades have come in droves for FIU over the past week, usually the case for each team picked to finish first in its conference. However, with the 2012 campaign approaching, head coach Mario Cristobal and the Panthers certainly look to win on Saturdays as much as they have won on paper. Looking for his third straight bowl appearance, Cristobal stresses a winning season as a priority.
“We need to make it three [bowl games] in a row,” said Cristobal in an interview with ESPN during media day. “We certainly have the tough, relentless players to do it.”

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