Panthers add size and talent on National Signing Day

Jacob Spiwak/ Asst. Sports Director

There are few days in all of sports sports that have as much importance and excitement surrounding them than National Signing Day. The futures of both young men and college football programs around the country are shaped on the first Wednesday of every February.

This Signing Day was a critical one for the FIU Panthers, as their football program is at a point where slight improvements can propel them to regular bowl appearances, while making a couple wrong moves could send the Panthers to the bottom of Conference USA.

While it’s much too early to tell how any of these players will turn out once they’re playing at the college level, early indications show that the Panthers came away with a very solid recruiting class that addressed a lot of holes and added some much-needed size to the roster.

“We feel really good about this class,” head coach Ron Turner said. “Our coaches did a tremendous job of [not only] evaluating their talent and athleticism, but also the character of these individuals…We feel like we’ve got a very good group coming in.”

Turner mentioned that the team got just about all of the players they were targeting to sign, and is optimistic that there are a few players in the new class of Panthers that can make an immediate impact on the field.

One of those players in particular is junior college transfer cornerback Khairi Reaser. After playing his first two seasons at San Jose City College, Reaser will look to capitalize on potential openings atop the depth chart. With the Panthers’ top two corners in Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon both graduating, there certainly seems to be a spot for Reaser if he can earn it.

“[Cornerback] is an area where we’re looking for guys [to play] right away,” Turner said. “We liked [Reaser] a lot on film, brought him in and liked him as a person, and we think he is a guy that hopefully can come in and contribute early.”

It’s rare that Turner brings in a player from junior college, so it’s a safe bet that he and the FIU coaching staff saw a lot in Reaser.

The aforementioned physical size of this recruiting class is also something that really stands out. Bringing in multiple players over 300 pounds and adding significant depth on both the offensive and defensive lines is something that can only help a team like FIU that seemed to lose the battle on the line of scrimmage so often last season.

“On the offensive line we wanted to get bigger and stronger,” Turner said. “A couple of [the newly signed players] were over 300 [pounds] or in the 290-305 range, which is really good for a high school kid, especially since it’s good weight. It’s a good 305 or a good 295, not sloppy.”

Size wasn’t just added at offensive and defensive line, however. One of the standouts of this recruiting class is 6-foot-2 wide receiver Stantley Thomas. A three-sport athlete in high school (football, basketball and track & field), Thomas comes into an FIU program that has drastically needed a standout wide receiver for years now. If Thomas comes into his own this offseason and can use his height to his advantage, he could line up very nicely on the opposite side of Thomas Owens.

Overall the 2016 recruiting class has 24 new signees, with 20 coming from the state of Florida and one coming from each Illinois, Oklahoma, California and Georgia. FIU always recuits heavily in Florida, but the growing number of out-of-state players is an indication that the Panthers are looking everywhere for the best possible players to take the field in blue and gold.

There is still a lot of time and practice to go for the Panthers, but after a successful start to the offseason the Panthers are eagerly awaiting their Thursday night season opener against Indiana University on Sept. 1.

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