Panther alumni begin 2018 NFL season

Former Panther wide receiver T.Y. Hilton jukes a defender in the Panthers game against North Texas on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011. (Kristi Camara/PantherNow)

Xavier Holloway/Staff Writer



The FIU Panthers are not the first team that comes to mind when thinking of collegiate programs that produce top-tier NFL talent.

However, despite this perception, the university has been the home to a few of the NFL’s bright young stars.

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is perhaps the university’s most famous alum and is a player who has been selected to four consecutive pro bowls. Last season, the wide receiver finished with 966 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 57 receptions.

In 2015, Hilton signed a five-year contract extension worth 65 million dollars, with 39 million guaranteed with the Indianapolis Colts.

Safety Johnathan Cyprien, who was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013, has found favorable success in the pros.

After a stellar span of seasons with the Jaguars, Cyprien signed a four-year, 25 million dollar contract with the Tennessee Titans after becoming a free agent in 2017. In his first season with the Titans, Cyprien was sidelined with an injury.

FIU’s most recent draftees, tight end Jonnu Smith and quarterback Alex McGough have a long ways to go before they too can demand contracts worth more than the rookie ones they’re now playing on.

However, with the likes of draftee predecessors such as Hilton and Cyprien expectations are modest at the least.

For Alex McGough, a seventh-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2018 draft, has a steep challenge in front of him attempting to play backup for possibly a future hall-of-famer in Russell Wilson.

The coaching staff in Seattle this preseason were looking for a clear cut number two quarterback that could play behind Wilson. On account of McGough’s play at the rookie minicamp, head coach Pete Carroll presented the rookie signal caller with the opportunity to step into the competition with teammate Austin Davis for the number two position.

Unfortunately, McGough’s play didn’t do enough to convict coach Carroll and the rest of the coaching staff in Seattle to place him firmly as the backup.

Instead, the team traded a 2019 sixth-round draft pick to Green Bay for Packers quarterback Brett Hundley.

Still, the former Panthers quarterback signed a four-year rookie contract with Seattle back in May.

The team’s placement of McGough on the team’s practice squad this season is an indicator of their faith that McGough will use that time to develop and possibly be ready for the backup role when Hundley’s contract expires in 2019.

Smith is another former Panther competing for more opportunities behind an elite level player. However, he’s a player with a ton of upside.

Smith’s size and speed at the tight end position, as well as a year of NFL experience under his belt, has analysts curious to see if he emerges this season as another go-to guy for Titan’s quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Although Smith was barely seen on the field this preseason, spectators and analysts were impressed by his rookie season a year ago and are eager to see his development.

The injury to fellow tight end Delanie Walker opens up an opportunity for the former Panther.

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