Written by Christian Almanza/Contributing Writer
The first Wednesday in February is an exciting time of year for the National Collegiate Athletic Association football programs, as it marks the first day of the regular signing period, allowing prospective athletes to sign a National Letter of Intent.
FIU held a National Signing Day event at the Graham Center to celebrate the 2019 recruiting class, recap the previous season, and present the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl Trophy on February 6.
Head Coach Butch Davis was present at the event for a live edition of ‘Panther Talk’ and spoke about one of the specific qualities that the coaching staff targeted in its past two recruiting classes.
“Speed was critical. We wanted guys [who are] explosive,” said Davis, “When you watch the Kansas City Chiefs or Tyreke Hill, we wanted some guys to be like that.”
Among the incoming recruits to fit that mold are Miami Central running back Lexington Joseph, Mandarin High School wide receiver Kris Mitchell, Lyman High School wide receiver Nate Jefferson, and tight end Joseph Hocker from Deer Park.
Davis was excited when talking about his two newly signed wide receivers. “Those kids can fly. I mean they can run, blow the top off of them,” Davis said.
With the addition of Hocker, FIU continues the recent trend of recruiting the basketball star turned football tightend.
On his high school basketball team last year, Hocker helped achieve a 29-0 record and win the state championship in Ohio.
Davis gushed over the young man’s talent, recalling a triple-double performance in which Hocker recorded 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 11 blocks.
“He is a freak, as far as an athlete. This is a kid that is an unbelievable athlete at 245 pounds,” Davis said, “That’s a good addition to this program”.
A performance such as that requires the type of length and leaping ability that can also benefit FIU in the red zone.
The dual athlete’s unique athleticism will bring versatility for the Panthers on the gridiron, providing a player that can play out of the backfield and potentially provide explosive plays.
Davis light-heartedly expressed his hope that the speed targeted by FIU would help the team become more explosive on the field.
“I’m tired of having to run 14 plays to score a touchdown. I’d like to throw it to somebody and have them go eighty yards and score in one play,” Davis said as a joke.
PantherNOW asked Davis to pinpoint the difference in this year’s recruiting class from the last, and he did not hesitate in his response.
“The key to all of it kind of started with the quarterback,” said Davis,
“Getting Stone was a big part of it.”
Not be mistaken with FIU punter Stone Wilson. Davis was referring to newly signed quarterback Stone Norton, the recruit ranked as the No. 2 high school quarterback in the state of Tennessee by 247sports.com.
Norton was instrumental from the get-go in the recruiting process, actively engaging fellow recruits and developed a bond with them, according to Davis.
He formulated a chemistry between the class that would influence others to commit to FIU.
“Once we got Stone Norton, he became the behind-the-scenes recruiting coordinator,” said Davis, “They built that comradery, and as soon as they saw who we were bringing in [for] visits in January, those 12 [early signees] jumped all over those kids.”
That seems like the type of relationship building skills and leadership that you would hope for in a young quarterback.
“Behind the scene when those players start doing that with each other, you know you’re headed in the right direction,” said Davis.
Norton will have an opportunity to compete for the backup quarterback job next season and may eventually be the heir to current quarterback James Morgan.
“You better get a good quarterback ever year,” said Davis, “Every class has got to have one. If you don’t have one, you can’t win. I don’t give a damn if it’s pop warner, college football, or the super bowl.”
FIU announced six new players on National Signing Day.
Offensive tackle Shamar Hobdy-Lee from Jefferson High School in Tampa, and offensive guard Sione Finau from Central High School in Texas, will help fill the void left on the offensive line by four graduating seniors.
Davis described Hobdy-Lee as a big, powerful, massive player towering at six-foot-fix and nearly 300 pounds with an ability to run.
Finau is a 6-3, 300-pound Polynesian who will bring a tough, nasty, warrior-type mentality to the unit. He is a top-60 ranked guard by 247sports.com.
Brian Dillard from Lake Weir High School and Kendre’ Gant from Port St. Joe are highly praised players with two things in common. Both can play on either side of the ball, and each of them decommitted from other state schools in Florida to join FIU.
Tight end Kamareon Williams from Atlantic High School in Delray Beach, and linebacker Nasir Carter from West Orange in Winter Garden, were also announced on signing day.
By the end of the first week in February, FIU has used 21 of the 25 scholarships allotted to them by NCAA Division 1 rules.
When asked if he felt the recruiting class was lacking in numbers in any particular position, Davis displayed confidence in the depth of the new signees, while also eluding to their strategy going forward.
“We saved four scholarships, and we are still looking at one or two high school kids,” he said, “But we are absolutely for certain we are going to save two scholarships.”
Keeping the remaining scholarships in the back pocket will allow Davis to pounce when a diamond-in-the-rough shakes free late in the recruiting process, potentially in the form of a graduate transfer player.
“If you don’t have bullets, and one of them pops up in May and you don’t have scholarships left, you can’t take them,” said Davis.
Featured Image by Zoe Chin/PantherNOW