Hiring Ron Turner just a month before National Signing Day left the new FIU coach and his staff, still under construction itself, trying to keep this year’s recruiting class from being a state of condemned. The early results, after Wednesday:
Light in quantity — 18 signees and two walk-ons with seven scholarships left to distribute. Light overall in quality, if one goes by those who try to project how 18-year-olds will evolve in four years, with only two consensus three-star recruits, the lowest for FIU in several years.
But at least FIU started to address holes in the secondary, linebacking corps and along the offensive line. Signees in those areas account for 11 of the 18 with more offensive linemen likely. Also, Turner said, FIU might use one of those remaining scholarships on a kicker.
“I want to thank the coaching staff for the tremendous job they did under tough circumstances,” Turner said. “By the time we started to get staff together, it was mid-January. A lot of these kids that were committed had decommitted or at least started looking. A lot of other kids that were out there that committed or had interest in other schools. I think our staff did a tremendous job of selling what we’re all about.”
Ultimately, seven players who had verbally committed to FIU before the firing of Mario Cristobal went elsewhere: FIU defensive backs Simeon Thomas from Carol City and Troy McCollum, both of whom signed to go to Louisiana-Lafayette; Collins Hill (Ga.) three-star quarterback Brett Sheehan wound up at South Alabama; Miramar wide receiver Sean Avant decided to walk-on at FAU; Panama City Bozeman defensive end Chandler Burkett signed with Maryland; Jacksonville Sandalwood offensive tackle Donald Rocker will go to Western Kentucky; and Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson offensive tackle Sandley Jean-Felix went to Marshall, where former FIU offensive line coach Alex Mirabal is offensive line coach.
FIU managed to hold on to Belen cornerback Xavier Hines; Bradenton Manatee defensive back Willie Smith; Vero Beach offensive lineman Chris Flaig; North Palm Beach Benjamin Jonathan Pavlov; Hallandale linebacker Jeremy Derrick; and Columbus linebacker Jordan Guest.
Smith, who had a spectacular junior season followed by a senior year truncated by a knee injury, said he committed to FIU last season because “I liked the team and I loved the campus. It seemed like the school and team were progressing.” And he liked secondary coach Jeff Popovich after meeting him at a prospect camp.
After Cristobal was fired, Smith said he considered decommitting, but “I checked the résumé of the coach [Turner] and it seemed pretty good.”
(Popovich, who coached a strafed secondary last season but also helped keep the defensive back part of the recruiting class together, got fired Wednesday afternoon.)
Among the new recruits were Bartow cornerback Vontarious West, the Panthers’ consensus highest rated recruit in this class. The fourth defensive back, Olrando Jones Wilkenson Myrtil, is one of the fastest defensive back recruits in Florida. All the defensive backs officially are listed at 6-0. FIU wanted to add height and length to a secondary that has had three cornerbacks 5-9 and under the past two seasons.
On the offensive line, where the Panthers lost five senior starters, FIU brought in Flaig, whom Turner said might get playing time this season as a long snapper; Fort Lauderdale University lineman Jordan Budwig; Palm Beach Gardens’ James Cruise and Riviera Beach Suncoast’s Garrett Scott, who will walk-on with a full academic scholarship.
FIU also signed four linebackers, with Norland’s Treyvon Williams and Killian’s Jordan Gibbs joining Guest and Derrick.
Perhaps the most interesting recruit was Royal Palm Beach Seminole Ridge running back Silas Spearman, who gives the Panthers a younger back with some boogie. Spearman ran for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns, in addition to catching four passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. The Class 8A Third Team All-State selection committed last weekend.