Within minutes of Mario’s Cristobal’s firing at Florida International University, names began to pop up for the coaching vacancy. There were also some rather angry and confused local high school coaches and players.
What Cristobal had done — when the program turned the corner to the D1 level — was to recruit like he was at Alabama, Penn State and Miami. And, while Don Strock originally tried to keep the local players home, it was indeed Cristobal who raised that bar, and made it fashionable to stay home and attend a school “right down the block.’’
More and more marquee players started to commit to FIU — with the knowledge that others would follow, and the pipeline that Cristobal and his coaches had created was one that would be tapped, no matter who was there and running the show in the future.
It was University of Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville who recognized — while he was at the University of Miami — that you can easily win the national title with the talent within 75 miles of the City of Miami.
The Golden Panthers are now in the hands of a very capable coach in RonTurner, who replaced Cristobal, but will end up owing the former head coach a great bit of thanks for tapping into that local recruiting frenzy and coming out with some tremendous players.
The initial shock of Cristobal’s departure was one that indeed had coaches and players looking around trying to find answers. But even in their anger, they fully embraced what has happened at this program that has parlayed being in the best high school football hotbeds anywhere in the country.
The sudden interest from some of the top Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach talent only illustrated that this is a program that plays a competitive schedule and will provide a spotlight for the athletes who reach out and grab it.
“Last year, I watched one of the FIU home games against Louisville,’’ said Dana Wiley of Prep Films. “That was a nationally televised game against some great local talent, playing on the other side of the ball, and this program held its own. I think the current high school players watched that and understood that this is not the FIU many have painted in negative way.’’
The game plan will not change. Although a few athletes shook loose from their early commitments, the Golden Panthers will once again use the local standouts to build that solid foundation. Obviously, Turner has plenty of experience, and the fact that he made a case to some locals to commit, will help as he heads into his first season.
Here is a look at what the local talent infusion will do to keep that pipeline flowing.
• Jordan Budwig, OG, 6-4, 190, University School: This three-year starter had the chance to play against some of the elite prospects nationally for the unbeaten and nationally-rated Suns. Already brings a solid work ethic.
• Jeremy Derrick, LB, 6-1, 180, Hallandale: A safety/linebacker package who has a tremendous burst of speed, can drop back in coverage and use his athletic ability to compete for playing time. Will grow and be a vital piece of this puzzle.
• Jordan Gibbs, DE, 6-2, 220, Killian: One of the major gems in this class. Here is a flat-out football player who uses his quickness, athleticism and knowledge of the game to make am impact. Another prospect who will be in the mix early.
• Jordan Guest, LB, 6-4, 190, Christopher Columbus: Perhaps of all the local players this program has a commitment from, this is one that very few know much about. But watching a number of games, this is an impact prospect who has plenty of talent and ability.
• Xavier Hines, DB, 5-10, 175, Belen Jesuit: This three-year varsity starter committed early and never wavered. Playing his high school football less than two miles away, this is one of those versatile prospects who comes to University Park ready to play a role.
• Trayvon Williams, LB, 5-10, 210, Norland: Every class has a player that many believe should have been on everyone’s radar. This is easily one of the hardest hitting linebacker prospects around. Will be that sideline-to-sideline player that will end up not only will be in the mix early, but will get extensive playing time!
Indeed, the new regime inherits some talented athletes, but hits this recruiting season, trying to learn the area, fan base and local talent, which is perhaps the biggest obstacle at the beginning.