Florida International U

Two freshmen could make early impact for FIU Panthers

FIU and tight end Jonnu Smith got engaged early in the recruiting process. They stayed engaged as FIU went through some changes this winter. Smith wound up bringing a dowry, Ocala West Port High teammate Alfonso Randolph.

The way things have been going, FIU fans will see a lot of Smith and some of Randolph on Saturday against Maryland.

“This is one of my closest friends,” Smith said. “We’ve been playing football together for three years, and we have that brotherly bond. Who doesn’t want to play with their brother?”

Randolph nodded, “That’s what it ultimately came down to — being down here with one of my players from the school.”

It’s been a big week for Smith. He turned 18 Thursday and spent the week at first-team tight end with the occasional shift to fullback, as FIU tries to find a dual solution to the lack of fullbacks and the plethora of tight ends it would to see on the field.

Obviously, despite his chronological age, there’s a feeling Smith has enough physical maturity to handle blocking.

FIU coach Ron Turner said he thought Smith had a chance to be a “special” player.

“I thought he’d be a good player,” Turner said. “I didn’t know he’d be a good player this early. He’s young, he’s got good size to him. I didn’t know he had the strength that he has. Not necessarily weight-room strength, but natural strength. I thought he’d be able to run and catch and all those things.”

Getting the third most carries in camp behind sophomore Lamarq Caldwell and redshirt sophomore Shane Coleman, Randolph has moved up the running back list faster than anticipated.

“He’s got very good vision, which is hard to teach,” Turner said. “What I saw on film is what we’re seeing here. He’s got good vision, and he can make the quick cut.

“He doesn’t have maybe the breakaway long speed, but he’s got good quickness and burst. With his vision, he can see the holes and hit them. He’s got good hands, too.”

Smith said previous coach Mario Cristobal told him he would be split out wide and used in other ways to take advantage of his athleticism. Cristobal also held out the lure of early playing time. Two very athletic seniors, Colt Anderson and Jonathan Faucher, split the tight end duties in 2011 and nobody knew how Zach Schaubhut and Ya’keem Griner would fill those roles in 2012.

“After [Cristobal] got fired, I opened myself up to other schools, but it wasn’t anything serious,” Smith said. “I still wanted to come here because I just loved the facilities. When I heard Coach Turner got hired, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to stay. There’s a lot of NFL experience on the staff, and that’s what I wanted to be around.”

Turner spending 2005 to 2012 on NFL staffs also went a long way with Randolph, who was hearing overtures from Western Kentucky and Appalachian State.

What went a long way to Turner was then-West Port head coach Ryan Hearn praising Smith and Randolph’s work ethic and character. Hearn had been an assistant coach at The Citadel alongside Turner’s younger son, current FIU receivers coach Cameron Turner.