Florida International U

As National Signing Day approaches, FIU coach Butch Davis is targeting 5 to 7 players

If you want to know how precarious recruiting can be, consider the case of Jacksonville Mandarin wide receiver Kris Mitchell.

In 2017, Mandarin finished 2-8, and there wasn’t much buzz regarding Mitchell, a 6-1, 170-pounder who committed to the FIU Panthers on July 29.

But then, Mandarin — led by quarterback and Alabama recruit Carson Beck — got hot, rolling all the way to its first state championship, beating Miami Columbus in the 2018 title game.

Suddenly, Mitchell was getting more attention, especially after catching 14 passes for 315 yards in the state semifinals and final.

“Two days before the [Dec. 19] signing day, [Michigan coach] Jim Harbaugh calls [Mitchell],” FIU coach Butch Davis said. “It teetered the kid, ‘Let me wait and think.’”

Fortunately for the Panthers, Mitchell stayed true to FIU, and he became one of 12 signees in the early recruiting period.

Davis said he has nine players set to visit in January, and he plans to sign between five and seven players on National Signing Day on Feb. 6.

FIU will also save two or three scholarships for the spring to see if any transfers become available.

Since Davis arrived at FIU in November 2016, he has signed successful transfers such as quarterback James Morgan (Bowling Green), wide receiver CJ Worton (Florida), tight end Pharoah McKever (North Carolina State), defensive lineman Jordan Woods (Georgia Tech) and linebacker Edwin Freeman (Texas).

According to a source, FIU this spring is in line to sign two transfers who were alternate starters at Power Five schools this past season.


A couple of procedural notes about FIU recruiting: Coaches will spend January recruiting for 2020 but also searching to see if any worthwhile players have been overlooked for the 2019 class.

In FIU’s system, every assistant coach has a geographical area to recruit in Florida and another one outside the state. Once FIU identifies the athletes it wants, the position coaches take over the recruitment.

Nine of FIU’s 12 signees came to an FIU camp.

Davis said FIU looked at quarterbacks in several states — as far out west as Washington as well as Texas, Florida and “up and down the East coast” — before signing Stone Norton of Tennessee.

“We loved his athleticism and his throwing motion,” Davis said. “He’s a kid you want to build your class around.”

Joseph Hocker, the 6-6, 235-pound tight end FIU signed out of Ohio, was getting “bombarded” by Big Ten schools wanting to recruit him, Davis said.

Davis compares Hocker at this stage of his development to two tight ends he recruited or coached who went on to become first-round picks, Eric Ebron at North Carolina and Jeremy Shockey (Miami).

That’s insanely high praise, but …

“Joseph is bigger than both of those guys out of high school,” Davis said.

“He’s an outstanding athlete. I watched him play basketball, and it seemed like he was getting 20 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks every night. I love kids who play multiple sports.”

FIU wide receiver recruit Nate Jefferson, the MVP of the 2017 Central Florida combine, is a player Davis compares to Maurice Alexander, who was a first-team All-Conference USA punt returner in 2018. And Alexander, in Davis’ eyes, is FIU’s current version of T.Y. Hilton, now an NFL star.

“Now that we have the model, we want to get the guy who can replace [Alexander in time],” Davis said.

“[Jefferson] is electric. He can change directions and play on special teams. Nate is a game-changer.”

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