Florida International U

The signing of this Miami Central running back could pay high dividends for FIU Panthers

Miami Central Rockets’ running back Lexington Joseph (4) during the Region 4-6A semifinal football game against Carol City Chiefs on Nov. 16 at Traz Powell Stadium.
Miami Central Rockets’ running back Lexington Joseph (4) during the Region 4-6A semifinal football game against Carol City Chiefs on Nov. 16 at Traz Powell Stadium. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

It started with Elvis Peacock signing with Barry Switzer and the Oklahoma Sooners in 1974 at a time when it was rare for a Miami kid to join a national program.

Peacock went on to rush for more than 2,000 yards at Oklahoma and was the Los Angeles Rams’ first-round pick in ’78.

From there, the Central Rockets have sent numerous running backs to the next levels, including Willis McGahee, Najeh Davenport, Travaris Cadet, Davonta Freeman, Dalvin Cook, James Cook and Anthony Jones.

All of those running backs have played or are playing in the NFL except for James Cook (Georgia) and Jones (FIU), who are still in college.

“We’re known as ‘Running Back U’ at the high school level,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “And we have more to come.”

One of those in the “more to come” category is Lexington Joseph, a 5-9, 185-pounder who signed with FIU in December.

Smith said Florida Gators coaches came to Central last year, looking for a running back but instead signed Nay’Quan Wright of Carol City.

Wright has a four-star ranking form 247 Sports while Joseph is a three-star recruit — not that it matters to Smith.

“I thought [Joseph] was the best back in the county,” Smith said. “I told that to the Gators coaches.

“Lexington is explosive and powerful — he is all legs and calves — and he’s a student of the game. He knows everyone’s assignment on each play, which is why he reads blocks so well.”

Recruiting expert Larry Blustein is also a fan of Joseph, who ran for 270 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-21 playoff win over Wright and Carol City this past season.

“Joseph is as good as anybody in FIU’s 2019 class,” Blustein said. “He’s been a little stud ever since his days with the Northside Optimist teams. He’s a hard runner with an amazing football IQ, and he carved up Carol City.

“UNLV and Marshall were recruiting him, but it was a good find for FIU. I think he’ll be in the mix right away at FIU. If you have a Cadillac like that, you don’t leave it in the garage.”

Speaking of Cadillacs, that brings us back to the pioneer of great Central running backs, Peacock, who was bigger (6-1, 215) and faster than most running backs of his era. In high school, he ran a 9.4 in the 100 meters when the world record was 9.1.

Oklahoma knew this and sent assistant coach Gene Hochevar to recruit Peacock. A writer named Berry Tramel chronicled the recruiting effort, telling how Hochevar, wearing lime green pants and driving a flashy red-and-white Cadillac El Dorado, met up with Peacock in a rough section of Miami at the Gold Coast sandwich shop.

“Coolest white guy ever,” Peacock told Tramel. “He spoke the language.”

While a Kentucky coach took Peacock’s mother to gamble at jai-alai, Switzer and Hochevar got the last laugh. They sat with Peacock at a Popeyes restaurant on National Signing Day back in a time when recruiting rules were different as to when coaches could meet with athletes.

Peacock told Switzer he was wavering between Michigan and Oklahoma. Switzer said he didn’t like how Peacock mentioned Michigan first.

“I don’t see [Michigan coach] Bo Schembechler around here,” Switzer reportedly said. “My [butt] is here on National Signing Day.”

Switzer got Peacock to sign, and the Central running back tradition began.

Contact Walter Villa at wvilla07@yahoo.com

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