Florida International U

Here’s what FIU looks for in recruited running backs and where they found two of them

Miami Central Rockets’ running back Lexington Joseph (4) escapes a tackle by Carol City Chiefs during the Region 4-6A semifinal Nov. 16, 2018, at Traz Powell Stadium. Joseph ran for 1,658 yards and 16 touchdowns this past season, making first-team All-Dade.
Miami Central Rockets’ running back Lexington Joseph (4) escapes a tackle by Carol City Chiefs during the Region 4-6A semifinal Nov. 16, 2018, at Traz Powell Stadium. Joseph ran for 1,658 yards and 16 touchdowns this past season, making first-team All-Dade. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

From Miami to Atlanta, Tim Harris Jr. spent the better part of the past year traveling all over Florida and on into Georgia, looking for FIU’s next standout running back.

Harris, FIU’s running backs coach, found two athletes he believes fit his criteria — Arkansas transfer (and Florida native) Maleek Williams and Miami Central senior Lexington Joseph.

Williams, a 5-11, 230-pounder, is a 20-year-old who is likely the most-hyped running back ever signed by FIU. The former four-star recruit got his start at Punta Gorda’s Charlotte High, and he’s already on FIU’s campus, ready for spring practice.

And although Williams has to sit out 2019 as per NCAA transfer rules, Harris is clearly excited about his recruit’s potential.

“Maleek packs a punch, and his top-end speed will be as good as anyone on our team,” Harris said. “He played [last season] against North Texas, a team in our conference, and he broke a (68-yard) run, sprinting away from people.

“He is legit fast.”

Williams ran the fastest prep times in Florida in the 100 and 200 meters as a freshman.

It also didn’t hurt Williams’ status as a transfer recruit that two current FIU standouts — cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver and running back D’Vonte Price — vouched for his character and talent. All three played together at Charlotte.

“We respect their opinions,” Harris said of Thomas-Oliver and Price. “We trust them, but we did our other homework [on Williams] by talking to [his previous] coaches.”

Williams ran for 1,294 yards and 24 scores as a high school senior. Meanwhile, Joseph ran for 1,658 yards and 16 touchdowns this past season, making first-team All-Dade running back along with junior Henry Parrish of Columbus (2,025 yards) and Florida Gators recruit Nay’Quan Wright of Carol City (1,221 yards).

Parrish could potentially be an FIU recruit for 2020. He also has offers from Iowa, Indiana and Florida Atlantic.

For now, though, Harris is overjoyed with his 2019 recruits, including Joseph, a 5-9, 185-pounder who wants to study marine biology.

“I’m most impressed with his off-the-field stuff,” Harris said. “He’s a really smart young man, a 3.5 student.

“[On the field], he runs much bigger than his size. He breaks way more tackles than you would think. The speed he has — it shows in his tape.”

Miami Central’s Roland Smith coached Harris in high school, and that connection added to FIU’s comfort with Joseph.

“Lexington got coached well in high school, and that will make my job easier when he gets here,” Harris said.

So what does Harris look for when he evaluates running backs?

Essentially, it’s velocity, vision and elusiveness.

“Speed is first thing you want on the check list — it’s something you can’t teach,” he said. “With vision, it’s the ability to see [holes] that may not even be there yet.

“Third, football is about starts and stops. When you find a back who can shorten his stride to make people miss in the open field, that stands out.”

Size is not really that big of a deal for Harris in his evaluations.

“We have two bigger backs on our roster in [6-3] Shaun Peterson and [6-2] Price,” Harris said. “When you have that type of [height], you worry about pad level, but the power they run with offsets that.”

Joseph, with his low center of gravity, has no concerns with getting the desired pad level. However, smaller backs sometimes come with injury issues.

Not so with Joseph.

“Lexington has been durable throughout his entire high school career,” Harris said.

Harris said he looks at weight-room strength numbers, and he feels Joseph can compete.

“If he makes an immediate impact,” Harris said, “that would never be a surprise to me.”

Coach steps down

FIU defensive coordinator Brent Guy announced Tuesday that he is stepping away from football to take care of personal family responsibilities.

“We are grateful for all Brent has done for this program over the past two seasons,” coach Butch Davis said. “He helped lay the ground work for this program and played an integral part of our success. With his help, we went to back-to-back bowl games and set a program record in wins. The FIU family wishes Brent and his family the very best for the future.”

Contact Walter Villa at wvilla07@yahoo.com.

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