Florida International U

These are the type of hidden gems FIU is trying to find for its football program

Panthers football coach Butch Davis said FIU has extended scholarship offers to about 40 players for the Class of 2020.
Panthers football coach Butch Davis said FIU has extended scholarship offers to about 40 players for the Class of 2020. Miami Herald file photo

FIU’s 2018 recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in Conference USA, and it’s 2019 class is ranked seventh, according to 247 Sports.

Neither ranking means anything to FIU coach Butch Davis.

“[Former Miami Hurricanes safety] Ed Reed just made the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and when we recruited him, we had to beat McNeese State and Grambling to get him,” said Davis, who was UM’s coach from 1995 to 2000. “[Former Hurricanes wide receiver] Santana Moss had no offers.”

There are other examples of lightly-recruited players becoming stars, but Davis said his history of finding hidden gems began when he was one of Jimmy Johnson’s assistant coaches at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys at the time couldn’t win many battles on players that had offers from schools such as Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas, so a premium was placed on developing talent.

Another example is the story of defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who started just one game in his high school career in St. Louis and had zero offers to play college football. He was a walk-on at a junior college and eventually earned a scholarship to play for Davis at North Carolina. From there, Williams earned All-America honors and was the Denver Broncos’ first-round pick in 2013.

Davis would love more stories like that at FIU, where he is now working on his 2020 recruiting class as well as awaiting the start of spring practice on March 19.

“Recruiting has changed so much over the years,” Davis said. “You used to be able to wait until August and maybe bring a recruit in for a game in September and go from there.”

Now, of course, many players earn offers three or more years before they sign. In addition, each university’s football camp is an important tool in recruiting

“A lot of the kids we sign are kids who have come to our camps prior to their senior years,” Davis said.

“[Recently] we had 60 kids from the 2020 class at our camp, which is a first for us. These are some of the most elite kids in South Florida, and they are coming to our football camps and our basketball games. We are working 18 months ahead of schedule.”

Davis said FIU has extended scholarship offers to about 40 players for the Class of 2020.

Joseph Hocker, a 6-5, 245-pound tight end from Cincinnati and part of FIU’s Class of 2019, is an example of the work put in by the Panthers.

FIU tight ends coach Drew Davis, who is Butch’s son, said he evaluated more than 40 standout players at the position, nation-wide, before signing Hocker, who is considered a “freak” athlete.

THIS AND THAT

FIU offensive line coach Allen Mogridge said his advice for anyone who wants to play the position in college is to “grind in the weight room.”

Added Mogridge: “There aren’t too many ways to learn to bend but to get on that squat rack and grind.”

Mogridge also advises players to trust their high school coaches.

“The first thing I do when I do my homework on a player is talk to their high school coach,” Mogridge said. “Then I will see their principal, their guidance counselor and their position coach. I’ll even ask the janitor to see what kind of person you are.”

Davis said he will be surprised if former FIU punter Stone Wilson is not in the NFL soon.

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