Florida International U

The best football players in Conference USA might be with the FIU Panthers. Here’s why

Butch says quarterbacks have made light years of improvement.

FIU head coach Butch says quarterbacks have made light years of improvement after FIU's spring scrimmage at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Friday, April 12, 2019.
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FIU head coach Butch says quarterbacks have made light years of improvement after FIU's spring scrimmage at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Friday, April 12, 2019.

With three months left before FIU kicks off its 2019 campaign at Tulane, the Panthers last week had 13 of their players named to Athlon’s Preseason All-Conference USA team.

That leads the league — North Texas is second with 10 — and bodes well for what could happen in Year Three under coach Butch Davis. Already, the Panthers are 17-9 under Davis, including a record-setting 9-4 mark in 2018.

Leading the way for FIU on Athlon’s first team are two players: middle linebacker Sage Lewis and kick returner Maurice Alexander.

In 2018, Lewis broke FIU’s record for total tackles (132) and solos (83), leading the conference in both categories. Among returning players throughout the nation, his 83 solo tackles ranks third.

Alexander, a converted quarterback, ranked fifth in the nation with a 14.6 average per punt.

Both Lewis (Monsignor Pace) and Alexander (Booker T. Washington) are from the Miami area.

FIU also had six players on Athlon’s second team, including quarterback James Morgan, who was Conference USA’s Newcomer of the Year in 2018. Also on the second team: running back Anthony Jones, wide receiver Austin Maloney, center Dallas Connell, offensive tackle D’Antne Demery, cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver and kicker Jose Borregales.

Defensive end Noah Curtis and defensive back Richard Dames made the third team. Defensive tackle Teair Tart and tight end Sterling Palmer made the fourth team.

THIS AND THAT

Three FIU baseball players earned all-conference honors. Logan Allen made the first team as a utility player. He led the league with 120 strikeouts in 84 innings, ranking 15th in the nation with 12.9 punchouts per nine. He went 32 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run and finished the year with a 4-6 record and a 3.11 ERA. He also had three homers as a hitter.

Third baseman Austin Shenton made the second team after leading FIU in several categories, including batting average (.330), RBI (47) and doubles (11). His 22-game hit streak was the fourth-longest in the nation this year and stands as the best in FIU’s Conference USA era.

Meanwhile, FIU center fielder Jarrett Ford made the All-Freshman team. The Georgia native had five hits and five RBI in his opening weekend against Stony Brook and later had five steals in one game — tying an FIU record — against nationally ranked Texas Tech.

For the season, he hit .277, stole 17 bases and tied for the team league with a .357 on-base percentage. His 17 steals were the most by an FIU freshman since Dennis Diaz stole 29 bags in 2002.

FIU’s women’s basketball team signed three recruits, most notably Giulia Bongiorno, a 5-10 freshman point guard from Rome. She averaged 20.3 points and 3.1 assists during her high school career and also represented her country on Italy’s Under-15, 17 and 18 teams.

FIU also added a pair of forwards with two years left of eligibility after competing at junior colleges: Diene Diane of France and Alexus Wykoff, a native of Tennessee.

Clarissa Cutliff, a senior high jumper from Orlando, has qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, set for Des Moines, Iowa July 25-28.

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