Florida International U

FIU hoping to build bridge to Booker T.

Panthers coach Ron Turner calls plays during the first quarter of Thursday night’s season opener against Indiana at FIU Stadium.
Panthers coach Ron Turner calls plays during the first quarter of Thursday night’s season opener against Indiana at FIU Stadium. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

The George Washington Bridge connects New Jersey to New York City.

In Miami, there could be a Booker T. Washington Bridge of sorts.

Here’s why…

FIU football coaches would love to find a way to consistently connect the Panthers program to the top recruits from Booker T. Washington High, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today.

The Panthers have an obvious tie-in to Booker T. FIU running backs coach Tim Harris Jr. is the son of Tornadoes coach Tim “Ice” Harris.

Naturally, Tim. Sr. believes Tim Jr. is doing an outstanding job at FIU, and the results are starting to show with three current Booker T. players committed to the Panthers: wide receiver DeAndre Williams and cornerbacks — and twin brothers — Richard and Rishard Dames.

“[Tim Jr.] is going after the top players,” Harris Sr. said. “If we have the player who fits what they are trying to do, he has the personality to show the kid and his parents what FIU can offer in terms of an education as well as football.”

The Panthers, led by head coach Ron Turner, already have two promising Booker T. players on their roster: freshman kicker Jose Borregales and redshirt freshman quarterback Maurice Alexander.

Borregales, who made first-team Class 4A All-State last year, is coming off a season in which he made 13 of 14 field goals and produced 60 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs. He may redshirt this season behind FIU senior Austin Taylor.

Alexander, a bit undersized for his position at 6-0, 180 pounds, is battling to be the No. 2 QB behind three-year starter Alex McGough, a junior.

If McGough remains healthy and avoids slumps, Alexander’s chance to start would likely come in the 2018 season, when he would be a junior.

Alexander certainly has credentials. In two seasons as the Tornadoes’ starter, he passed for 5,161 yards and 58 touchdowns. Booker T. won state titles each year, and Alexander was first-team All-State as a senior.

“He’s learning the playbook,” Harris Sr. said of Alexander. “Sometimes before you get an opportunity, you have to learn. And when the opportunity presents itself, you will be prepared.”

The Tornadoes have certainly been well prepared this season, knocking off Plantation’s American Heritage in a kickoff classic and then St. Thomas Aquinas in the season opener.

At the time of those big wins, Heritage was ranked sixth in the nation and Aquinas first.

Williams, the 6-0, 165-pound wide receiver recruit, ripped the vaunted Aquinas secondary, which includes cornerbacks Al Blades Jr. and Asante Samuel Jr., catching four passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns.

Against a Heritage secondary that included Patrick Surtain II, Marco Wilson, Will Allen and Tyson Campbell, Williams scored one touchdown.

“He studies the cornerbacks he goes up against,” Harris Sr. said of Williams. “He came up big against two of the best [secondaries] in the country. He’s a steal for FIU.”

The same can be said for the Dames twins. Rishard is listed at 5-10, 153 pounds. Richard is 5-11, 165. They went up last week against an Aquinas team that has six wide receivers already committed to FBS schools.

At the top of that list was Trevon Grimes, a 6-3, 200-pounder who is ranked the No. 1 receiver in the nation.

Grimes, an Ohio State recruit, had a big game but was held out of the end zone in a 27-23 Booker T. win. Grimes nearly scored on the game’s penultimate play, but officials spotted him down at the one-yard line.

Harris Sr. said Rishard Dames, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Heritage, and Richard Dames, who picked off a pass against Aquinas, are “identical” in their games.

“They are undersized, but they play big,” Ice said. “There were Dolphins and Hurricanes players on the sidelines, and they told me, ‘Man, I love the way No. 5 and No. 6 play with so much energy.’ They’re not afraid. They play like they’re 6-foot-2.”

Williams and the Dames twins are all ranked as two-star recruits. With five-star recruits ranking the highest, that makes these potential FIU players below average in the opinion of websites such as Rivals and 24/7.

But given their performances so far, it will be interesting to see if they stick with their commitments to FIU.

In all likelihood, bigger-name schools will soon move these kids up their list of recruits.

“FIU is not looking at their size but on the résumés they have put on video,” Harris Sr. said. “But the way these kids are playing… let’s see if FIU can hold them because everybody is going to continue to come after them.”

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