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A forgotten man in the success of FIU Football

Butch Davis has led Florida International to back to back bowl games. Here’s a look at how Ron Turner’s final two classes played a part in the success.

NCAA Football: Florida International at Florida Atlantic Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no two ways about it.

On the field, Ron Turner’s time at the helm of FIU football was a disappointment. He went 10-30, in a little under four seasons (2013-2016) as FIU’s head coach.

Florida International v Massachusetts
Ron Turner resigned from his position at FIU four games into the 2016 season.
Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

However, he didn’t leave the proverbial cabinets bare for current head coach Butch Davis, who took over in November of 2016.

Turner’s final two recruiting classes boast multiple starters, or key contributors for the past two seasons of FIU football. Both of which yielded bowl appearances and a combined 17 wins under Davis.

Let’s take a look at the players from 2015 and 2016 classes, who played in role in the Panthers’ current success.


Starters

(Author’s note: Ranking and position at time of signing)

Fermin Silva, three-star OLB, Miami, Florida: The Miami Central High product became a starter in his sophomore season and didn’t look back. Silva recorded 14.5 sacks as a Panther, good for fourth all-time in program history. After missing most of the 2018 season, he will finish his career with another program, choosing to transfer for his final year of eligibility.

Sage Lewis, three-star LB, Opa-Locka, Florida: Lewis started as an outside linebacker in 2017 and showed promise as a redshirt sophomore. The following season, he was nothing short of sensational. Lewis became a C-USA All-Conference first-team performer and set the new program record for tackles in a season with 126.

Indiana v Florida International
Sage Lewis has become one of the top defensive players in Conference USA.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Anthony Jones, three-star RB, Miami, Florida: Jones’ story may be one of the most inspirational in CFB. He saw significant playing time in Turner’s final season, rushing for 562 yards and leading the team in kick return yardage. After missing Davis’ first year at the helm due to injury, he came back to regain a starting spot. Following week one of the 2018 season, he was injured as an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting. He would again come back to regain his position, and is in-line to start in 2019.

Neal Mars, two-star C, Orange Park, Florida: Mars started 15 games over four seasons as a Panther. He was part of an offensive line who helped Alex Gardner become the school’s all-time leading rusher and was one of the top units in C-USA in 2018.

Dallas Connell, two-star OL, Jacksonville, Florida: Connell has become one of the best linemen on the team, starting at center the past two seasons, and is in-line to start again in 2019.

Isaiah Brown, two-star CB, Tampa, Florida: The Tampa Bay Tech high product was arguably the team’s best corner as a freshman in 2016. He was hampered by injures in 2017, and got off to somewhat of a slow start in 2018. Ike is still a tremendous talent and should regain his starting corner position opposite Stantley Thomas-Oliver III for his senior season.

NCAA Football: Florida International at Miami
Ike Brown will be looking forward to regaining his spot as one of the top CB’s in Conference USA next season.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, two-star WR, North Port, Florida: Thomas-Oliver has had somewhat of a see-saw career at FIU. He was a C-USA all-freshman team performer as a wideout in 2016. However, once Davis took over, he saw the 6’2, 190-pound athlete as a defensive back. After being virtually invisible in 2017, he made the transition to corner successfully and led the team in pass breakup’s in 2018.

Emmanuel Lubin, two-star CB, North Miami Beach, Florida: Lubin had a very solid career at FIU. He started 23 games over four seasons, including all 13 in his senior campaign. The Dade County native recorded 83 tackles and one interception as a Panther.


Contributors

Christian Alexander, three-star QB, Lakeland, Florida: C.A. spent his FIU career as a backup, having lost QB competitions to both Alex McGough and James Morgan. However, he’ll be remembered fondly by Panther fans. Alexander made an last-minute start in the Bahamas Bowl for an injured Morgan and won game MVP honors, leading FIU to victory in his final game for the program.

Milord Juste, two-star DE, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida: Juste had a respectable collegiate career. He appeared in 26 contests, recording 42 tackles, with a career high of 17 coming in his junior year.

Collin Olsen, two-star RB, Port Orange, Florida: Olsen has been a multifaceted player for FIU. He’s a very capable special-teams player, recording 11 career tackles as part of that unit, and is the primary starter when a fullback is called upon.

NCAA Football: Massachusetts at Florida International
Collin Olsen has been a proverbial Swiss Army knife for FIU as a special-teams player and fullback.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Gaiter IV, three-star WR, Miami, Florida: Gaiter is another valuable member of the program. He’s recorded 70 catches for 642 yards in his career and should again see significant playing time in 2019.

Darrius Scott, two-star WR, Miami, Florida: Scott made an impact during his freshman and sophomore seasons’, before getting somewhat lost in the shuffle of a deep FIU receiving core last season. He’s logged 675 receiving yards on 52 catches in three seasons.

Shawndarrius Phillips, two-star RB, Delray Beach, Florida: The Palm Beach County native has served as the primary backup ball-carrier in his time at FIU. A tough runner, with capable hands out of the backfield, he has exactly 1,100 total career yards gained in three seasons. However, his status with the program is unknown after being arrested on a domestic violence charge before the Bahamas Bowl.

Stone Wilson, two-star P, Bradenton, Florida: Wilson leaves FIU as arguably the program’s best punter. The strong-legged punter set the program-record for punt yards in a game earlier this season, and should garner interest from NFL teams.

Jose Borregales, three-star K, Miami, Florida: Borregales is one of top kicking talents in all of college football. He’s 30 of 37 in his career and has legitimate range from 60 yards.


Hidden Gems

Maurice Alexander, two-star QB, Miami, Florida: Alexander goes in the hidden gem category, because he may be the most dynamic player in FBS football that few have heard of. After making the switch from QB to receiver, he was named C-USA all-conference first-team as a returner and is just as capable with the ball in his hands as a wideout.

Olin Cushion III, two-star S, Miami, Florida: Small in stature, large in game, may very well be the best way to describe Cushion. The 5’8, 175-pound safety played sparingly in his first two seasons, before recording 65 tackles and a game-sealing interception versus MTSU in 2018.

Middle Tennessee v Florida International
Olin Cushion III led FIU defensive backs in tackles last season with 65.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Shane McGough, two-star OL, Tampa, Florida: The Gaither High product has worked his way into being one of the versatile offensive lineman on the roster. He started nine games at right guard in 2018 and can play both guard and center.

Austin Maloney, two-star WR, Miami, Florida: The 5’11, 190-pound Miami native is one of the more underrated wideouts in C-USA. He’s a solid deep-threat, recording 71 grabs for 1,099 yards and seven touchdowns in 30 career games.


Final Thoughts

20 players from those final two classes have been pivotal to FIU’s success.

For point of reference, 17 players from Davis’ first two classes (players who are younger than those signed to Turner) have been starters or key contributors over the past two years.

There’s no denying Davis has signed players who have had an immediate impact on success.

Comparing Turner to successor is a disservice to both men.

While Turner has a solid resume having spent 13 seasons as a collegiate head coach, Davis is the architect of arguably the greatest college football team ever in the 2001 Miami Hurricanes.

Expecting Turner to recruit at that level, especially in South Florida, where Davis has a strong foothold for going-on almost 25 years is unreasonable.

The fact of the matter is Turner didn’t win enough games at FIU.

Butch has changed the culture around FIU football. In 26 months, he’s increased the talent level and gotten the most out of the players who were on the roster at the time of his arrival.

However, Turner deserves a bit of recognition for players he brought in, who have contributed the past two seasons.