With their Bahamas Bowl victory, FIU set a new program record for wins in a season with nine.
Now it’s full speed ahead into the recruiting season for Butch Davis and the Panthers.
Coming off of last year’s highly touted class, Davis looks to build on that success and keep the influx of talent coming to FIU.
I sat down with Director of Recruiting Bryn Renner, to talk about the 12 early signees, their recruiting strategy heading into national signing day and his transition from playing to coaching.
- Talk about your transition from playing to now being involved in football operations and recruiting at FIU.
Renner: Yeah, I really love it, my dad was a high school coach for 33 years. He coached me in high school, and I thought, you know, this is exactly what I want to do.
I think with my career path in the NFL getting four plus years in, and being around really good quarterbacks has helped me a lot.
Guys like Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Marcus Mariota, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger.
Now I get to reunite with Coach Davis, who’s the architect of the greatest college football team ever (2001 Miami Hurricanes), having that on my resume, but also seeing exactly how the blueprint could be done, I couldn’t be in a better situation personally, but also for the school, and for this program.
Lastly, and this is the most important part of my role, I’m learning about people.
Ultimately, it’s about the kind of relationship you develop with families and eighteen year-old kids. It’s a really tough challenge at eighteen, seventeen years old to make a decision that will probably affect the rest of your life and what you’ll do in the future, so I hold it in the highest regard.
2. What advice would you give student-athletes who are looking to be recruited?
Renner: First thing is how seriously do they take school. We evaluate how you are academically, because that’s ultimately the mark of good character.
Everyone says size beats smarts, but that’s number four on the list for us. I think we’re probably two years ahead of schedule because we’ve gone on the character.
Another thing that’s important to us is let’s make eye contact, let’s see your personality on display and let you go perform. I think nowadays, everybody puts their eyes on going to a Nike camp instead of a college camp.
I tell all of our juniors that we’re recruiting once we can contact them, hey can you come to camp in the summer? We’d love to get around you.
I want the quarterback to come throw, I want the running back to come be with Coach (Tim) Harris. A handshake and eye contact means more to Coach Davis and myself than you going to Nike Spartan, running a 4.5, and we didn’t see you.
When I’m watching a kid, I look for little nuances. The game tape’s too varied. I want to see if you’re jogging off the field when the coach calls time out and you’re down.
Are you high-fiving the other kids, or someone else made a big play and you got double-teamed because you’re the best player, are you going over to that kid and dapping him up and saying really good play, because your team could be 5-5 and not make the playoffs, but I’ll watch the last game and see how hard you played.
3. Let’s get into the nuances of recruiting a bit. Outside of South Florida, are there any particular pipelines you and the staff look to target?
Renner: We want to win the state. We’ve been in really good battles and we’ve been very fortunate to win a few of them because, you know, there’s so many schools. Florida State, Miami, FAU, UCF to name a few. Other schools will come down that we’re actually playing and trying to come get a Broward kid or a Dade kid.
As far as the area in-state of going after kids, it varies every year. I know that from year one to year two, areas like Deerfield Beach, Clearwater, the entire Tampa area is getting a lot better.
I swear Jacksonville is a really good place to recruit. (FIU currently has three signees from the Jacksonville area: Kris Mitchell, DeShaun Davis, Logan Gunderson) I think that up there, the talent you’ve got coming out of there, I don’t think you can get any better in the country.
We’ve done a really good job of our coaches getting into high schools, especially when we first got here, just going by every single high school, and saying hey this is our brand. But you want to win the state and win your battles in-state, and we’ve done that the last couple years.
4. Are there any position needs, staff as far as this year’s class goes, or paying particular attention to recruiting?
Renner: Coach Davis, he’s done a great job of being able to project where a kid may be two, three years into his college career. Kids nowadays, they see themselves as running back and they also play linebacker. Now where’s he gonna fit best?
Look at Stantley Thomas (Oliver) right, he was all-freshman receiver. When we got him in the spring, coach goes I think he could play DB, and now look at him. He’s one of the best DB’s on our team.
That’s something, to position those players in a year-in and year-out basis, we recruit the guy that can play multiple positions. Maybe he’s not just a safety. Maybe he’s going to grow into a corner.
You can try and plug and place people, and I would rather recruit an athlete that could go play receiver and corner, or play running back and linebacker, or be a swing tackle, guard, and center, and you know have a chance to play at the next level because he was open enough to say hey look, we’re pretty deep at receiver. Coach, can I play DB for a spring?
We’ve done a really good job with the receiver position, and I think the offensive line is better. And we’ve had to go the JuCo route, we’ve had to go the grad transfer route to fill holes, and that varies.
I think the 2020 class is going to be very good and we’ve got a junior day coming up really soon for the 2020 class. But I think the 2019 class is really good.
So you look at, when you look at a recruiting class, you can’t really base it on, hey I need to go get this position or that position. You get it on let’s go take the best athlete, and see where he can play.
5. What are your thoughts on some of the early signees?
Renner: Absolutely, today as a whole is awesome. I remember when I was a player, I think it’s the best reward people give are mom and dad.
So I think that’s first and foremost is we got 12 young men that are really well-raised and from great families.
Next, we got 12 guys that are talented football players. I told you before, I think what we did in the first two classes and what was gained quality players that can play right away and today is no different.
Then that gives us time to say we got what we have here, where can we go get a need somewhere else come February?
6. Talk a little bit about Ni’Kendrick Carter? His recruitment seemed to happen pretty quickly.
Renner: Yeah, Ni’Kendrick’s a special talent. He’s a really dynamic football player. I think he’s one of our highest rated recruits that we’ve been assigned this class.
What’s special about him is he got on our radar and SMU had him for the longest time and so, once I saw him de-commit, we just started developing a relationship with he and our whole staff.
You look at him as a player. Played defense in his junior season and he was knocking people out. I mean flying to the ball, plays with his hands really well and came from a successful team.
Then the selfless decision that he made was, “Hey, I want to go play linebacker for coach and this is the best thing for our team to win,” and he goes and does that.
We really like taking linebackers that have also played running back. That’s just what we’re built on because of the vision factor. They can see holes. They understand running back cuts. They understand running backs. I think that’s something special that Ni’Kendrick does when he plays.
7. Earlier you spoke about players who may project at different positions. Talk about Julius Pierce. You guys signed him as an offensive lineman, but he played both tight end and line in high school.
Renner: Yeah absolutely, you and I have talked about that a few times. Julius Pierce has soft hands and he can play tight end at the college level, but where can he grow and project in a few years?
He’s really athletic because of his basketball pedigree. The guy’s a workhorse on the basketball floor and he’s the type of big guy that moves.
You don’t find that nowadays. To be a dynamic lineman at this level and also the next level in the NFL, you need to be athletic. He’s strong and physical, has very strong hands. Our coaches did an unbelievable job of recruiting him and projecting him.
Letting him know that you can be a starting right tackle or a left tackle for 10 years in the NFL if you wanted to be.
He’s a really smart football player as well, so we saw that and we were very, very fortunate to get him. His mom did a great job raising him and I think he’s a steal.
8. Lastly, talk about Stone Norton. (Norton comes to FIU as their highest rated QB signee in the 24/7 ranking era.)
Renner: Yeah, we do a lot of write-ups on quarterbacks. So when we looked at Stone and his body of work.
He just won MVP at state championship, and he wasn’t a guy on many people’s radars, but we felt confident in him. Coach Davis will come down and say that he reminds me of Ken Dorsey, he reminds me of T.J. Yates, he reminds me of myself, and the intangibles of finding a quarterback. If you miss out on a quarterback, you’re going to set your class back.
So we’re thrilled with Stone. He’s been bought in from day one and he’s going to be a special talent for us and he’s joining a talented QB room with James Morgan.