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FIU Football: 2021 Early Signing Day Recap

The Panthers officially added 14 players to their 2021 recruiting class.

Following a 2020 season marred by injuries and COVID-related absences that resulted in a disappointing 0-5 record, FIU began the road to 2021 on Wednesday with the signing of 13 players to the program during the early signing day period. As bizarre as the season was due to the coronavirus, recruiting during the pandemic provided its share of unique circumstances for the program.

“Having to do as many Zoom visits as we did, we got creative and set up a virtual living room here in our facilities,” said Davis. “We put up some palm trees, grabbed some scenery from campus and set up a couch in the office to try and replicate to the best of our ability what it would be like on campus.”

Davis, who’s known for wanting to meet as many players as possible face to face, had to adjust to the virtual dynamic.

“I haven’t physically met any of the kids and that’s a major adjustment for me because I love the in-person interaction,” said Davis.

As it stands, FIU’s class ranks fifth among Conference USA teams and 93rd in the nation by 247 Sports. Headlining the early enrollees are running back Katravis Geter Jr. and linebacker Gaethan Bernadel. The South Florida natives chose FIU over multiple Power Five offers and will have an opportunity to compete for playing time immediately.

“We’re not looking for kids who are going to be backups or third-string players,” said Davis. “I’d rather sign six kids who we believe can come in and be starters at some point as opposed to signing a bunch of kids just sign them, so guys will be able to come in and play.”

Three-star wideout Artez Hooker was a late commitment for FIU, having given his verbal to Buffalo as late as yesterday morning before announcing his de-commitment on Twitter. The St. Petersburg product was one of three Tampa Bay Area signees for the Panthers, an area primarily recruited by tight ends coach Drew Davis.

“He’s a player who to be honest in a normal season, we may not have gotten him,” said Davis. “Because of the restrictions on visits that coronavirus presented, we were able to land a Power Five talent.”

With the NCAA expected to pass a one-time transfer rule in January, which would allow all student-athletes to transfer without having to sit out a season and the 2020 season not counting towards players’ eligibility, expect FIU to bring in multiple players from the transfer portal before the start of spring workouts.

“There’s a strong possibility that we’ll look to the portal and the JUCO route for February at all positions, including quarterback,” said Davis.

The class as constituted has been considered a success for FIU by various recruiting experts.

Here’s a look at the 13 new additions to FIU, with one more expected by the end of Wednesday’s signing day period.

Demetrius Hill - Cornerback (Miami Springs HS/Miami, FL)

247 Grade: Three stars

About Hill: While listed as a safety, Hill believes that he’ll play cornerback at the next level and lists himself as much.

“He plays the ball really well in the air and when you see this young man, he can play corner, inside at nickel and safety but retain that skill wherever he’s playing,” said Davis.

Katravis Geter Jr. - Running Back (Carol City HS/Miami, FL)

247 Grade: Three stars

About Geter: Geter was well on his way to being a Power Five-type prospect before a broken ankle ended his junior season. The Carol City High product still maintained offers from SEC heavyweights Florida and Georgia but gave his verbal to FIU midway through the 2020 season.

“He’s a complete player, he can do all three things we ask of running backs and his toughness is unquestionable,” said Davis.

Geathan Bernadel - Linebacker (Hallendale HS/Hallendale, FL)

247 Grade: Three stars

About Bernadel: The Broward County product chooses FIU over offers from California, Duke and Kentucky. He’s played both inside and outside linebacker during his prep career. “This kid is a playmaker and he makes plays blitzing and behind the line of scrimmage,” said Davis. “He has the instincts as a linebacker to understand what opposing teams are looking to do.”

Artez Hooker - Wide Receiver (Lakewood HS/St. Petersburg, FL)

247 Grade: Three stars

About Hooker: Hooker is a dynamic athlete that would have seen significant Power Five interest if not for his 5-9, 165-pound frame. The Pinellas County product was committed to Buffalo but de-committed early last week. His primary recruiter was tight ends coach Drew Davis and GA Sean Binckes.

“He has unbelievable speed and explosiveness, he’s a tough kid and can return kicks. He’ll be an impactful offensive player and his ability to run after the catch is outstanding,” said Davis.

Travonte O’Neal - Defensive End (Vero Beach HS/Vero Beach, FL)

247 Grade: Three stars

About O’Neal: One of the top players from the Space Coast area, O’Neal recorded 41 tackles and 10 sacks as a junior in 2019, choosing FIU over offers from Arkansas and Appalachian State.

“I’ve known Randy Bethal (high school coach) for a long time and you trust his opinion — then you turn the film on and you get really excited because he can play inside and outside,” said Davis. “The number of tackles where he’s chasing guys to the sidelines, he’s always trying to be involved.”

Kareem Harden - Offensive Line (Stranahan HS/Fort Lauderdale, FL)

247 Grade: Three stars

About Harden: Harden is considered to be one of the top offensive linemen in South Florida and excelled in post-season camps following the 2019 season.

“When recruiting offensive linemen, you want guys who are athletic and he fits all of those categories,” said Davis.

Daniel Pilgrim - Tight End (North Fort Myers HS/North Fort Myers, FL)

247 Grade: Three stars

About Pilgrim: A three-sport star from Southwest Florida, Pilgrim played tight end, defensive end, returned kicks and took snaps out of the backfield in high school.

“You can see him run routes and catch, he’s going to grow into the position because he hasn’t played four years at tight end — but guys I’ve coached like Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow had similar backgrounds,” said Davis.

A’mahri McCray - Linebacker (Miami Northwestern HS/Miami, FL)

247 Grade: Three stars

About McCray: McCray was a tackling machine during his prep career, recording a 115-tackle season during his junior season. The 6-1, 215-pound Miami native chooses FIU over offers from Florida Atlantic, UCF and Indiana.

“He’s extremely physical and runs sideline to sideline, he comes from a winning program having played at Miami Northwestern and you love that aspect as well,” said Davis.

Jakovi Bryant - Cornerback (Gateway HS/Kissimmee, FL)

247 Grade: Three stars

About Bryant: Bryant’s mother attended the same high school as FIU defensive line coach Kenard Lang and that struck the relationship between him and the Panthers.

“When you watch his film what jumps out to you is his explosiveness and our DB coaches (Jerod Kruse & Bryn Renner) did an outstanding job finding kids that can play multiple positions like he can,” said Davis.

Keegan Davis - Defensive End (Treasure Coast HS/Port St. Lucie, FL)

247 Grade: Two stars

About Davis: Davis was a late signee to FIU, having been committed to Marshall throughout the 2020 season. While he played tight end and long-snapped in high school, FIU is looking at him primarily on the defensive side of the ball.

“Once he got a chance to start building a relationship with Coach (Kenard) Lang and Coach (Harrison) Green, things evolved from there and he’s tenacious and really looking for the opportunity to go make plays,” said Davis.

Wyatt Lawson - Center (Durant HS/Tampa, FL)

247 Grade: Not rated

About Lawson: Lawson was another late signee for FIU, having played both offensive and defensive line at Durant High.

“He’s smart and what we love about his is how he finishes blocks, he tries to finish guys and pin them on the ground — plus he’s very athletic and loves the game,” said Davis. OL coach Joel Rodriguez echoed similar sentiments.

“He reminds me a lot of (Shane) McGough. Tangibly, he’s got very good balance body control, very good power, and he plays with a phenomenal motor and he takes a lot of pride in being a finisher,” said Rodriguez.

Jordan Guerad - DL (Bloomingdale HS/Tampa, FL)

247 Grade: Not rated

About Guerad: A former quarterback, Guerad grew into a 6-3, 295-pound frame that landed him on the defensive line for his final two seasons at Tampa’s Bloomingdale High. He’s the younger brother of former UCF standout defensive tackle Tony Guerad.

“The thing we fell in love with was his explosiveness at the point of attack and dominate the player in front of him,” said Davis. “If you're a defensive coach, you're looking for guys who are disruptive and can wreck blocking schemes and we see that in this kid.”

D’Moir Jean-Baptiste - Cornerback (North Miami Beach HS/Miami, FL)

247 Grade: Not rated

About Jean-Baptiste: Jean-Baptiste is a player who lined up at multiple positions in the secondary during his prep career and should provide versatility for FIU.

“He can play receivers in the slot or be a nickel or dimeback and that’s huge for us,” said Davis.