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There has always been a feeling among football fans in South Florida: if Florida International University ever truly tapped into the talent pool that this area is known for, the Panthers can do more than survive.

While many coaches have attempted to keep some of the nation’s best football prospects at home, the result has been that not enough have stayed to make this program a power.

A program that can roll through their conference and go toe-to-toe with some of the country’s best teams that are on the schedule – with the idea of making money for their own school.

As this program wrapped up yet another spring under head coach Ron Turner, the thought now is that things are improving. And attracting some of the better athletes to have a chance to compete against some of the best in the country is an objective that is now becoming a reality.

With the chance to at least get some of South Florida’s top football talent to head down to the campus and watch practice or attend events that are held throughout the offseason – is a huge advantage.

The reality of any program – not just FIU – is that winning cures all.

While nobody will be asking FIU to compete for a national championship, which is not a reality – playing winning football is. Posting eight or nine wins per season and going to a bowl game will ultimately keep the flow of talent coming in.

Going to FIU has always been a tough sell to prospects from Miami-Dade and Broward.

No matter who has been the coach, the thought of going head-to-head with schools such as Miami, Florida, FSU and so many other national elite programs, was that it was hard to do. You cannot sell FIU to someone who is toying with Ohio State or Alabama. But there is a niche that this school can tap into.

If you look at what this program represents as it heads into the offseason, you can see things changing around. Many local athletes who had gone away to school, only to come back and attend FIU, are now being replaced by quality freshmen who grew up locally and want to start a pipeline from Miami-Dade and Broward.

Over the past few years, elite football talent – such as former Homestead and Booker T. Washington quarterback Maurice Alexander – have not come to FIU. Arguably one of the most complete quarterbacks we have produced in many years, this young man headed to FIU to play the position he has stood out at all of his young life. Even as many were talking about moving this gifted young man to the slot or in the defensive secondary, there was no doubt in his mind – or those who have followed him back to the days of Florida City youth football – that he would emerge as one of the best quarterbacks on this team.

Alexander is one of the many local prospects who have become the Panthers best sales tool. If he and others are able to turn this around – and replace 4-8 with 8-4 – it will be a pipeline that could flow for years to come.

In addition to Alexander on offense, sophomore running back Anthony Jones (Central), freshman receiver Austin Maloney (Christopher Columbus), linemen Paul Guzman (Hialeah), Michael Montero (Christopher Columbus), Jordan Budwig (University School), Kai Absheer (St. Thomas Aquinas) and Josh Deyour (Hollywood Hills), and tight end Ricky Fernandez (Belen) have been leading the way.

Defensively, South Florida is also well represented with defensive backs Niko Gonzalez (Hialeah), Olin Cushion III (Central), Franky Gennaro (Doral Academy), Marcus St. Louis (Coconut Creek), Kyle Perez (Plantation American Heritage), Emmanuel Lubin (North Miami Beach), Xavier Hines Belen Jesuit), Tyree Johnson (Carol City) and Shermarke Spence (Northwestern).

There are also linebackers such as future NFL prospect Anthony Wint (Homestead), Sage Lewis (Monsignor Pace), Jean Estinor (North Miami), Jordan Guest (Christopher Columbus) and Treyvon Williams (Norland).

There are also defensive linemen such as former Miami Central all-state prospect Fermin Silva, one-time University of Minnesota commit Jordan Hinojosa (Central), Justin Sibole (Plantation American Heritage) and Hialeah prospect Jermaine Sheriff.

Also, Plantation American Heritage kicker Scott Wade will be a huge player as well.

PANTHERS EXPECTED SOME MORE HELP
In addition to what the team had this spring, this summer will see the arrival of some more local prospects who are expected to continue making this program one that will continue to get better and attract more locals.

Defensive back Khairi Reaser comes back home after attending San Jose City College. Receiver Anthony Gaiter IV (Miami Westminster Christian) has the chance to elevate this program with his speed and four-year varsity playing experience in high school.

Also coming for this class are Miami Booker T. Washington receiver Darrius Scott and nationally-rated kicker Jose Borregales, and Coral Gables standout linebacker Shakur Cooper.

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