When Florida International University began playing football in the early 2000’s, the objective was to one day tap into what the University of Miami had been doing for decades.

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The success of this program has been slow – with former Dolphin Don Strock starting things out before Mario Cristobal and Ron Turner followed – never having a lot of success – but doing things to keep the Panthers in the spotlight.

For most who had never followed this program, they are amazed when people will tell them – since 2002, when they went 5-6, this program had just TWO winning seasons before this year – and that was Cristobal, who went 1-11, 5-7, 3-9, 7-6, 8-5 and 3-9.

What happened when Butch Davis took over this team last year was everything began to change. What he did was come in and started to pick up the pieces from a failed Turner regime that had an embarrassing 54 players on the roster who were from north of the Palm Beaches.

Last year, Davis used his knowledge and name to bring in a good class – mostly South Florida kids. This year, with a winning season and a bowl game – early National Signing Day really started to turn heads.

Coming away with a group of local difference maker – coupled with the first bowl game in many years – the high school players that were bought in, has put this program back on the right track – earning top honors in the conference during the early signing period.

What Dec. 20-22 gave this team was enough talent to go into battle with just about everyone on the schedule and in the conference.

The roster was spiked with junior college players such as defensive tackle Teair Tar-Spencer (East Mississippi CC), D’Ante Demery, a 6-5, 320-pound offensive tackle from Georgia and defensive tackles Tayland Humphrey (6-5, 350). Humphrey was one of the best in the nation.

But when everything was sorted out after the three day signing period, most of the attention was on the high school players – with a heavy emphasis on the Miami-Dade and Broward prospects.

On offense, Davis and his coaches worked it very hard to come away with Miami Palmetto receiver Ivan Thomas (6-4, 215), versatile Stranahan product Marquel Dillard (6-1, 185), Booker T. Washington standout receiver Zahir Turner (6-0, 160) and quarterback Shamar Munroe (6-2, 189).

Thomas is one of those impressive big men who created mismatches with his size and speed. The Panthers will find a way to showcase his skills – along with Turner’s sure hands and ability to make things happen. Munroe is a versatile athlete who can run, pass and play a number of other positions – of needed.

Defensively, prospects such as South Dade safety Jamal Anderson, Champagnat Catholic heralded linebacker Donovan Georges (6-0, 237) and versatile Shaun Peterson, who not only was one of the best linebackers, but emerged as a 1,000 yard runner for Davie Nova – with a 6-3, 210-pound frame.

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Here are some of the other players who jumped aboard early in the Class of 2018:

John Bolding, OL, Spring Klein Oak, Texas

Kameron Burns, DL, Crawfordville Wakulla

Rocky Jacques-Louis, DE, Fort Myers Dunbar

Caleb Lynum, QB, Clermont East Ridge

David O’Meara, TE, Tallahassee Chiles

Sterling Palmer, TE, Richmond Benedictine Prep, Va.

Joshua Sanders, DE/TE, Waxahachie Life (Texas)

DeMarcus Townsend, RB, Naples Palmetto Ridge

Jordan Underwood, WR, Orlando Olympia

Jesson Walker, CB, Rockledge

Catch the South Florida High School Sports Radio Show each week on WQAM (560AM). For the past 10 years, the players and coaches who are making the headlines, join the program. You will learn a lot!

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