The top 10 FIU football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
TE Jonnu Smith, Sr.
While no household name, Smith is one of the best Group of Five tight ends in the country. He has the pass-catching talent to play for one of the state’s three power programs. But instead, he’s spent the past three seasons vexing Conference USA defenses for 136 receptions for 1,495 yards and 14 touchdowns. At 6-3 and 232 pounds, Smith is more of an H-back, with the speed and experience to attract NFL attention once he eliminates the drops.
LB Anthony Wint, Jr.
Wint is the epitome of a FIU defense that’s going to be strongest on the second level in 2016. After laying a foundation with a strong debut in 2014, he blossomed into a Second Team All-Conference USA linebacker. At a sturdy 6-0 and 224 pounds, Wint hustled his way to a team-high 88 stops and 5.5 tackles for loss. He’s a guided missile and a capable pass defender, though his performance did tail off in the second half of the year.
RB Alex Gardner, Jr.
For the past two seasons, Gardner has led the Panthers in rushing, no small chore considering the state of the team’s O-line. This past year, he went for a career-best 760 yards and nine scores on 186 carries, adding a team-high 60 receptions for 442 yards and another touchdown. The 5-10, 192-pound Gardner is a dependable weapon, with an even higher ceiling if he gets additional supports from the blockers up front.
C Michael Montero, Sr.
As pleasant surprises go, none on offense was bigger than Montero in 2015. He’s the anchor of an otherwise very shaky front wall, looking to build on a Second Team All-Conference USA debut in the lineup. The 6-2, 299-pound Montero played in more snaps than any other Panther last season, and he was usually the guy creating between-the-tackles daylight for RB Alex Gardner.
QB Alex McGough, Jr.
McGough took another step forward as a sophomore, which the program hopes will continue this fall. In his second season as the starter, he overcame a spate of drops to improve in every statistical category, completing 269-of-420 throws for 2,722 yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The 6-3, 218-pound veteran of 23 starts is poised, accurate and quick enough to elude pressure. Now, the program needs McGough to further evolve by becoming a more dangerous downfield threat.
WR Thomas Owens, Jr.
Owens is FIU’s top returning wide receiver, catching 51 balls for 638 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago. And he ought to be even more dangerous now that he’s had another full season to build chemistry with QB Alex McGough. At 6-1 and 198 pounds, Owens possesses the length to get above defensive backs, as well as the quickness to make them miss.
LB Davison Colimon, Sr.
The Panthers are excited by the return of Colimon, who played in one game before suffering a season-ending pectoral tear. As a junior in 2014, he earned honorable mention All-Conference USA with 46 stops, eight stops for loss, four sacks and three fumble recoveries, and was named game captain three times. Colimon is only 6-1 and 217 pounds, but operates with the closing speed to make plays from sideline to sideline.
LB Treyvon Williams, Sr.
Williams is the quintessential FIU linebacker—fast, fearless and ferocious. Unfortunately, a knee injury limited him to just four games in 2015, though he still racked up 33 tackles in an abbreviated year. The local 6-0, 229-pounder has the total package, from tackling in space to standing out in coverage, to finish his career with all-league recognition and gaudy numbers.
DT Imarjaye Albury, Sr.
Albury has enjoyed his return to Miami, starting all but one game since transferring from West Virginia two years ago. He posted 19 stops in 2015, numbers not indicative of his ability to clog running lanes. Albury has bulked up to 6-1 and 293 pounds, yet remains quick off the snap. Coordinator Ron Cooper would like his senior to be a poor-man’s version of Aaron Donald, who was coached by predecessor Matt House.
S Tyree Johnson, Soph.
Johnson is poised to become one of the rising cornerstones of the rebuilding Panther secondary. As a rookie, he held up well after being pressed into action by injuries. Johnson started six games, finishing third on the team with 57 tackles. Despite being only 5-9 and 188 pounds, he plays bigger than his size, and exceeded expectations in coverage in 2015.