Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Dawn for FIU Football

December 28, 2010
Update: January 31, 2011

Nine years. That's all it took for FIU football to reach its first bowl game since the program's inception in 2000. And the team is ready to continue its ascension in the college football ranks from this point on.

It was a season of firsts for the Golden Panthers: first Sun Belt Conference Championship, first bowl game appearance, and first bowl win in school history. These are all accomplishments that seemed unattainable prior to Head Coach Mario Cristobal's taking of the helm.

FIU held an 0-12 record the season before Cristobal was given the head coaching job. Defeat became more of a tradition than a result and the program was on a downward slope.

But all that changed with the infusion of confidence that Athletic Director Pete Garcia and Cristobal injected in the program starting in 2007. Promising to commit more resources and energy into the program, Garcia, Cristobal and company began the process of changing FIU's losing tradition into winning ways.

Today, that winless season seems like such a distant memory for FIU as their 2010 conference record (6-2) has overshadowed their forgetful past. What once was a dark, gloomy overcast of negativity that hovered above FIU's football program is now a bright, new dawn with plenty of potential to spare. 

What's Next for FIU

The team's 2010 success brings more than just school pride in the present; it brings positive future implications for the program.

First off, the combination of elevated team success and heightened media coverage will drive much-needed attention to the football program and the school as a whole. Florida high school football athletes now can look at FIU in a new light and potentially consider the Golden Panthers as a legitimate option. The mere fact that the program made a serious effort to become a winner and achieved that goal in such a short span has marked FIU as a new blip on the radars of these high school athletes.

Here's some proof: "A Bull Market Boost for FIU Golden Panthers"

But athletes aren't the only constituents that are affected by this. The idea of a successful sporting tradition attracts students in general to a university, and that's exactly what FIU is trying to establish. It's no secret that many students seek entertainment as an important element of their college experience, so having a sports program worth cheering for only adds to that aspect of a university.

Now, FIU may not be anywhere near the status of elite in college football but they are now one small step closer to the next level. In order for FIU football to reach that next level they will need to win a few more bowl games and probably move out of the conference. Nevertheless, programs that are now considered elite had to start somewhere and 2010 can be labeled as that "somewhere" for FIU.

FIU's Pro Prospects

It was a team effort that drove FIU's success this season but we cannot discount the help that a few of there premier athletes with pro potential brought to the table. We're talking about WR T.Y. Hilton and DB Anthony Gaitor in particular. These two studs have made enormous impacts on their respective sides of the field and deserve extra accolades for their contributions. One of those accolades will likely come in the form of a draft selection in future NFL drafts.

T.Y. Hilton

Hilton is a junior and is expected to return next season but would likely be drafted by NFL teams even if he were to enter the 2011 draft. As a combo receiver and kick returner, Hilton provides a dynamic skill set with game-changing potential (similar to the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester). Standing at 5'10, Hilton may be smaller than the average NFL receiver but his versatility may outweigh that disadvantage. Whether he enters the draft early or waits until 2012, expect this young gun to be off the draft board by no later than the third round. 

Anthony Gaitor

Gaitor is a senior and will enter the upcoming NFL draft. Just like Hilton, he is smaller (5'9) than the average player at his position but offers a skill set that is worthy of an NFL roster spot. Gaitor plays well in zone coverage, deflecting passes with regularity and raking in the occasional interception. Gaitor is expected to go in the later rounds of the draft, likely between rounds five and seven. Whatever the case may be, Gaitor will proudly represent FIU in the NFL.

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