From Panthers to pros of the gridiron

A look at the eight former FIU football players who have heard their names called on Draft Day and where they are now

See the next legends of FIU Football in action when the season opens against Big Ten team Indiana at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1 at Riccardo Silva Stadium at MMC.

FIU is not a typical college football program. Most new teams take decades to rise to

the Division I-A level and then longer to reach a bowl game. Not FIU. Beginning play in 2002, the Panthers joined Division I-A in 2005 and have been to three bowl games in the last eight years. A handful of talented individuals helped make these rapid advancements possible. And the National Football League has watched closely.

The Seattle Seahawks’ selection of Alex McGough in April bumped the total number of Panthers drafted to the NFL to eight. Not bad for a program entering its seventeenth season. Here is a look at the Panthers who have been selected in the NFL drafts over the years and what they have done on the professional level.

Antwan Barnes, linebacker (2003-2006)
The first Panther ever drafted, Antwan Barnes would help FIU make history. He led the Panthers to their first Division 1-A win and their transition to the Sun Belt Conference. Between 2003 and 2006, Barnes recorded 55.5 tackles for a loss (TFL) and 21.5 sacks. Not only are both totals still university records, but in his senior year, Barnes was No. 1 in TFL in the nation. His combination of size and dogged speed earned him a nickname in the local Spanish media: “El Monstro” (The Monster).

The Pick: Baltimore Ravens (Round 4, Selection #134)
In 2007, Barnes joined NFL legend Ray Lewis in Baltimore. He went on to play for four different franchises in his eight-year career. His most successful stint came with the San Diego Chargers, when in 2011 he recorded 11 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Chandler Williams, wide receiver (2003-2006)
Before T.Y. Hilton came along, Chandler Williams set all the university receiving records. The former Miami High quarterback became a favorite target in head coach Don Strock’s pass-heavy offense because of his reliability in the slot. Williams led the team in receiving in 2005 and 2006 and completed his FIU career with 2,519 receiving yards, 203 receptions and nine receiving touchdowns.

The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (Round 7, #233)
The Vikings released Williams shortly after drafting him. He journeyed around the league on several practice squads before signing with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. On January 5, 2013, Williams died due to a heart-related issue while playing in a flag football tournament. He was 27.

Anthony Gaitor, defensive back (2007-2010)
He was written off as a two-star recruit by scouting services. But Anthony Gaitor would rise to become a key player in the Panthers’ first bowl game season, surprising his early critics with his quickness and instinctiveness as a cornerback. The Miami Northwestern Senior High alum played his way onto two All- Sun Belt Conference First Team recognitions. In 2011, he earned his BA in recreation and sports management.

The Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Round 7, #222)
Gaitor saw several regular season games before being released. He eventually made his way to the Canadian Football League, where he plays for the BC Lions.

T.Y. Hilton

T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver (2008-2011)
Rarely does a young program like FIU get a star like T.Y. Hilton He chose FIU over older, more established programs and promised he would score a touchdown on his first touch. He did. He took the Panthers to their first bowl game, helped them win it, won Sun Belt Player of the Year and then took them back to a bowl game the next year. He caught and ran for 3,531 yards at FIU and scored 37 touchdowns. Hilton broke 12 offensive records. And he did it all while earning his BA in liberal studies.  FIU football would not be what it is today without “Goodbye” T.Y.

Professional: Indianapolis Colts (Round 3, #92)
Hilton is having tremendous success in the NFL. Over a six-year span with the Colts, he’s gained 6,827 yards and scored 34 touchdowns. In 2016, Hilton led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,448. He has also enjoyed four straight Pro Bowl appearances through 2017.

Tourek Williams, defensive end (2009-2012)
Williams developed into a stout defender over his four years at the university. As he gained muscle and trimmed fat, Williams began to stand out. By his senior year he was a team captain and a Sun Belt All-Conference First Team pick. Williams finished his collegiate career with 45.5 tackles for a loss and 18 sacks.

The Pick: San Diego Chargers (Round 6, #179)
Williams was mostly a special teams contributor during his four-year tenure with San Diego. In his rookie year, injuries to the linebacking corps gave him more playing time. He started six games and had 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a sack as a rookie in 2013.

Johnathan Cyprien

Johnathan Cyprien, defensive back (2009-2012)
Cyprien garnered national respect as one of the best safeties in college football. His intelligence stood out in particular; Cyprien often called out defensive adjustments from his safety position, which is traditionally done by a linebacker. He did this while becoming FIU’s all-time leading tackler (365). Even though T.Y. Hilton was in the spotlight during most of Cyprien’s career, the safety’s draft stock got its own fair share of attention. In fact, he ended up being drafted much earlier than Hilton was the year before.

The Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars (Round 2, #33)
Cyprien was named the starting strong safety as a rookie in 2013 and he’s been a consistent starter on defense since. His 2016 season in particular was noteworthy; his
128 combined tackles were the 12th most in the NFL. In 2017, he signed a four-year, $25 million contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Jonnu Smith, tight end (2013-2016)
While attending West Port High in Ocala, a young Jonnu Smith didn’t receive much attention from college scouts. That was until FIU’s tight ends coach, following head coach Mario Cristobal’s philosophy of visiting every high school in the state, watched the young man play for 10 minutes and was sold. Smith would go on to become the best tight end in program history. He ended up with 2001 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns on his college resume.

Professional: Tennessee Titans (Round 3, #100)
Smith joined fellow Panther Johnathan Cyprien in Nashville in 2017. He made his first touchdown on a 32-yard pass from Marcus Mariota on his way to a 37-16 win over Jacksonville. He finished his rookie year with 18 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

Alex McGough, quarterback (2014-2017)
McGough may be the best quarterback to ever play at FIU (most total touchdowns, most passing yards in a season) and is the first signal caller to be drafted. His college career is highlighted by a remarkable senior year under head coach Butch Davis. McGough captained a red zone offense that went 40-41 (most efficient in FBS). His Panthers went 8-4 and went to a bowl game. Although McGough broke his collarbone in the bowl, he received attention from NFL scouts after it healed and four teams worked him out privately. McGough graduated with a BA in liberal studies.

Professional: Seattle Seahawks (Round 7, #220)
With the pick, McGough became the first quarterback drafted by the Seahawks since Russell Wilson in 2012 and the first quarterback to ever be drafted from FIU.