The first South Florida college player projected to get chosen in April’s NFL Draft doesn’t come from the University of Miami but Florida International University.
And new Golden Panthers head coach Ron Turner hopes to keep it that way for years to come.
Turner watched from the stands at FIU Stadium as safety Jonathan Cyprien conducted his Pro Day workout Thursday before scouts representing all 32 NFL teams. One of them told FOXSports.com that Cyprien, who ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.6 seconds, was a likely mid-round pick. Some media mock drafts have Cyprien being chosen as early as the second round following a strong January showing at the Senior Bowl.
No prospects from the University of Miami program — a one-time national powerhouse that has fallen on tough times — were generating that type of draft buzz earlier in the day when the Hurricanes conducted their Pro Day workout cross-town in Coral Gables.
“I know the (NFL) guys love him,” Turner told FOXSports.com about Cyprien. “Everyone I’ve talked to feels really good about him and I can see why. He’s a really good player.”
Turner will be working with a large crop of new players in his first season replacing Mario Cristobal as FIU’s head coach. Cyprien and defensive end/outside linebacker Tourek Williams, who is projected as a late-round pick, are among nine defensive starters from last year’s squad who are departing. The entire offensive line and all of FIU’s specialists are gone as well.
While he says recruiting went “pretty well,” Turner’s hiring in early January forced him to start late when it came to wooing high school seniors. Turner, though, said the cupboard isn’t completely bare on a team that went 3-9 in 2012. Leading the way is senior quarterback Jake Medlock.
“I like what I see on film,” Turner said. “I think he fits what we want to do offensively. He has the skill set to get the ball downfield and throw in a pro-style passing game.”
Turner spent 12 years as an NFL assistant, including last season as Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks coach. While he could have remained with the Bucs working with Josh Freeman, Turner said he “always knew in the back of my mind that I probably wanted to be a head coach in college again” after holding that position at the University of Illinois from 1997 to 2004.
“I wanted to do it in a situation where I had a chance to win,” said Turner, the brother of Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner. “After looking into it with the talent base here in South Florida, I said, ‘This is an up-and-coming program moving into Conference USA.’
“I’ve never lived in South Florida before so I’m enjoying that part of it, especially when I see the weather in the Midwest.”
More sunny skies will be ahead if Turner can develop NFL talent like FIU products T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis), Antwan Barnes (San Diego) and Anthony Gaitor (Tampa Bay).