Oh how the mighty Golden Panthers have fallen….
Oh wait, a minute… that was last year, and the year before that, and the year before that… For the first time in Golden Panther Football, the FIU Golden Panthers have finally reached the plateau after falling several times in the program’s short history. Having been established in 2002, it took only eight years for FIU Football to prove themselves to be the best in the Sun Belt. Up until this past season, the only major successes that could be said about the program were that yes, we have had players drafted into the NFL and play in NFL games.
The 2007 NFL Draft starred 2 FIU players being drafted for the first time in Panther history. Chandler Williams, a wide receiver currently playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, drafted by the Vikings in the 7th round in the NFL 2007 Draft. As well as Antwan Barnes, a defensive end, currently playing for the San Diego Chargers, and who broke all kinds of records while he was in the Panther uniform.
We also have had our pitfalls, just like any other team; however, the pitfalls of FIU football were pretty major. From going 0-12 in a single season, followed by a 1-11 season; it became pretty clear that FIU football was nowhere close to being a success. In 2006, our program was even given a “bad boy” reputation during a game between our cross-town rival, the Miami Hurricanes, when an all-out brawl erupted in the middle of a game.
Thirty-one players from both teams were found guilty and punished by their teams for their participation in the brawl. Even fans in the stands got into the mix and started their own fights and were arrested. And yes, if you’re wondering, I was at the game and quickly became scared for my life in fear of getting attacked by the many Hurricane fans that surrounded us. An interesting tidbit however, was that at the time, my brother was a Hurricane and I was a Panther. Quite an interesting combination in our household… But luckily, nothing erupted in my close proximity and the game ended as it began, with the Hurricanes winning the actual football game but not the battle.
The 2007 year was also a year of new beginnings for FIU. After having a horrendous 0-12 year in 2006 under Coach Don Strock’s leadership, a new Athletic Director, Pete Garcia, and Head Coach, Mario Cristobal, were brought in to shake things up and get the program going. Obviously, with new management, you have your ups and downs. The next year (2007) was finished with a 1-11 season, then a 5-7 record in 2008 and a 3-9 record in 2009.
But skip forward to this past season, the 2010 season, and a huge difference could be seen. Even though we were 7-6 this year, the Panthers won the games that mattered the most and were 6-2 in the Sun Belt Conference. This marked history for the Golden Panthers Football program. For the first time in the eight years that this program has been in existence, they tied 1st in their conference and were named the Sun Belt Conference Champions along with Troy. Another major feat accomplished this year was FIU receiving its first ever bowl game bid, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, against Toledo. The Panthers would later return home from Detroit with their first ever bowl game win with a game-winning field goal to make the final score 34-32.
However, this season’s success could not have been done without current FIU star receiver, T.Y. Hilton. Before even arriving on campus, he promised Coach Cristobal that the first time he laid hands on the football, he would make big things happen and he did. The first time he touched the football was a kick return and he returned it all the way for a touchdown! Since he has arrived on campus in 2008, T.Y. has set numerous records, from being the All-Time Leader in Career All-Purpose Yards with 2,493 to being the Leader with Most Receptions in a Game (11), the man can do it all. He has also proven himself to be the deciding game factor when games are on the line, with a 4-touchdown performance in an overtime win against the University of Louisiana-Monroe, 42-35.
During the 2010 season, he led FIU with 59 catches which resulted in 848 yards, with all-purpose yards of 2,089, 5 receiving touchdowns, and 4 rushing touchdowns. Not such a bad season for a wide receiver… That does not include his feats on special teams where he earned his nickname: “T.Y. Goodbye” from fans as he streaked past defenders on the way to a touchdown. This year he racked up 833 yards leading the team with an average of 28.7 yards per kick return and 2 touchdowns. Being recently named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and by being so well-rounded on the field as well as off, T.Y. Hilton has proven himself to the best of the best.
The great thing is that T.Y. Hilton has announced that he will be returning next season for his senior year, instead of declaring for the draft, giving himself a chance to finish earning his degree as well as bringing back a major offensive and special teams threat back to FIU next season.
So FIU Football Fans, GET READY for another explosive year.
One that I’m sure will not disappoint.