It wasn’t quite the season the FIU Panthers had hoped for, but considering the rash of injuries that ravaged the team throughout, the 2015 campaign wasn’t all bad. In fact, eight Panthers played well enough and consistently enough to earn Conference USA All-Conference recognition.
Three Panthers made the C-USA All-Conference First Team.
For the second straight season, senior Richard Leonard was chosen at multiple positions, gaining recognition as a first team all-conference defensive back and a punt returner. He was joined on the first team by senior defensive end Michael Wakefield (7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss).
Appearing in all 12 games this season; Leonard was second on the Panthers’ defense with 62 tackles, 42 of which were solo. He broke up eight passes which tied for the team lead, and intercepted a pass.
But Leonard really excelled in the open field as a punt and kick returner. He totaled 627 kick return yards on 29 attempts (21.6-yard average) and added 160 punt return yards on 15 tries. The 10.7-yard per return average was tops in the conference and ranked 24th nationally.
Leonard closed his career second in school history in punt returns (37), punt return yardage (577), kick returns (86) and kick return yardage (2,158). With his three nominations this season, he finishes his career with seven all-conference honors.
Wakefield made the all-conference team for the second time. He anchored a solid defensive unit, appearing in all 12 games while starting 11. He was fourth in C-USA with 15.0 tackles for loss (fifth-most in school history for a single season) and 7.5 sacks (tied for fourth-most in school history for a single season). For the season, Wakefield totaled 43 tackles (24 solo). He was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Week after tying the school record for sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (5.5) versus Charlotte on Nov. 7.
Two more Panthers earned second-team honors.
Junior offensive lineman Michael Montero and sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint played key roles in the Panthers’ success this season. It’s the third time for Wint on the all-conference squad. He played in all 12 games and led the Panthers with 88 tackles (41 solo). In addition, Wint notched 5.5 tackles for loss and o.5 sacks with two fumble recoveries and an interception. He piled up double-digit tackles in five games this season with a career-best 13 tackles at Indiana in September.
An anchor on the offensive line at the center position for all 12 games this season, Montero led the blocking for an offense that produced 4,173 yards, including 2,854 through the air, second-most in school history for a single season. It was an aerial attack that produced a school single-season record 22 passing touchdowns.
And yet sophomore quarterback Alex McGough did not make the all-conference team, despite throwing for 2,722 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his passes (269-420-8).
Four more Panthers made honorable mention.
Junior tight end Jonnu Smith made all-conference for a third time. He caught 36 passes for 397 yards, but was sidelined for the final four games with an injury. He had a career-game versus Old Dominion in late-October. Smith caught 10 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
He is FIU’s all-time leader for tight ends in career catches (136), yards (1,495) and touchdowns (14).
Senior defenders Denzell Perine (DL) and Jeremiah McKinnon (DB) garnered honorable mention recognition. They were big reasons why the Panthers defense was among the best in the conference.
Junior long snapper Sam Medlock also made honorable mention.
Four of the conference’s top players return for FIU next season, and that along with McGough, form a solid nucleus to build around for the 2016 seasons.