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May 27, 2013

Football: Preseason Selections

Led by senior defensive tackle Greg Hickman, five Panthers have been selected to the Phil Steele 2013 Preseason All-Conference USA Team.

Hickman was named to the second team. Junior kick return specialist Richard Leonard was selected to the third team, while junior running back Kedrick Rhodes, senior wide receiver Willis Wright and junior defensive end Giovani Francois were picked to the fourth team.

Hickman, an All-SBC pick by Phil Steele in 2012, enters his senior campaign already listed prominently in the FIU record books and is the school-record holder with 10 career quarterback hurries. He is tied for fifth with four forced fumbles and his 23 tackles for loss for 84 yards are ninth in both categories. Hickman is also the anchor of the FIU defense with 23 career starts over the past three seasons.

Leonard, also a standout cornerback, enters 2013 in fourth-place all-time with 33 kick returns for 902 yards. Including his nine punt returns for 108 yards, he is fifth all-time with 1,102 total return yards. Twice in 2012, Leonard was honored as a national returner of the week from College Football Performance Awards. Leonard was National Punt Returner of the Week vs. Akron (9/8) and Kick Returner of the Week vs. FAU (11/16). At FAU, he set a school-record with a 100-yard return for a touchdown, which also garnered the Sun Belt's Kick Returner of the Week honor. Following 2012, Phil Steele named Leonard to the All-Sun Belt Second-Team as a return specialist.

Rhodes is already rated as FIU's all-time leader in multiple offensive categories, and is poised to overtake several others during 2013. His 2,156 rushing yards are 39 shy of FIU's all-time rushing mark held by Rashod Smith (2,195), while his 441 rushing attempts and eight 100-yard rushing games are a school-record. Rhodes' 13 rushing touchdowns tie for third-most. He is former unanimous All-Sun Belt preseason pick in 2012.

Wright had a breakthrough season in 2012, leading the team with 633 receiving yards on 25 catches. His 25.3 yards per catch was a single-season school-record. Wright led the offense with 13 "big plays" of 20 or more yards, including five "big-play" touchdowns. In the season's final six games, had 19 catches for 525 yards, five touchdown receptions and three consecutive 100-yard receiving games.

Francois, who enters his first season as a starting defensive end, was a force off the bench in 2012. Among his 24 tackles from the defensive end position, 11 were solo stops and 5.5 were tackles for loss. He also had 4.5 sacks for 30 yards, one pass break-up and three quarterback hurries. In the final five games, he had 4.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks.

FIU begins its affiliation with Conference USA in 2013, after eight seasons competing in the Sun Belt. The Panthers are slotted in the C-USA East Division along with East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss and UAB.

Phil Steele's College Football Preview is the nation's most informative preseason football magazine and has always provided a Preseason All-American Team as well as Preseason All-Conference Teams.

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