When Stantley Thomas-Oliver III arrived at Florida International back in 2016, he was a wide receiver. And he was a decent one, finishing third on the team in both receptions (35) and yards receiving (485) as a true freshman.
But after an 0-4 start, the FIU Panthers fired head coach Ron Turner and turned to Butch Davis to lead the program, a switch that ultimately changed Thomas-Oliver's football life.
Shortly after Davis, who was previously at Miami (FL), the Cleveland Browns and UNC, arrived at FIU, he noticed an issue in Thomas-Oliver's game. Davis saw a hard-working wideout with ideal size and speed, who could run routes and block. But one critical piece was missing.
"The thing that I felt like was not as consistent was catching the ball," Davis said during a recent phone interview. "If he was targeted 10 times, he'd catch seven of the 10, or he'd catch 10 of the 15 — you know, just the inconsistency with his hands."
So Thomas-Oliver slid down the depth chart, and during his sophomore year, had only one catch for four yards. But a career-altering moment happened late in that disappointing season.
One day after practice, receivers stayed to get in some extra work. Since the team's cornerbacks had left the field, Thomas-Oliver jumped over to the defensive side. He looked like a natural, and as Davis watched, he had an idea.
"I went to him and I said to him, 'You know, I've been doing this a long time, coached in the NFL watching kids, and I've think you've got a chance to play on the next level. But I really, truly believe that your future is being a defensive back,'" Davis recalled. "And I said, 'I want you to think about it and come back tomorrow and let me know what you think.'
"So he comes back the next day and he says, 'Coach, look, if you think that's where my future is, I'm 100 percent for it.' And he said, 'If it's going to help the team, I slam dunk will be able to do that.'"