Best FIU Golden Panthers Football Player

T.Y. Hilton

From the moment he began his college career as an all-purpose offensive threat for Mario Cristobal's Florida International University Golden Panthers football squad, T.Y. Hilton has taken the ball to the house. The very first time the Miami Springs native touched the ball, in his 2008 debut against Kansas, he returned a punt for a touchdown. He finished his freshman season with 12 touchdowns — scoring by catching, running, and even throwing the ball — ranking third in the nation in all-purpose yards per game and garnering freshman-of-the-year honors from the Sun Belt Conference. In 2009, Hilton showed why Alabama head coach Nick Saban sang his praises when he scored on a 96-yard kickoff return against the Crimson Tide. A year later, during a game against Sun Belt rival Troy, Hilton put up 158 yards on just six carries on his way to setting a school record for most yards rushed in a game. He was a key component in the Golden Panthers' earning their first two bowl appearances in school history, each of which ended in victories. Now Hilton is going to the big show. He was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts so he can catch passes from overall number one pick Andrew Luck.

University of Miami

Brace yourself, boys, because the best college athlete in Miami is hands-down a woman. This season, Shenise Johnson wasn't just the best player on a damn-good University of Miami women's basketball team. She was one of the best players in women's b-ball history. Leading the Hurricanes in scoring (17 points per game), rebounding (8), and assists (4.4), the guard became just the second woman with at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 500 assists, and 400 steals in her college career. She and teammate Riquna Williams led the team to a 26-6 record and an appearance in the NCAA tournament. But even after the season ended with a painful second-round upset by Gonzaga, Johnson kept setting records. When she was picked fifth in the WNBA draft, she became the highest-drafted player in her program's history. Johnson now brings her sweet layup and inside-outside versatility to the San Antonio Silver Stars.

At Miami Norland Senior High School, running back Randy "Duke" Johnson was so good he was bad. So good that his corkscrew sprints through opposing defenses led entire stadiums to chant his nickname — "Duuuke!" — as if booing bums off the field. So good that he ran for 2,087 yards and 27 touchdowns in his senior season, including five in the 5A state championship game (Norland annihilated Crawfordville Wakulla 38-0). And so good that he joined Tim Tebow, Travis Henry, and Daunte Culpepper as winners of the Florida Mr. Football Award. But unlike other high school prospects whose heads are turned hither and yon by competing programs, Johnson committed in the fall of his junior year to the U and hasn't looked back. Even when the Canes finished the 2010 season with three straight losses and sacked coach Randy Shannon — who had recruited Johnson — Duke stayed with the ailing program. He even helped recruit others to join new UM coach Al Golden's rebuilding project. For a team beset by the Nevin Shapiro scandal off the field and mediocrity on it, Johnson promises to carry the Canes into a brighter future. Just don't mistake those "Duuuke"s for boos.

Before fleeing in 2008 from his native Cuba — a country famous for producing Olympic-caliber wrestlers and boxers — 28-year-old Yoislandy "Cuba" Izquierdo spent his childhood training in karate and sanshou. After serving in the Cuban military, Izquierdo set off on a precarious journey, first to Spain, then to Guatemala, and finally to Mexico, where he was detained for a month before being granted political asylum in the United States. Since arriving in Miami, Izquierdo has trained at the Young Tigers Foundation in Hialeah, honing the lightening-quick striking he learned as a Cuban karate protégé and using it in another sport: mixed martial arts fighting. The lightweight MMA fighter remains undefeated with a 6-0 record, winning the majority of his bouts by knockout. After signing a contract with Ultimate Fighting Championship in January, Izquierdo made his UFC debut April 14, 2012, in Stockholm, Sweden. And he isn't just a rising star — he's bringing the booming sport of MMA to Miami's Cuban-American fans. "In Cuba, we trained for the pure pleasure and joy of it," Izquierdo said in a January interview with MMA site cagejunkie.com. "I just keep training. To fight with rivals better than myself and getting wins until I fight the champion in my weight class, that is my purpose."

Dubbed the "Guantánamo Cyclone," Yuriorkis Gamboa has earned his nickname in and out of the ring. The headstrong 30-year-old Cuban boxer could become one of the elite pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He has a chance to become the next Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, even if he marches to the beat of his own timbales. He caused a stir in the boxing world when, over a contract dispute, he dropped out of a bout with light heavyweight Brandon Rios that was to be televised on HBO. Some longtime purists criticized him for pulling out, but for a guy who sold his Olympic gold medal to support his family in Cuba before defecting to Miami, he deserves to call his own shots. A methodical pugilist, Gamboa has built a 21-0 professional record with 16 wins coming by knockout. In his U.S. pro debut at the Hollywood Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on October 30, 2007, he demolished Adailton de Jesus with a knockout in the first round. He has also knocked down two other opponents in the first round. He'll do it his way, but don't be surprised if Gamboa's final destination is the top of the boxing world.

Soccer Town

Every Saturday morning, Colombian carnival takes over a narrow lane just off NE Second Avenue. Street vendors set up shop selling hamburguesas and ceviche. Cumbia and reggaeton pour from overhead speakers. And the beer flows in equal proportion to the sun's powerful rays. But the center of festivities isn't a dance floor or even a bar. It's a soccer field. Soccer Town's synthetic turf shines like an unnatural oasis in the mostly rundown neighborhood. As Colombians, Peruvians, Argentines, and the occasional gringo kick the everlasting crap out of one another on the field, their wives, kids, or girlfriends sit on concrete steps in the shade and let the men dream — at least for an hour each week — that their best playing days aren't behind them. In fact, the games are among the more skillful in Miami. More important, they are probably the best organized. Somehow, Soccer Town culls dozens of teams into season-long 8 v. 8 tournaments. On weekdays, the field is split into three 5 v. 5 courts, each of which can be rented for roughly $100 per hour till 2 a.m.

These days, every sportscaster on the planet has a catch phrase handy when an extra-amazing play happens on the court, field, or ice. So one would think the guy who does the play-by-play for the Miami Heat would be full of catch phrases, because the Big Three are a highlight reel come to life. But the beauty of Mike Inglis, the nightly voice of your Miami Heat on 790 the Ticket, is that he doesn't rely on the often-hackneyed trickery of describing a play by saying someone just got it "right between the eyes!" That kind of announcing has become cliché to the point of self-parody. Inglis is old school mixed with good old-fashioned enthusiasm. In a game where things change every half a second, he merely paints the picture and makes things more exciting simply by using a genuine fervor that most announcers have confused with being trendy. But Inglis's retro style doesn't rob you of the excitement of a Dwyane Wade Euro-step shot or a LeBron James dunk. Instead, he enhances every big moment with a guttural call that makes every respective play that much more awesome. For example, during last year's playoff matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, he famously described a Wade-to-LeBron alley-oop with his usual get-off-your-seat-and-yell-hell-yeah moment: "The ball stolen, down the floor, Wade with LeBron, and the alley-oop and a right-hand jam by LeBron James on the a-l-l-l-l-e-y-oop!" No gimmicks. Just passion. That's why we turn down the volume on the TV set and fire up Mike Inglis on the radio during Heat games.

When strange and elusive slugger Manny Ramirez worked last winter toward a major-league comeback from a steroid-related suspension and an impulsive retirement, he kept it local. ESPN cameras caught him doing aqua aerobics with a pool full of Miami abuelitas and taking swings in a Hialeah batting cage. ManRam will soon be working his peculiar magic in Oakland, upon the completion of his suspension, as the newest member of the Athletics. But Manny isn't the only big-league patron of that Hialeah facility, Extreme Baseball Indoor Hitting Cages. Founded three years ago by former minor-leaguer Miguel Soto, it's the off-season swinging headquarters of St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, former Detroit Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordóñez, and a stable of big-time local prospects. They're trained by former pro players Frank Valdez and Kadir Villalona. But you don't need a pro contract to build your skills here. It's $2 to take hacks at 20 baseballs, and tutelage under the trainers costs $45 an hour. Next, we'll find out which swimming pool Manny was thrashing around in. Those grannies looked buff.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®