- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the speech he delivered to some 30,000 Florida State fans at the team’s championship celebration at Doak Campbell Stadium last weekend, Jimbo Fisher touched on two primary themes.
First, he was grateful. He thanked the fans and the players and the coaches, but most importantly, the senior class. Those were the kids who believed in a recruiting pitch four years ago that was little more than grandiose promises designed to overshadow a 7-6 record and a rookie coaching staff. It was a tough sell, but Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, Kenny Shaw and others bought in anyway.
Beyond that, however, Fisher talked about the promise of the future. Four years after Joyner and Smith and Shaw inked their names to a letter of intent at Florida State, the Seminoles now have a national championship trophy, and Fisher has a recruiting pitch that can both underscore the present and showcase a far more vivid plan for the future.
“We want to build a program,” Fisher said. “We’re not worried about a team; we’re building a program. And I think we can be very good again.”
Fisher did an exceptional job selling Florida State to recruits even when there wasn’t much to sell. His 2010 class was ranked sixth by ESPN. In 2011, FSU was tops, and in 2012, the Seminoles ranked second. Last year’s class was ranked No. 9, but immediately produced a trio of impact players on a national championship team.
Now, with that trophy providing an easy sales tool, Florida State heads into national signing day with the No. 3 class in the country and a chance to snag a few more big names before it’s over.
The wins aren’t the only catalyst for such strong classes. When Fisher took over in 2010, the Seminoles had a dearth of NFL talent, but last year, a record 11 Seminoles were drafted. As many as a dozen more could be selected this year. That has allowed recruits to see a clear path to the NFL, but it also has opened up opportunities for immediate playing time.
Last year, 14 of FSU’s 21 signees saw action, with three getting starting nods throughout the season. There figures to be even more room for new recruits this season.
With Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin departing, FSU’s receiving corps lacks much experience, but Florida State remains in on four receivers in the ESPN 300, including Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla.) and Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman).
The same is true on the offensive line, where all five projected 2014 starters are set to graduate at year’s end. The line has been one of the few areas FSU has struggled to land top recruits in past seasons, but the Seminoles already have commitments from six linemen heading into signing day.
But even in areas with ample competition, FSU is making headway. Fisher has commitments from two ESPN 300 quarterbacks, despite having the Heisman winner at the position already. He has been able to land that talent with a far different sales pitch today than the one he offered five years ago.
Florida State is no longer a place where recruits can come to rebuild a once-mighty program. It’s a place where the program can build recruits into stars.
“It’s way different,” Shaw said. “This year, it’s like, if you don’t want to be a part of this organization, it’s either you don’t want to compete or you don’t want to be a champion. We’ve set the bar to the limit.”
Of course, with the 2014 class waiting only for its finishing touches, Fisher isn’t easing up on his sales pitch.
The benefits of a national championship on the recruiting trail, he said, are only beginning.
“A lot of these relationships were built before the championship was won,” Fisher said. “It definitely helped cement where we’re going, where the program is going. But you’ll see this even more in the future.”