Wednesday, February 6, 2013
FSU salvages solid class despite shakeups
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher has spent the past two months selling his program to a class he couldn't have known would come together so well in the end. Amid chaos in the coaching staff and a bevy of last-minute shifts, Fisher was the man in the middle of the action, assuring his 2013 commitments that the program was in good hands, and their futures remained bright at Florida State.
When the dust settled, Fisher beamed.
The Noles highlight of signing day might have been when the nation's No. 1-ranked linebacker, Matthew Thomas, announced he'd join the class.
"It think it was a great day," he said after Wednesday's final letter of intent came across the fax machine. "I'm very proud of our class. We hit a little bit of every position throughout the whole class."
This wasn't another sales pitch. This was as honest an evaluation of Florida State's take on national signing day as Fisher could muster.
No, FSU didn't hold together the entirety of the class it had assembled before six assistant coaches left for greener pastures. Yes, Fisher lost out on some key battles for recruits. Some needs were met, others fell a bit short.
But after a whirlwind six weeks in which Fisher was both assembling a staff and a recruiting class, sometimes nearly singlehandedly, the end result was about as good as he could have hoped for.
Florida State landed 22 players -- though offensive lineman Richy Klepal isn't expected to play for the team for medical reasons -- and ended the afternoon with ESPN's No. 9 overall signing class.
The day's highlights included a late commitment from the nation's top linebacker, Matthew Thomas, who announced his decision on national TV and faxed in his letter of intent shortly afterward. Thomas could be an instant impact player, and he heads up a list of five linebackers FSU landed, filling a huge need.
"I was very happy with that," Fisher said. "We got Matthew, but the other guys ... we're very excited to be able to get those guys. It's a really good group of young linebackers, and that was a group we needed to get."
Another signing day surprise came in the form of highly regarded defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who was on the fence until Monday before letting Fisher know he was headed to FSU.
Ramsey's signing, along with several others, was largely a product of the arrival of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who was also integral in landing a few other additions that weren't initially on the Seminoles' radar.
Wilson Bell's wasn't the day's biggest news by any stretch, but the late commitment from the 305-pound offensive lineman finally offered some relief after FSU came up short with two of its top targets at tackle, Austin Golson and Denver Kirkland. The class still fell short of expectations among offensive linemen, but Fisher said the additions the Seminoles made Wednesday -- including guard Ira Denson -- were good ones.
"There's never enough big guys, but I thought the three guys we got were very good players," Fisher said. "But I don't think we ever have enough big guys."
Fisher raved about running back Ryan Green, suggesting he could have an immediate role on offense. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker, another player swayed by Pruitt, is already enrolled, but Fisher said the early returns have been impressive. Tight end Jeremy Kerr and QB John Franklin could be candidates for a position swap down the line, but Fisher said both will stay put for now.
The final letter of intent of the day came from linebacker E.J. Levenberry, who had long been a commitment under the old regime, then wavered in recent days. On Tuesday, he said he'd be sticking with FSU, but it was mid-afternoon before the letter finally found its way to Fisher.
It was, in a way, an apt metaphor for this class. There was stress right up until the end, but the final results proved there was no need for panic.
"I sweat them until I get them all," Fisher said. "At the end, any little thing can, when you're under pressure -- when you're 17 years old, you have a lot of heat. ... On signing day, nothing is out of the ordinary, so I sweat until I get that final fax."