Florida State Seminoles: Sal Sunseri

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban will be in the awkward position of having to watch a football game rather than coach one on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. His Alabama Crimson Tide won't play for the VIZIO BCS National Championship, and instead will be forced to watch Florida State and Auburn do battle on center stage.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Nell RedmondFormer Nick Saban assistant Jimbo Fisher and former Saban recruit Jameis Winston are proof of the power of "The Process."
But don't weep for Saban and the Tide. Because whatever happens, Alabama benefits.

Should Auburn win, Saban can continue selling recruits on the SEC being the most dominant conference in college football. "Come play in the league with eight straight national titles," his pitch might go. "Come compete in a rivalry game with championship implications," he might say.

But if Florida State wins, Saban can sell something much simpler. "See Jimbo Fisher coaching out there? He was my offensive coordinator at LSU," he could say. "See Jeremy Pruitt leading the Noles defense? I took him from a high school assistant coach to an SEC defensive coordinator," he could flaunt. "Defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri? Offensive line coach Rick Trickett? Wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey? Yeah, those were all my guys at one point, too," he could add for good measure.

Saban's process of building and running a football program -- simply dubbed, "The Process" -- has caught hold at a number of programs around the country, but maybe none more so than at Florida State. The similarities between the two schools are staggering: both work out of a 3-4 base defense, both use mainly pro-style sets on offense, both have built through the trenches and both recruit like gangbusters. Even their focus and implementation of off-field physical and mental conditioning are similar as both have employed the services of sports 'mindset' expert Trevor Moawad and both try to stay on the cutting edge with programs like Catapult Sports.

"Jimbo has done a fantastic job," Saban said of his former assistant in late November. "I always thought Jimbo was one of the best coaches we've ever had to work with on any of our staffs. He did a fantastic job for us. I think he has done a fantastic job.

"If you look at the whole body of work and the way they beat people, they are arguably the best country right now. And they weren't when he went there. They made a significant improvement. He has done a very good job of recruiting and developing the players they do have in the program. They've played really, really well and improved each year he has been there."

Though the Noles may have the flashier quarterback and the higher profile today, Saban shouldn't let you -- or the nation's top recruits -- forget what got them there. Since Fisher took over, the two staffs and the two rosters have been heavily intertwined. Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy this year, signed with Florida State over Alabama in 2012. Amari Cooper, who was a Freshman All-American a season ago, signed with Alabama over Florida State in the same year. The list of prospects whose decisions have come down to the Tide and the Noles are too many to count.

It ultimately took three seasons of coaching, recruiting and staffing for Saban to reach his first championship game with Alabama. For Fisher, it took four seasons to get Florida State to the promised land.

Whichever team wins on Jan. 6, The Process, Saban and Alabama come out looking good.

Leonard adds to FSU's sizable DL class 

August, 13, 2013
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It took a little longer than expected, but Rick Leonard (Middletown, Md./Middletown) finally decided to commit to Florida State.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end had narrowed his list down to Clemson and Florida State following his camp sessions at each school in July. He originally was going to decide a week or two later, but it was a more difficult choice than he anticipated.

Given his size, it again signals a clear preference in Florida State's defensive line recruiting to target bigger prospects on the edge. And with his frame, it won't be hard for Leonard to put on a lot of weight.

2016 DE earns offer at FSU camp 

August, 6, 2013
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It's never too early to offer a recruit these days, especially after observing him in a camp setting.

Class of 2016 prospecct Chauncey Manac (Homerville, Ga./Clinch County) has been tearing it up on the camp circuit. And he added an offer from the Seminoles during his trip to Tallahassee for the Jimbo Fisher Camp after going through drills with defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.

"Great," he said. "He showed me a lot of techniques. There were a lot of new drills and stuff."

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Garrett Williams (Orlando, Fla./First Academy) is familiar with Florida State. Williams’ father Dayne played for FSU in the 1980s, so Garrett is familiar with campus.

But last week was his first chance to work with defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri in live action on the camp fields. And the four-star junior enjoyed all of it.


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Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 12 Mario Edwards Jr.

Position/Class: DE/So.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsMario Edwards Jr. gave a glimpse of his immense potential during the final two games of his freshman season.
What he's done: The consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation a year ago, Edwards arrived at Florida State with much fanfare -- and more than a few extra pounds. Pegged as a pass rusher, Edwards opened fall camp checking in at more than 300 pounds, and it was clear from the outset he wasn't ready to contribute to an already stacked defense. He was slated to redshirt -- much to his chagrin -- but when Brandon Jenkins was lost for the year with a foot injury, Edwards was given a reprieve. He saw minimal action through the next 11 games, but a second season-ending injury to a defensive end finally opened up a full-time job. Edwards started the ACC championship game and Orange Bowl and accounted for 10 tackles as FSU won both.

Where he's at: The strong finish to his 2012 campaign offered ample optimism, and when Jenkins, Cornellius Carradine and Bjoern Werner all headed to the NFL this offseason, Edwards became the de facto No. 1 pass rusher on the team. Still, his turn in spring practice wasn't entirely inspiring. He'd clearly shed some weight, but new ends coach Sal Sunseri wants more progress. He'd clearly learned the ropes a bit, but Sunseri still feels Edwards is relying too much on natural ability. But the bottom line remains that Edwards is both the most talented defensive end FSU has and a virtual lock for a starting job.

What's to come: This is the big question. Edwards' ceiling is immensely high, and he could easily blossom into one of the most feared defenders in the nation this season -- particularly with Sunseri and Jeremy Pruitt's prodding. Of course, Edwards' lack of preparation in advance of his freshman season, his occasional pouting after he was pushed down the depth chart, and his continued struggles with his weight are all red flags. But if motivation is the key, FSU appears to have the right staff in place -- from Sunseri to Edwards' father, Mario Sr. -- and there's no argument that he'll be heavily involved in the scheme in 2013. Where he goes from there is almost entirely up to him, but the odds are, even if he doesn't reach his potential, he'll still be pretty good.

Florida State has London calling 

June, 5, 2013
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Madre London (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas), a running back at a school that has been very good to the Seminoles over the last couple of years, is on the Florida State recruiting radar.

New defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri evaluated London's ability in person and came away impressed. Once the 6-foot-2, 202-pound London picked up the phone and called the staff, he learned just how impressed they were.


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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When the 2012 season ended, Mario Edwards Jr. was exactly where he'd expected to be, starting in the Orange Bowl with an eye toward the future, where he'd be anchoring Florida State's defensive line.

The path to get there though, never went quite according to plan.

"It was a bit of a roller coaster," Edwards said.

His first season at FSU hardly followed the script Edwards had envisioned when he left high school as the nation's No. 1 recruit, but it was a season filled with lessons he needed to learn before he could blossom into a star at the college level.

Edwards arrived in Tallahassee with plenty of hype and an impressive pedigree, but he hardly resembled the future star who'd received so much advanced billing. In high school, he earned raves for his rare combination of speed and size, but when fall camp arrived last season, he checked in at a massive 315 pounds and showed no signs of that quick first step. He'd assumed all the recruiting hype would be enough to secure a job, but with three future NFL draft picks ahead of him on the depth chart, FSU's coaching staff had little room for an overweight freshman.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards, Jr.
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMario Edwards Jr. had three tackles, two unassisted and one pass breakup in FSU's Orange Bowl win against Northern Illinois.
A week before Florida State's 2012 opener, Jimbo Fisher informed Edwards that he'd be redshirting. It was a blow to Edwards’ ego, who responded by skipping his first game altogether.

"It hit me, but then I couldn't blame anyone but myself," Edwards said. "I put myself behind the 8-ball coming in overweight, and I wasn't able to produce like they needed me to do because I was 315."

Edwards didn't have long to sulk. An injury to starting defensive end Brandon Jenkins put the freshman back in the mix.

"Jimbo called me in his office and said, 'Alright, bub, this is what you've been asking for -- now you've got it,'" Edwards said. "I knew then I had to get serious about what I was doing."

The opportunity offered some inspiration.

Edwards worked with strength coach Vic Viloria to improve his eating habits and adjust his exercise routine. His playing time was still minimal, but slowly he was beginning to resemble the player so many scouts had raved about during his high school days.

Throughout the season, Edwards shed more than 30 pounds, and when Cornellius Carradine went down with an ACL injury in the regular-season finale, he quickly made his case for the starting job.

"To end up starting the two biggest games -- the ACC [championship] and the Orange Bowl -- it was definitely really good," Edwards said.

Edwards held his own in those final two games, racking up 10 tackles as FSU's defensive front pounded Georgia Tech and Northern Illinois. It was a strong culmination of a frustrating year, but it was just the start of a much bigger role to come.

Jenkins and Carradine are both in NFL camps now, as is first round pick Bjoern Werner. What remains at defensive end for FSU is a crop of talented by inexperienced players with Edwards at the forefront.

"It's really amazing the talent that's here," new ends coach Sal Sunseri said. "They understand that there are three guys in the National Football League, and now it's their turn. So now they've got to come out and live up to that ability."

For Edwards, that means building on the lessons of 2012.

"He's finding out that with what I'm asking him to do, it's taxing and we've got to get him into better shape," Sunseri said. "I know it and everybody knows it and he knows it. He's going to fight through it and he's going to be good. He's got a lot of talent."

All that talent also means that the task of rebuilding FSU’s defensive line begins with Edwards.

Sitting the bench was never his plan as a freshman, but the experience offered him a chance to learn from the best.

"At the time I wasn't thinking about that, but then I started thinking, these are the top people in the nation," Edwards said. "I was top in the nation in high school but these are the top in college. I just took it as, learn from them and use it for next year."

It helps, too, that new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has implemented a scheme that fits Edwards' style perfectly.

"There's no more reading," Edwards said. "It's more just see it and go. More attack. I feel a little more comfortable."

That doesn't mean it's been easy. Edwards was one of Sunseri's favorite targets for criticism throughout the spring -- urging his star pupil to stop relying on his natural gifts and focus on becoming a more refined player.

It wasn't always easy to hear, but Edwards understood the message.

"Sal is definitely a firecracker," he said. "At any given moment, he can go off on you. But if he's on you and yelling at you, it's because he cares about you and he's trying to coach you for the player that you could be not the player that you are."

And Florida State will need Edwards to be something more than he was as a freshman when it opens the 2013 season. Werner and Carradine recorded 24 sacks between them in 2012 -- more than any duo in the nation -- while anchoring FSU's third-ranked run defense. Replacing the production is a tall order, even for a once-prized recruit.

But if last season taught Edwards anything, it's that success at this level isn't supposed to come easily, but the biggest tests are worth the work.

"I don't like to think of it as pressure," Edwards said. "I like to think of it as a challenge, and I like challenges. It's big shoes to fill, but I think I'll be able to do it."
Just beyond the Florida-Georgia line from Tallahassee there resides one of the more famous South Georgia programs. And within that program is Austin Bryant (Thomasville, Ga./Thomas County Central), a 2015 linebacker who could be the next Yellow Jackets star.


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FSU notes: New voices open spring

March, 20, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State's first practice of the spring Wednesday offered few similarities to the way the 2012 season concluded.

A wealth of players have moved on, though Menelik Watson still mixed with his former teammates on the offensive line as Bobby Hart worked at his old position with the first-team offense. Thanks to construction of the new indoor practice facility, even the surroundings were off. But the biggest difference was the raised voices of a bevy of new coaches running through drills that resembled those led by Mark Stoops and James Coley a year ago, but now came with a distinctly new tenor.

Jimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJimbo Fisher's new staff members gave the Seminoles' first spring practice a different feel.
"They're a little in shell shock right now," said new defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri. "They're probably in there saying, 'Boy, the man is crazy.' But I want them to think that."

Sunseri was perhaps the most vocal of the new coaches, but there was plenty of volume to go around. New quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders helped Jimbo Fisher corral four candidates vying for the starting job. Charles Kelly, Jay Graham and Tim Brewster barked at their position groups, and Jeremy Pruitt commanded his first practice as a college coordinator.

For all the changes, however, Fisher said the day went smoothly.

"Most of those guys know the tempo of what we do in practice, how we practice, so it really wasn't that big a change," Fisher said. "It's the same tempo of practice, but they may emphasize a different individual drill, add a call or two, just the verbiage. Some of the new stuff was a little different."

Considering the mass of walk-ons, a bevy of players adjusting to new roles and the rust that comes from nearly three months without an official, organized practice, there was still a few moments of chaos -- P.J. Williams caught grief for not wearing his helmet, Giorgio Newberry heard an earful following a misstep during a drill -- and the assignments weren't entirely sharp. That's to be expected on Day 1, Sunseri said, but it's not exactly tolerated.

"The kids are open, they're listening -- and I'm going to ride them," Sunseri said. "I'm going to ride them because it's not easy to do what we're asking them to do."

The hope is things progress quickly as Fisher and his new assistants install more of FSU's offense and defense for Day 2 of practices Thursday. But as starting points go, Fisher said, Wednesday's work was encouraging.

"It's never where you want it to be on the first day, but I'm not displeased at all," Fisher said.

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Walker has shot at big role for Noles 

March, 20, 2013
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The group of early enrollees that stepped onto Florida State's campus in January consisted of just two players -- excluding the medically disqualified Richy Klepal. DeMarcus Walker and Freddie Stevenson got their lockers, staked out their freshman dorm rooms and entered the Seminoles’ strength and conditioning program.


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Noles 2013 snapshot: Davarez Bryant 

March, 6, 2013
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Now that national signing day is behind us, NoleNation takes a closer look at the next crop of Seminoles.

Vitals: Defensive end Davarez Bryant (New Smyrna Beach, Fla./New Smyrna Beach), 6-foot-4, 245 pounds


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Has Fisher found his quarterback? 

February, 22, 2013
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Florida State has likely found its top target at quarterback for the Class of 2014.


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Yeargin adds in-state offers 

February, 20, 2013
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The offers keep filing in for Richard Yeargin III (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Cardinal Gibbons).

Florida, Georgia Tech, Marshall and Tennessee have all come in the last couple of days, and on Wednesday, Florida State added its name to the list for the 6-foot-4, 210-pound linebacker. But that hardly caught him by surprise.


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Chance Sorrell has two teams on top 

February, 19, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Chance Sorrell's (Middletown, Ohio/Middletown) trip to Florida State on Saturday probably wasn't a comfortable ride.

The giant 6-foot-5, 225-pound 2014 tight end and his family elected to go the road trip route instead of flying. But Sorrell said it was worth it.


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McClain nearly commits on visit 

February, 17, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) nearly made his declaration on Saturday.


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