Florida State Seminoles: ermon lane
So far, we’ve looked at Jameis Winston’s second act, Karlos Williams’ emergence, transitions on the defensive front and the spring’s breakout stars.
Last up: What will be the biggest question mark still lingering for Florida State once spring practice ends?
Jared Shanker says the potential for complacency could haunt FSU throughout the summer.
JS: There is no question Florida State has the talent to repeat. Barring anything unforeseen, the Seminoles will be the preseason No. 1 team, and quite possibly a unanimous selection. The Heisman winner returns and is in his third year in the program, and outside of mentor Nick Saban no coach has recruited better than Jimbo Fisher since 2010.
Sure the Noles lose key skill players on offense and arguably their best player at every level of the defense, but Florida State has established itself as a reload-not-rebuild type of program. Questions at receiver, defensive tackle and linebacker are not going to be completely settled by the end of spring practice, but the biggest question mark will be whether the Noles carry that same hunger into 2014 as they did a season ago.
Florida State has the talent to go 12-0, win another ACC title and go wire-to-wire as No. 1 through the regular season and playoffs. For the next nine months, the Noles will need to look in the mirror and honestly assess their effort, because what ultimately could derail FSU’s chances at a repeat is itself.
David Hale wonders how the receiving corps will fill out in fall camp.
DH: Entering spring practice, the biggest question in my mind is on the defensive line, where the absence of Timmy Jernigan means a major hole for Florida State to fill. But there are solid options in Nile Lawrence-Stample, Desmond Hollin, Keith Bryant, Justin Shanks and Derrick Mitchell -- all of whom will be competing for reps this spring. We may not have a definitive answer there when it’s all over, but we’ll have a better idea of what the Seminoles have to work with.
The second biggest question I have entering the spring is at receiver, where Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin are moving on to the NFL, taking 43 percent of Winston’s 2013 targets with them. Who’s going to fill that void? Unlike at defensive tackle, there’s virtually no chance we’ll have a definitive answer to that question by the time FSU wraps up its Garnet and Gold game.
Yes, we’ll get a better look at last year’s new arrivals. Kermit Whitfield has the speed to be a star (and after his kick return in the title game, he might already be one), but can he be as reliable in the slot as Shaw? Will Jesus Wilson or Isaiah Jones (five combined catches last season) step up as a reliable option on the outside? Can Christian Green or Jarred Haggins break through as seniors? Will Nick O'Leary play more of a role as a receiver as FSU employs more two-tight end sets? (For what it’s worth, Fisher said he’d like to see O’Leary get 40 to 50 catches in 2014.)
Even if Florida State finds answers to all those questions this spring, the most intriguing options in the receiving corps don’t arrive until the fall. FSU inked three ESPN 300 receivers on national signing day -- Ja'Von Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph -- who will bring a massive talent influx to the depth chart. All are in the 6-foot-1 to 6-2 range, adding some height to a receiving corps that, for the first time since Fisher arrived, lacks a true big man. All have ample ability to blossom quickly, though receivers tend to have among the hardest times adjusting from high school to college. In other words, the big mystery at the position is tabled until the fall, which is why I expect it will be one of the hottest talking points among FSU fans throughout the summer.
While many of the Seminoles’ top players will return to Doak Campbell Stadium this fall, graduation, early departures and transfers have left coach Jimbo Fisher searching for answers at a handful of positions. There is talent and depth across the board, but the FSU staff is hoping key replacements emerge this spring before being thrust into pivotal roles in the fall.
Position: Receiver (Z)
Replacing: Kelvin Benjamin
Candidates: Jesus Wilson, Christian Green, Jarred Haggins and Isaiah Jones
A potential first-round pick, it will be tough for Florida State to replace the size and speed combination of Benjamin. While the Noles have a few playmakers at receiver, they lack another option with similar physical tools (6-foot-5, 234 pounds) coupled with the consistent production (54 receptions, 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns) of Benjamin. When Florida State needed a play late in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, it looked to Benjamin to outmuscle and outjump the Auburn defense in the red zone.
Green, at 6-2, and 200 pounds, has a physical presence about him, but the senior took a step back in 2013. If there is a player on the roster this spring who could be the next Benjamin, it could be the sophomore Jones. The 6-4, 200-pound receiver played sparingly as a freshman but was a top-20 receiver nationally coming out of high school. Like Benjamin, Jones is not a burner but is a “big guy who has a noticeable second gear,” his RecruitingNation scouting report states.
The “Z” receiver in the offense is usually not a player with the type of physical gifts Benjamin possesses, however, which could make it somewhat easier to replace him. The Z receiver, or flanker, is generally lined up off the line of scrimmage, which makes for an easier release off the line of scrimmage by avoiding a jam from the cornerback. Benjamin’s backup in 2013 was Wilson, a 5-9, 177-pound freshman. Haggins is 6-0 and 193 pounds, and he is coming off a knee injury that cost him all of 2013.
In all likelihood, Fisher will have a player at the top of the depth chart by the end of the spring, but the receiver position opposite Rashad Greene will not be settled until August. No program might have signed a better receiver class this past February than Florida State, which landed three ESPN 300 prospects at the position.
Among them is Ermon Lane, the No. 2 receiver in the country. When the 6-2, 196-pound Lane enrolls this summer, he will immediately become one of the names to watch in preseason camp. Fellow ESPN 300 receivers Travis Rudolph (6-1, 188) and Ja'Von Harrison (6-1, 190) have similar builds and high school credentials.
We’ve already looked at DT Demarcus Christmas.
Next up: Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison.
The need: Winston benefited from a small but veteran group of receivers in 2013, connecting routinely with Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw -- all of whom finished with at least 930 yards and 50 catches. In 2014, however, Greene is the only holdover of the group. Shaw was a wizard in the slot, averaging better than 17 yards per catch. Benjamin was a rare mix of size (6-5) and speed who was adept at grabbing jump balls and turning them into big plays.
The competition: FSU has two returning veteran receivers, but neither has done much in the past two seasons. Redshirt senior Jarred Haggins missed all of 2013 with a knee injury, and it remains to be seen how much he’ll participate in spring drills. Christian Green showed plenty of promise with 26 catches as a redshirt freshman in 2011, but he has just 16 receptions in the past two years combined. The real depth might come from last year’s signing class, led by speedster Kermit Whitfield. Tight end Nick O'Leary also figures to carry a larger load in the passing game in 2014.
The prediction: The expectations are immense for all three new members of FSU’s receiving corps, but it’s worth remembering that receivers often take time to develop, and there will be only so many balls to go around. Odds are at least one member of the trio finds a sizable role this season, while the others get their feet wet and, ideally, show good progress as the season continues. That’s how Fisher played it with last season's trio of receivers, but the needs figure to be bigger and the talent level better for this year’s incoming freshmen. None project to match Benjamin’s big-play ability, but if Lane, Rudolph and Harrison can combine to offer something close in Year 1, FSU will be pleased.
This week, we’ll look at the five position groups with the biggest question marks looming in advance of spring practice.
Next up: Receivers
Projected starters: Rashad Greene (Sr.), Christian Green (RS Sr.), Kermit Whitfield (So.).
Greene’s decision to return for his senior season was crucial for Florida State. He has led the Seminoles in receiving each of his three years in Tallahassee, and he was Winston’s most reliable target in 2013, catching 76 passes (second most in school history) for 1,128 yards. The problem is, there’s not much in the way of established talent surrounding Greene. Whitfield figures to be a suitable replacement for Kenny Shaw in the slot, and he showed ample gamebreaking ability in the return game in 2013. Finding someone to step in for the departed Kelvin Benjamin, however, remains a far bigger question mark.
Strength in numbers: Jarred Haggins (RS Sr.), Jesus Wilson (So.), Isaiah Jones (So.).
Haggins’ return at least provides some veteran depth for a group that has little in the way of experience, but coming off a season-ending knee injury, Haggins hasn’t caught a pass since the 2012 ACC title game. Wilson and Jones each got a taste of action last season, but both have plenty of growing still to do.
New on the scene: Travis Rudolph (Fr.), Ermon Lane (Fr.), Ja'Von Harrison (Fr.).
Florida State might have landed the best recruiting class at wide receiver in the nation, with Rudolph, Lane and Harrison all making the ESPN 300. It wouldn’t be a shock if all three freshmen make an instant impact, and given the lack of depth at the position currently on the roster, all will surely get a chance to prove they deserve playing time.
What to watch: FSU fans won’t get a glimpse of the super trio of freshmen until fall camp, which puts the spring focus squarely on last year’s class. It’s not uncommon for a receiver to make a big leap developmentally from Year 1 to Year 2, and Wilson and Jones certainly have the talent to do so. Whitfield is electric, but it remains to be seen if he can use his world-class speed as well at receiver as he did in the return game. Green is an intriguing figure this spring, too. After a solid 2011 season, he’s all but disappeared from the offense the past two years, and he could find himself behind the youngsters on the depth chart in 2014, too, if he doesn’t turn in a solid spring.
The plan comes as a surprise to many outsiders, given Winston’s status as a likely first round pick in the 2015 draft -- and, perhaps, the first selection overall. But for Winston, it’s not entirely unreasonable.
Winston will take a similar approach toward his decision regarding the NFL draft. Baseball remains a priority for him, and if staying through the 2015 football season allows him to continue to develop on the diamond, it’s entirely possible he’ll stick around. And for now, that appears to be the plan.
But what would it mean for FSU to have Winston in garnet and gold for an extra year? A few key points to keep in mind:
The depth chart
If Winston planned to leave for the NFL as soon as he’s eligible, that would’ve meant a chance for Jacob Coker to start for Florida State in 2015, but clearly that possibility wasn’t enough to keep him in Tallahassee. Coker plans to transfer to Alabama at the end of this semester, and given Winston’s plans to stick around for two more years, Fisher understood Coker’s rationale.
"He wants to graduate and he wants to play. He's got two years left and he's a year behind Jameis. Could he battle again? Yes. But I understand,” Fisher said. “I’m very supportive of it. I think the guy is a good player. I think he's going to be a good quarterback and we had a great conversation about it.”
Should Winston stay, it also makes FSU’s one-quarterback haul on signing day a little easier to tolerate. Treon Harris, a longtime FSU commit, flipped to Florida on Wednesday, leaving J.J. Cosentino as Florida State’s lone QB signing. That might be a concern if Winston departs following the 2014 season, but another year for the Heisman winner allows FSU to pad its QB depth with next year’s recruiting class, too.
While Sean Maguire likely will be the No. 2 for Florida State in 2014 and 2015, Cosentino also gets an extra year to develop his skills, too, and Fisher said the QB from Western Pennsylvania has ample upside when his time finally arrives.
The recruiting buzz
Winston’s plans to stay through 2015 actually might have hurt Florida State’s hopes of inking two quarterbacks in this year’s signing class, but just the notion that the star QB will be in Tallahassee for two more seasons is certainly a big selling point for other offensive talent.
FSU already inked three top receivers this year in Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison, along with highly touted running back Dalvin Cook. The opportunity to spend two years playing with Winston was certainly alluring.
But even the notion that Winston might be back for 2015 provides Fisher with another selling point on the recruiting trail this coming year. If Class of 2015 recruits believe he’ll be around for their freshman season, it’s one more reason to think FSU is a great landing spot.
“I also think getting them here and getting them to play with him is tremendous, especially when we have a need at that position,” Fisher said of his wide receiver recruiting. “Those guys have a chance to make an impact and be able to play with him.”
The 2015 season
Winston’s return for his redshirt junior campaign would mean a lot to a Florida State offense that figures to endure a massive overhaul in 2015. Of the 10 other projected offensive starters this season, as many as nine figure to be gone in 2015, including the entirety of the offensive line.
That’s perhaps a reason for Winston to reconsider his plan moving forward. While his talent and football acumen certainly won’t diminish with an extra year in college, the risk of injury is a real concern, and with five new starters on the offensive line in 2015, the potential for an injury diminishing his draft stock becomes all the more likely.
But if Winston does come back in 2015, it allows for some stability for an offense that will be saying goodbye to Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams, among others.
The problem with all this supposition about Winston’s future is that he’s still 11 months away from having to commit to any definitive decision, and a lot can happen in that time. While Winston might be completely sincere in his plan to stay through 2015 now, the lure of first round money in the NFL and the risk of spending another year playing two sports in college could certainly change his mind. If he does, FSU is still in good shape with Maguire and Cosentino. If he doesn't, the Seminoles fans get an extra year with a once-in-a-lifetime player.
At this point, there’s no reason for Winston to offer any possibility other than his stated commitment to remain at Florida State. But what Winston and Fisher believe today doesn’t matter all that much. If his plans haven’t changed by January 2015, however, it’s an enormous boon for Florida State.
The ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off once again. And with that, the Class of 2014 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners but also some losers on national signing day. Here is a look at a few schools that excelled -- and a couple others that didn't.
LSU: The Tigers began the day at No. 3 in the RecruitingNation class rankings and ended with 2014's No. 2 class. The reason is simple: Les Miles and staff got the prospect they had to have in the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). The Tigers lost both Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson to the NFL, making defensive tackle a key position of need, and they inked a pair of talented tackles in ESPN 300 Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnant Catholic) and four-star Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren). Under the radar but significant is three-star defensive end Sione Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller), who flipped from Texas to LSU. Teuhema’s younger brother Maea Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller) is the No. 38 junior in the ESPN Junior 300 and has pledged to LSU as well. Holding off Auburn and UCLA to keep ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine) was another win on Wednesday.
Florida State: The Seminoles entered signing day with the No. 4-ranked class but were poised to close with a vengeance, and Jimbo Fisher and staff did just that. While the Seminoles moved up only one spot to No. 3, the hits on Wednesday are significant. Leading the way was No. 2-ranked wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead). The Noles weren’t done at receiver either, as Fisher and staff flipped Virginia Tech commit and No. 117 overall Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen). No. 158 Roderick Johnson (Saint Louis, Mo./Hazelwood Central) and No. 253 Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) were key gets at offensive tackle and defensive tackle, respectively. Three-star offensive tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden) was another key win over rival Florida.
USC: The Trojans stood to have a big signing day, and Steve Sarkisian and staff certainly delivered. Not only did USC win the hotly contested battle for five-star athlete Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), but the Trojans won the race for ESPN 300 No. 24 Juju Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and signed No. 67 overall Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) as expected. More than the names and rankings, Wednesday was a huge perception win for the Trojans and Sarkisian. USC jumped to No. 14 from No. 24 in the RecruitingNation class rankings.
Georgia: The Bulldogs didn’t have a big day in terms of number of commits, but quality ruled the day. Mark Richt and staff signed the player they had to have in five-star outside linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross). While Carter’s announcement was the big one Wednesday afternoon, the morning started off with a bang for Georgia with the signing of No. 286 overall Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), who was first offered on Monday and never even visited Athens. Those two big signings kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 at No. 9.
South Carolina: One of the big movers in the class rankings on Wednesday was the Gamecocks. Not only did South Carolina make a jump from No. 27 to No. 19 throughout the day, but the Gamecocks also addressed major areas of need. Steve Spurrier and staff had key areas of need at cornerback and along the defensive front, and they delivered by picking up a pair of ESPN 300 corners in No. 87 overall Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and No. 120 Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King), as well as flipping ESPN 300 defensive tackle Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and three-star defensive end Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. Fighting off the late January runs by Alabama and Georgia for ESPN 300 linebacker commit Bryson Allen-Williams (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove) has to be included in the huge wins in recent days.
Kentucky: Sure, Kentucky plucked only one key target on Wednesday in three-star former Vanderbilt and Penn State defensive end commit Lloyd Tubman (Louisville, Ky./Seneca), but it was still a huge day at the finish line for the Wildcats. The 2014 class marks the first time in the nine years that ESPN has ranked recruiting classes that the Wildcats have finished with a top 25 class, and that includes a big win over Alabama for in-state four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin). Signing six defensive backs fills a huge need as well.
Michigan State: The Spartans had a near dream season on the field, and followed it up by closing strong in recruiting. Not only did Michigan State jump nine spots in the class rankings from No. 38 to No. 29 on Wednesday, but it did so while filling a big need on the defensive front with big-time talent. ESPN 300 defensive end Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) was a big win over Ohio State, Florida State and Michigan, while flipping four-star defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) from Wisconsin earlier in the week was another huge win for the Spartans.
Pac-12: The conference as a whole was quite possibly the big winner on signing day. Of the 13 live commitments on ESPNU throughout the morning and afternoon, seven committed and signed with Pac-12 programs. The winner within the Pac-12 was USC, but Stanford also enjoyed a big day with No. 25 overall Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) and three-star corner Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian).
UCLA: Along with USC and South Carolina, the UCLA Bruins came into today with the most to gain. While Jim Mora and staff scored with four-star linebacker Kenny Young (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), it was mostly misses throughout the day. Jackson and Smith picked crosstown rival USC, while Dupre opted for home-state LSU. At defensive end, the Bruins missed out twice on Wednesday with Thomas selecting Stanford and Godchaux sticking with LSU. And finally, No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) stayed in state by picking Alabama over Auburn.
Ole Miss: It’s difficult to place the Rebels' No. 17 class with the losers on signing day, but that was the case in Oxford, Miss. Not only did Ole Miss drop a spot in the class rankings, but it also came up dry with explosive ESPN 300 receiver and return man Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), after Hugh Freeze and staff worked the Under Armour All-America Game standout all the way up until Wednesday morning before McKenzie announced for Georgia. While Dupre was a long shot, he was yet another prospect who went elsewhere. The Rebels also lost out on Alexander, who selected Stanford over Notre Dame. The bright spot for the Rebels on Wednesday was signing former Notre Dame transfer and No. 22 in the ESPN JC 50, Tee Shepard
Signing day is known for the crazy. Condense an entire college football season into 12 hours and that offers a glimpse -- albeit minimally -- into the first Wednesday of February.
It began with ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), arms folded and chest out, announcing his intention to sign with Michigan State. His intention to sign. A glare from his parents and whispers in the gym let it be known this saga was not going to end at 10 a.m. in front of a microphone.
Both of McDowell’s parents would like to see their son, No. 60 in the ESPN 300, at any school in his top four not nicknamed the Spartans. Florida State is among those finalists, and several predicted the Seminoles would land McDowell considering his parents' distaste for all things Green. So Jimbo Fisher and those inside Doak Campbell are keeping the fax machine plugged in, offering a few more hours' respite from the storage closet for the condemned technology.
Ultimately, McDowell, whether of his own volition or executing his parents’ will, did not fax a letter of intent to Michigan State as of 8:00 p.m. ET, and the Noles finished signing day with the No. 3 class sans another elite lineman.
Compared to the McDowell drama, the rest of the morning was tame for the ACC. There were some tense moments, but signing day pretty much went the way most expected.
Florida State was involved with a handful of signing day flips, but none that caught the Noles’ staff off-guard. No. 7 dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) switched to Florida and Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) signed with South Carolina, but the Noles flipped Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen), No. 117 in the ESPN 300. Harrison was committed to Virginia Tech for 18 months before his signing day change of heart. Harrison, ranked as an athlete, finalized what could be the best receiver class in the country. It was one of the best classes nationally, too.
“We’ve had large numbers this year, got needs all the way across the board and filled it with great players and everyone position across the board we had somebody in,” Jimbo Fisher said at his signing day news conference. “We were excited about that.”
Miami’s flipping efforts went for naught, but it prevented one of its own from changing allegiances. Local defensive end Chad Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington), ranked No. 3 among Hurricanes commits, took late official visits to Alabama and Florida State. There was some panic from fans when Thomas’ fax did not roll through exactly at 9 a.m., but Canes coach Al Golden said Thomas’ mother reassured him the 65th-ranked player in the country would stay near South Beach.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would scoff at the claim FSU has the best receiver class. The Noles received the signing day pats on the back for landing No. 2 receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) and Harrison on Wednesday while the Tigers had three four-star receivers already on campus. ESPN 300 receivers Demarre Kitt (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek), Artavis Scott (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) and four-star Kyrin Priester (Snellville, Ga./Fork Union) enrolled in early January. ESPN 300 receiver Trevion Thompson (Durham, N.C./Hillside) signed Wednesday.
“It was a critical need for us ... and we are excited about all four,” Swinney said at his signing day news conference.
Mike London had a quiet signing day in his Charlottesville office, but that is all he could have hoped for following a winless ACC campaign. The Virginia coach did most of his 2014 recruiting work before the 2013 season, and he was able to secure the signatures of five-star Quin Blanding (Virginia Beach, Va./Bayside) and ESPN 300 recruits Jeff Farrar (Upland, Calif./Upland), Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan) and Steven Moss (Fredericksburg, Va./Chancellor High).
“Obviously keeping the class was important when the season didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to ... but the in-state kids wanted to play together and build a brand together,” London said on the ESPNU signing day telecast.
While the day was quiet for Duke, it was still most the shocking signing day Durham has ever seen. The Blue Devils, coming off a 10-win season and an ACC title game, signed its first ESPN 300 recruit and four four-star recruits overall. Between 2010 and 2013, Duke signed only one four-star prospect -- a kicker.
While the ACC did not touch the SEC in the number of teams toward the top of the class rankings, for the most part the conference as a whole improved, and Florida State went a long way in challenging Alabama to become college football’s next dynasty.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The words were likely the same as the ones spoken by every other coach in the country, Jimbo Fisher was quick to admit Wednesday, but that didn’t make them any less true.
The Seminoles inked at least one player in every position group -- and a long snapper to boot -- with Fisher heaping praise on each one.
“The first thing is you need the ingredients to bake the cake,” Fisher said. “We have the ingredients.”
The class wasn’t the most high-profile. While Florida State did nab 13 ESPN 300 prospects and two more top junior-college transfers, it didn’t rack up a heaping quantity of five-star studs like Alabama did. The Seminoles grabbed some prized late additions, too, but also lost QB Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) and defensive lineman Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda), both longtime commits. But it was the grunt work on players such as Christmas that had Fisher so excited about the future Wednesday.
“If Christmas would have gone to [more] camps, he would be been the No. 1 or 2 player in the whole country,” Fisher said. “Everybody we asked, the first guy to come out of their mouth was [Christmas]. ‘That's the best football player we've played against in 10 years.’ Everybody. I never had so many coaches tell me he was the best player. Even coaches from Miami and the players in Miami. When guys in Miami give you credit, they don't give nobody credit.”
The same was true at quarterback, where Fisher spent his time raving about J.J. Cosentino (Pittsburgh/Central Catholic) rather than lament the loss of Harris. The 6-foot-4 QB from western Pennsylvania could wind up the heir apparent to Jameis Winston in a year -- or two years, as Fisher optimistically projected Wednesday -- and might already have the best arm of anyone on Florida State’s roster.
Highly touted running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) is already enrolled, but Fisher raved Wednesday about the versatility of three-star prospect Jonathan Vickers (Tallahassee, Fla./North Florida Christian). Rudolph and Lane were two of the top six receivers in the nation, but Fisher heaped praise on Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen), too.
“He has a ton of juice,” Fisher said. “He can accelerate. He can make you miss. He can punt return, play defense, blocks very well. He has great length, size. I think Ja’Von has a big-time future.”
Florida State wrapped up the day with the No. 3 class in the country, the fifth time in as many years Fisher has nabbed a top-10 class. But Fisher wasn’t concerned with the final ranking.
“There's not a guy in here, even from a size standpoint, I don’t think will have a great future,” Fisher said. “Tremendous."
In one of the worst-kept secrets of signing day 2014, No. 2 wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) signed with Florida State on Wednesday. An official visit to Tallahassee this past weekend, the only visit he took since decommitting from Florida, sealed the deal for Lane, who is ranked No. 22 overall in the ESPN 300.
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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.”
Biggest commitment: Miami needed some good news on the recruiting trail after a series of decommitments in January, and they received it when David Njoku (Cedar Grove, N.J./Cedar Grove) committed. The receiver/tight end decommitted from Rutgers during the season and began receiving interest from several schools late in the process, and he took a late official visit to Ohio State after it offered. Njoku decided to commit to Miami, which was on him the hardest.
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Signing day is now officially less than a week away. Recruits can make their final visits to colleges this weekend, and then beginning Monday there will be no more in-person contact between coaches and recruits. So coaches better make these last visits count.
Here are the 10 biggest visits affecting ACC teams this weekend, although this late to signing day there is always a potential for a change of plans or cancellation.
1. WR Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis)
Florida State is feeling confident, but the Noles probably were hoping to get Dupre, No. 17 in the ESPN 300, for his last visit. Instead he visited Ole Miss during the middle of this week and now goes to UCLA. The Noles would have preferred to turn this into a FSU-LSU battle, but these last two visits could really muddy the waters for the nation’s top-ranked receiver.
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National signing day is one week away, so this is the time of the year when schools hope to be trending up in the class rankings. As the final elite uncommitted prospects wrestle with decisions, another highly-rated recruit picking a particular school could influence others to do the same.
Momentum works both ways, and any bad news could snowball in the final few hours.
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Signing day is just 10 days away and this past weekend was one of the last times that coaches could get prospective student-athletes on campus. There were a handful of commitments and official visits from some of the nation’s premier prospects.
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Hamilton Talks Bojanovsky
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35