Florida State Seminoles: Marvin Bracy
It's the latest in what seems like a daily addition to the injury report for the Seminoles passing attack.
"We don't need nobody [hurt]," Jimbo Fisher said afterward, "but it's part of camp."
It's a part of camp Florida State has become all too familiar with of late. The receiving corps figured to be among the deepest areas of the Seminoles' roster just a few months ago, but one by one the depth chart has been pared down, and only a few veterans and a trio of untested rookies remain.
The good news is that Greene's injury appears minor. Fisher said the finger wasn't broken, and he expected Greene to return to practice in a few days. The bad news is that, even with Greene, Florida State has just three receivers on its roster who recorded more than three catches last season.
The casualties thus far include seniors Greg Dent, who is suspended indefinitely after an offseason arrest on sexual assault charges, Willie Haulstead -- who didn't qualify academically -- and Jarred Haggins, who is out with a fractured knee. Freshman Marvin Bracy also departed the program to pursue a track career. To make matters worse, three of the four tight ends FSU had on its roster last season have left the program or are done for the season with an injury.
Nine of the 16 Seminoles who caught a pass in 2012 won't see the field in 2013.
"It's a big deal experience-wise," Fisher said. "You always want that experience because that's the thing you can't simulate. You've got to go through those situations."
Greene and Kenny Shaw figure to pick up some of the slack. The pair combined for 90 catches and nearly 1,300 yards last season and have made a point to show the younger receivers how it's done.
"We've put an emphasis on them watching what we do when we go with the ones," Shaw said. "We tell them just to watch, because usually we're doing the right things."
But the two veterans can't be expected to carry the entire load, and further down the depth chart there are plenty of questions.
Start with Kelvin Benjamin, who has been pegged as a future star for two straight seasons without living up to the hype. He opened last year strong, but his final five games produced just seven catches, 52 yards and no touchdowns.
Benjamin insists he's finally turned a corner. He stuck around Tallahassee all summer, working out twice a day to shed excess weight. He's dropped 15 pounds from his 2012 playing weight and is checking in at just 8 percent body fat.
"I feel like I'm jumping higher, coming out of my breaks faster," Benjamin said. "I feel much better."
Benjamin's potential is obvious, but for junior Christian Green, his future is something of a mystery. He flourished as a redshirt freshman in 2011, finishing third on the team with 450 yards receiving on a shaky offense. He all but disappeared last season, though, catching only three passes. That won't suffice this season.
"He needs to get back in that flow," Fisher said. "He had a chance to make some plays [in the scrimmage] and made some. He had a good year two years ago, and hopefully he comes back to the same level -- and I think better."
Fisher inked three receivers in this year's signing class, and all three have made strong first impressions. Levonte Whitfield has world-class speed and could easily fill the role Fisher had expected Bracy to play, running reverses, working in the slot and helping on special teams. Jesus Wilson was the star of the summer, earning rave reviews from teammates on both sides of the ball. He worked extensively on the field and in the weight room with Greene and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, and both admit to being fans. Isaiah Jones might need the most work of the trio, but at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, he's also the biggest.
Fisher has praised the group throughout camp, though he admitted Monday he was beginning to see signs of fatigue.
"You can see it's starting to wear on them a little bit," he said. "They did some good things, but had a couple mental muffs when they got tired that they have to learn to grind through."
Ups and downs from freshmen are be a fact of life, but a big season from at least one of them wouldn't be unprecedented. Greene led the team in receiving as a true freshman just two seasons ago, and this group should have a much better supporting cast.
"I'll just be honest with them," Greene said. "The opportunity is here. It's our job to help you out, but you also have to let us know when you need help, and they're doing a fantastic job with that."
That opportunity extends all the way down the depth chart. Greene has been Florida State's best receiver for two straight seasons, but he'll need more consistent production this season. Benjamin has star potential, but he needs to deliver the results. The freshmen can make an impact, but they'll need to avoid the growing pains.
The pressure is higher on those who remain, but Benjamin insists they're ready for the opportunity.
"Losing players that were going to be a big factor in the offense, we need to bring it," Benjamin said. "Every practice we're going to go hard, trying to be dominant, be elite."
He's good, the ranking suggests, but he's not elite.
The argument is easy enough to make, since Greene finished 16th in the ACC in receiving yards last season, averaging just 53 yards per game. His numbers have been the best Florida State could offer in each of his two seasons with the Seminoles, but they're hardly enough to stand out in a conference that boasts Sammy Watkins, Michael Campanaro, Jamison Crowder and Stefon Diggs.
And, of course, Greene has no interest in making that argument.
"He's a humble kid," said Lamarcus Joyner, Greene's teammate since high school. "Rashad comes from a program where you have to make the most of your opportunities because you're surrounded by a bunch of good players. We're Florida State and we have a lot of great guys to pick from."
It's not that Greene revels in the opportunity to toil among the shadows. It's that he understands the value of opportunity, and he's built his career on exploiting each one he gets.
Last year, Greene was targeted 76 times and hauled in 57 catches. His 75-percent completion rate was easily the best among FSU's receivers. His 34 receptions that resulted in first downs were 12 more than the next highest by a Seminole. In his career, he's been given 128 touches and 16 of them have resulted in touchdowns. In other words, one out of every eight times he touches the football he scores, which makes him perhaps the most efficient playmaker in the country.
"It's been like that since high school," Greene said. "At St. Thomas [Aquinas high school], the type of program it was, you don't get too many opportunities to get the ball. When your play got called, either you were going to make the play and make it a big play, or you were going to give up the opportunity. I took that when I came to college. I might not get the opportunities, but I'm going to take advantage of the opportunities I can."
The question now might be whether those opportunities will increase for Greene in his junior season. There are numerous reasons to believe that may be the case.
At quarterback, Florida State will be breaking in a new starter -- likely redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. While his arm strength and decision making have already been praised by coaches, it's clear Jimbo Fisher wants a reliable downfield option who can make life easier for his new quarterback. Greene is the obvious choice.
"It's our job to make him comfortable and be behind him 100 percent," Greene said. "That's our job."
There's still plenty of talent on FSU's depth chart, too, but the receiving corps has been thinned a bit. Senior Greg Dent -- likely the Seminoles' most versatile receiver after Greene -- is suspended indefinitely after an offseason arrest. Speedster Marvin Bracy left the program to pursue a track career. Running backs Chris Thompson and Lonnie Pryor, the two most reliable options out of the backfield a year ago, have graduated. Tight ends Kevin Haplea (knee injury) and Christo Kourtzidis (transfer) are gone, too.
That leaves Greene as the standard bearer of the receiving corps, the established veteran of a passing game in flux.
"He'll get his chances," Fisher said. "He's going to get the ball. … He's very dynamic. He wants it. He accepts that role. He'll take it every time."
It's been rare that Florida State has treated Greene to a heavy dose of targets, but look at the Seminoles' toughest games in 2012 -- NC State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida and Georgia Tech -- and Greene's targets were up in each one.
When the situation calls for a big play, Greene is always a favorable matchup.
"He's a tremendous talent," NC State cornerback Dontae Johnson said. "He's got really great hands, he's got the confidence to run across the middle and catch the ball, he's elusive, good speed on the outside. He's just a great all-around receiver."
While Greene likely deserves a few more of those all-conference votes, it's the respect he's earned from the opposition that likely speaks highest of his ability. They know, better than anyone, where Florida State's junior stands among his peers.
"He's probably one of the fastest guys I've covered," Duke's Russ Cockrell said. "His speed is top-notch, and he should be mentioned alongside Jamison Crowder, Sammy [Watkins], Stefon Diggs. All those guys that are big names in the ACC, he's one of them."
Joyner has spent the offseason working one-on-one against Greene nearly every day. As a cornerback, he said there's no test in the ACC that will be tougher than what he faces during those practice sessions.
There are other elite receivers in the conference, but Greene stands out.
"He's definitely on that level, but I think he can be better," Joyner said. "To do special things, you need more opportunities. Other receivers that are on the national stage, could they come to Florida State and do the same thing? Maybe not. Maybe they can't do what Rashad does, turning two balls he gets in one game to 60-yard touchdowns. They get the ball thrown to them 12 times."
Still, humility doesn't show up in a box score, and Greene isn't shying away from the obvious.
He's spent the offseason refining his skill set, working against Joyner. He's hit the weight room to add bulk, hoping to open the season nearly 20 pounds heavier than where he ended 2012. He sees the opportunity to make a statement about his game without the need for context, and he never misses an opportunity.
"Just like any other receiver," Greene said, "yeah, I want the ball a lot more."
Next up: The quarterback
The case for: Even before he has taken a snap in a college game, there's little need to make a case for why fans should be excited about Winston. The redshirt freshman already has the college football world buzzing after entering the spring third on the depth chart and ending it as a niche choice for a Heisman.
Winston has a big arm, good speed, a strong physique and obvious leadership skills. In other words, he's everything a coach like Jimbo Fisher could want in a quarterback. He sizzled during FSU's spring game, completing 12 of 15 passes against a first-string defense while throwing two touchdown passes. In the aftermath, Fisher was asked to compare Winston to his old quarterback, and the answer was intriguing.
"Jameis is a very talented young man," Fisher said. "He and EJ are different. EJ might run a little better and be a hair bigger. I think Jameis throws the ball a little better overall."
In other words, from Day 1, Winston might be a better pure passer than his predecessor, who just so happened to be the first quarterback taken in this year's NFL draft. It's no wonder fans are already so excited.
Of course, there was plenty of hype surrounding Manuel when he arrived at Florida State, but he ended his career amid a reasonable amount of criticism, because he so frequently failed to come up with the big play when FSU needed it most. He won a lot more than he lost, but he never threw more than 23 touchdown passes in a season, and he had only four career 300-yard passing games against FBS opponents.
But as Fisher said, Winston is different. He's more accurate already, and while Manuel's confidence appeared shaken at times under the weight of a demanding head coach, Winston seems to relish the expectations. And more importantly, Winston might have a better supporting cast in 2013 than Manuel ever did. A veteran, healthy offensive line and a cast of skill-position players that includes Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. should make the job a lot easier.
The case against: The obvious concern in 2013 is that, for as much talent and potential as Winston clearly has, the bottom line remains that he's still a freshman. There's a big difference between chucking a few long passes in a spring game and doing the same against Florida's defense in November, and even last season's Heisman-winning freshman, Johnny Manziel, had a few growing pains along the way (against Florida, for example).
Moreover, expanding the offense isn't so much about Winston's ability as it is about Fisher's play calling. For all the criticism of Manuel at times, only three other teams in the country averaged more yards per play last season than Florida State. The reason the results weren't more impressive overall is because the Seminoles ran just 67 plays per game offensively -- nearly 12 fewer plays per game than Texas A&M. That's Fisher's game plan -- a pro-style, methodical approach -- and it's not likely to change regardless of who is under center.
And while the talent surrounding Winston is impressive, the versatility of FSU's offense has taken a hit this offseason. Tight end Kevin Haplea will miss the year with an ACL tear. Speedster Marvin Bracy left to pursue a track career. Veteran receiver Greg Dent is suspended indefinitely while facing sexual assault charges. Those losses will only make the offense less dynamic.
In the end, Manuel was among the top 15 quarterbacks in the country in completion percentage, yards per attempt and QB rating in 2012, and that's an awfully high bar to exceed.
There's no denying Winston's star potential, but projecting he'll exceed Manuel in Year 1 is a bold call. Manuel was very good, and while Winston eventually might be great, there's a learning curve to the game.
More importantly, perhaps, is this is Fisher's offense, no matter who is under center. He's going to call his game, and while Winston's skill set may allow Fisher to dig deeper into the playbook occasionally, it's unlikely he's planning to rewrite any of it. And perhaps as significant, in every other instance that Fisher has had a new starter at quarterback since he's been at FSU, the team has run the ball more and thrown less. Comparing Winston to Manziel might be fair when it comes to talent, but the systems in which they'll work are completely different.
It would be a surprise if Winston does't end the season with an impressive highlight reel -- but compiling one that's even better than Manuel's 2012 performance would be a huge accomplishment.
Next up: No. 30 Levonte Whitfield
What he's done: Whitfield just arrived at Florida State last week, but he's already among the fastest players in the nation. A track star in high school, Whitfield was a state champion in both the 100 and 200, and he's shown he's capable of translating that speed onto the football field, too. As a senior in high school, he caught 38 passes for 520 yards while excelling in the return game.
Where he's at: Wide receiver is still relatively deep for Florida State in 2013, but the recent arrest of senior Greg Dent and the departure of redshirt freshman Marvin Bracy for a pro track career have created some opportunities, and Whitfield could be in the best position to capitalize. Jimbo Fisher suggested this spring that Whitfield could be a weapon in the slot from Day 1, but that remains to be seen. What's more likely is that Whitfield will get an early crack at return duties, where Fisher said he's a natural fit.
What's to come: FSU struggled with consistency in the punt-return game in 2012, shuffling three different players into the role throughout the season. Whitfield could easily win the job in fall camp and ensure an electric presence in 2013. And even if that's all he does this season, it may be the biggest impact of any of FSU's true freshmen. But there's still a good chance he'll find his way into the offensive game plan -- both as a potential mismatch in the slot and with the ball in his hands on reverses, end-arounds and other trick plays. Of course, much of the same was predicted for Bracy a year ago, and he never played a down, so it's incumbent upon Whitfield to prove he's up to the job immediately, then continue to develop throughout the season. If he does, he has the potential to follow more closely the path of Fisher's former track stars like Trindon Holliday and Devery Henderson, who ended up in the NFL.
1. Offensive tackle
It's been a relatively prolonged dry spell on the recruiting trail for FSU when it comes to the offensive line, with tackle in particular being a concern. As it stands, the Seminoles have three natural tackles projected on the roster beyond 2013, but Bobby Hart remains a wild card after an up-and-down two years, Wilson Bell has yet to arrive on campus and Cameron Erving could be headed to the NFL early if he turns in a strong junior campaign. Florida State needs to make a splash with this class, adding not only at least one or two game-ready options, but depth as well.
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Though Fisher maintains the quarterback competition remains open, Winston seemingly emerged as the front-runner to win the job following a spectacular spring game and the eventual transfer of veteran Clint Trickett.
"I’m not going to limit what he does," Fisher said Tuesday during ACC spring meetings. "If that’s something he helps that team with -- he loves football, he loves baseball and we’ll continue to monitor and do the same things we do."
He later added, "You don’t put parameters on people just because somebody else didn’t do it. Charlie [Ward] did it, Deion [Sanders] did it, Sammie Smith did it. Florida State’s had quite a number of them. And [Jameis] continues to do it very well."
Winston juggled both sports throughout spring practice with no problems. He has appeared in 31 baseball games with 26 starts and is batting .293. He also has made 14 appearances as a relief pitcher with a 1.80 ERA.
Fisher has never had a quarterback play two sports. In fact, two-sport athletes are becoming increasingly rare as players become more specialized in one sport.
But Fisher says, "I think the relationship’s gone very well. Testing the waters in spring I thought he handled it extremely well and did very well with it. It goes back to the individual. Is he capable of handling it? And he’s handled it with ease. He’s excelled in both things that he’s done."
A few more notes from Fisher:
- Fisher didn't want to publicly comment on signee Matthew Thomas, who made headlines last week when he said he wanted out of his letter of intent. Athletic director Randy Spetman told The Tallahassee Democrat the school wouldn't release Thomas. Coaches continue to have discussions with his mom to see whether they can get Thomas to come up to Tallahassee. "We're working behind the scenes and I'm not going to comment publicly," Fisher said.
- Fisher also seemed a little surprised that receiver Marvin Bracy decided to quit football to focus on track. "We had a great conversation," Fisher said. "Just he was more undecided about what he wanted to do. I just wanted him to make sure if you’re going to go pro track, is it what’s best for you? Are you going to maximize the money you can make or the opportunity for your life or what’s your education down the road, what’s the big picture? I hope he’s done that."
Nine members of the 2012 class saw action last season, and only defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. earned a start. But even Edwards' progress comes with an asterisk. He was slated to redshirt when the season began, and he only worked his way onto the field -- and later, into the starting lineup -- thanks to a series of injuries.
The wild card
Marvin Bracy, WR
Bracy skipped spring practice to focus on track, and now it seems entirely possible that decision could be permanent. Bracy has world-class speed, and if he chooses to go pro as a sprinter, he'd wave goodbye to his FSU football career. A decision could come any day.
Waiting their turn
Justin Shanks, DT
Despite FSU losing its two starting tackles, the position is still chock full of talent, which has managed to overshadow Shanks -- something that's awfully hard to do to a player pushing 320 pounds.
Colin Blake, CB
Blake battled injuries early in 2012 and ended up redshirting. He might have had a chance to earn a regular role this season, but Lamarcus Joyner's move to corner likely makes the field a bit too crowded. Blake will see work on special teams, but he'll need a few starters to go down with injuries before regular playing time is available in a crowded secondary.
Sean Maguire, QB
To Maguire's credit, he conceded nothing during FSU's quarterback competition this spring. Still, the writing was on the wall. Maguire has a good arm and solid long-term potential, but the job isn't likely to be his for at least a few more years.
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Jameis Winston, QB
The performance: Winston entered the spring third on the depth chart, but tops in potential. He didn't disappoint. By spring's end, he was splitting first-team reps with Clint Trickett and dominated FSU's spring game, solidifying his place as the fan's choice for the starting job even if Fisher hasn't made anything official.
What comes next: Heisman? National championship? The Hall of Fame? With Winston, there doesn't appear to be such a thing as setting the bar too high. Fisher might be trying to temper expectations, but that's likely a lost cause. Winston still has plenty of work to do before he reaches the vast heights predicted for him, but he's only burnished his resume during the past month. What comes next for him though? "It's baseball season," he said after Saturday's spring game.
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While punt return practice amounted to only about a week of work this spring, the two primary candidates to see work were the two players who bookended last season with the job -- Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw. Both remain in competition for the role this season.
"You've still got other guys that will be in there, too, but punts are more about catching the ball than running," Fisher said.
His caution comes with ample evidence, as FSU fumbled away a myriad of punts last season, eventually costing Greene and, later, Tyler Hunter the job. That left things up to Shaw to close out the season, and he proved to be relatively effective. His 12.4 yard average trailed both Greene and Hunter, who both averaged better than 15, but Shaw never put the ball on the ground.
"When they gave me the job, I tried to do my best, and the coaches say I did a heck of a job," Shaw said.
But whether it's a job Shaw keeps remains to be seen. He's got a leg up now, but aside from Mario Pender, he's had little competition.
That may change in the fall when a bevy of potential return men join the fray. Hunter and Ronald Darby will both return from injuries that cost them the spring and could join the mix, along with speedster Marvin Bracy and incoming freshmen Ryan Green and Jalen Ramsey.
Perhaps the most intriguing candidate, however, is Lavonte Whitfield, whose combination of game-breaking speed and soft hands make him a good fit as FSU's next great punt returner.
"He's very natural at punt returns," Fisher said. "That sucker, punts will come down and lay right as his feet, and he'll scoop them up and go. He's got some tenacity to him."
For all of FSU's miscues in the punt return game a year ago, matching the production of 2012's return men may not be easy.
Florida State's average of 14.49 yards per return ranked eighth in the nation, and the Seminoles were one of just five teams to return three punts for touchdowns for the season.
The senior, who transferred from Penn State just days before the start of fall camp last season, has impressed new tight ends coach Tim Brewster with his ability to do all the little things necessary at the line of scrimmage.
While Chad Abram looks to have the fullback spot locked up, he may not offer the same versatility that Pryor brought to the FSU offense a year ago, and Jimbo Fisher has hinted that he could look to use starting tight end Nick O'Leary as a halfback and potentially run a lot more two- and three-tight end sets.
That could mean a good bit more work for Haplea, who is finding his footing in Year 2 with the program. Fisher said Haplea has caught more passes during the past few days of practice than he did all of last season.
O'Leary is still the starter at the position, and he's outpaces his competition in terms of potential by a strong margin. But while Haplea has excelled at the fundamentals, O'Leary is still working on the nuance of his position and hoping to overcome some ugly mistakes he made in 2012.
"He's a guy that's got tremendous talent, but he needs to understand that the details of the game are very important," Brewster said. "The fundamental aspects of tight end play, all the little things are important. It's not about the big picture, it's about seeing the little picture, the little things involved in every play."
Fisher said O'Leary continues to mature, and he hopes to see the junior tight end blossom into a dominant force this season. There have been some encouraging signs this spring, but O'Leary remains a work in progress.
"If he gets those little things, he's really tough to handle," Fisher said. "The details are more refined, and that's the challenge for him right now."
Just days after taking over as FSU's new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, Brewster took to Twitter to lay the groundwork with some top targets.
It might have been an ostentatious opening salvo in the recruiting battles with his in-state rivals, but Brewster is making no apologies. That's how he does business.
"I'm not bashful, and I'm extremely proud of the university I represent," Brewster said. "I just want to make sure that people understand, we're going to take an extremely aggressive approach to getting the best players in the state of Florida to come to Tallahassee. We're going to recruit relentlessly."
It's an infectious enthusiasm, and it's a big part of what caught Jimbo Fisher's attention after former FSU recruiting coordinator -- and south Florida expert -- James Coley departed to join the Miami Hurricanes.
Still, Brewster knows that all his in-person excitement doesn't always translate well to social media. It's just that when he's excited about something, he just can't help himself.
"If you're not using social media, you're missing the boat. It's a tremendous way to reach out, because young people today, that's how they communicate," Brewster said. "I try not to go overboard, but it's hard sometimes, because I enjoy it."
Bracy will only be a sporadic participant at Florida State's spring practices as he concentrates on track events throughout this spring. Bracy is considered one of the top sprinters in the country -- and perhaps the fastest football player in the nation.
The speed might make Bracy a standout on the track, but Fisher said it's going to take more than that to get him on the field for the Seminoles in the fall.
"You have to have some time to be out there or you're going to be relegated to certain things," Fisher said. "You can run a post, a deep ball, return kicks -- but when you're actually learning to run routes and how they adjust to coverages, that does affect you."
Bracy hasn't been completely absent. He has participated in football meetings and continued to meet with coaches and watch film. He'll be at numerous practices this spring, too. But the part-time work isn't likely to help him climb the depth chart at a crowded position, and Fisher said there's a risk in putting a player on the field this fall when the opposition knows he's only prepared to run a small fraction of the plays.
Of course, that doesn't mean Bracy can't make up ground. Fisher said he has dealt with a slew of track-star football players in his career, including NFL receivers Devery Henderson and Trindon Holliday at LSU, and he believes Bracy can follow a similar path.
"He's going to have to have a great summer, but he'll have a role," Fisher said. "We'll find some things for him to do, I promise."
But while those stories will continue to headline Florida State's preparations for the 2013 season, there are a handful of other intriguing players to watch this spring. They might not be in the running for a starting job, but they should offer plenty of reasons to watch as they look to impress a new group of coaches and find their own niche for the upcoming season.
Mario Pender (RB/RFr.)
When it comes to sheer intrigue, the entirety of Florida State's returning redshirts could probably make the list -- with Jameis Winston probably atop it. But while there will be genuine interest in Justin Shanks' weight or Marvin Bracy's speed, it's Pender who likely leads the pack in non-QB buzz from fans. The highly touted tailback missed all of 2012 with a groin injury and is just now getting back into full swing. His workouts during fourth-quarter drills earned raves from Fisher, who compared his burst and home-run ability to Chris Thompson -- only Pender is a bit bigger and stronger. Does that mean a job awaits this fall? Not exactly, but he'll definitely have his coaches' attention.
Up next, the final position in the series: Wide receivers.
Scholarship receivers (12): Kenny Shaw (Sr.), Rashad Greene (Jr.), Christian Green (RSJr.), Kelvin Benjamin (RSSo.), Jarred Haggins (Sr.), Josh Gehres (RSSr.), Marvin Bracy (RSFr.), Willie Haulstead (RSSr.), Greg Dent (Sr.), Jesus Wilson (Fr.), Levonte Whitfield (Fr.), Isaiah Jones (Fr.)
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Vitals: Wide receiver Jesus Wilson (Miami/Columbus), 5-foot-10, 165 pounds.
Committed: June 15, 2012.
ESPN.com grade: 80, four-star prospect.
ESPN.com rankings: No. 62 wide receiver in the country, No. 221 prospect in the Southeast region and No. 89 player in the state of Florida.
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Five Programs Expecting 2014 Boost
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Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35