NCF Nation: Florida State Seminoles
So when his quarterbacks started begging him to go live this spring, his first reaction was, ‘No way!’ He was in protection mode, the way he was as a Steelers assistant. But veterans Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette persisted, and he slowly relented -- only a few times, and with clear instructions to the defense.
His is a dilemma that many coaches across the league have faced this spring. Do you allow your quarterbacks to get hit in practice to help simulate game situations and foster competition, knowing you have increased their injury risk? Or do you never even broach the subject because the priority should always be to protect the quarterback?
Four ACC teams allowed their quarterbacks to go live at some point during spring practice, more than any other power-five league. Clemson did it for the first time under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, believing he would see more out of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson ended up getting hurt and missing the spring game.
Florida State allowed its younger quarterbacks to go live this spring. Coach Jimbo Fisher said he did the same last year, when Jameis Winston was a redshirt freshman competing to win the starting job.
“They’ve got to be able to feel things around them and react,” Fisher said. “They get in a false security blanket sometimes.”
Does that cause him extra worry?
“It’s no different than when we run the running backs, and I get nervous in the scrimmages when the backs are running and get tackled,” Fisher said. “Our guys know if they’ve got a kill shot, not to. There’s a certain limit of how we practice with each other. You know those shots that everyone wants to have? We won’t take those on each other even if we’re in a live scrimmage because it’s not productive to the organization. Tough to me is when you’re eyeball to eyeball, not when a guy’s exposed and you can do that.”
The coaches are not the only ones who wrestle with the idea. NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was not live this spring. But when he was competing for the starting job at Florida with Jeff Driskel back in 2012, both were allowed to go live early on in fall practice. The first day they were allowed to take hits, Driskel hurt his shoulder.
For a running quarterback such as Brissett, that helps. Same for the Duke quarterbacks. Georgia Tech has its quarterbacks live during practice for that reason.
Some coaches believe going live helps separate the competition. But Clemson was the only school with an open quarterback competition to allow its quarterbacks to go live during scrimmage situations. North Carolina, for example, has Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battling to win the starting job, but offensive coordinator Seth Littrell does not believe it is necessary to allow quarterbacks to get hit. “I’ve never done it,” he said.
Virginia Tech also is in the middle of an intense competition, but quarterbacks have been off limits so far this spring. Veteran Mark Leal would have no problem if the coaches changed their minds.
“Honestly, I'd like to be live,” he said. “I think the rest of the quarterbacks would, too, because it gives more of a game feel. If you're not live, sometimes the whistle gets blown early when you don't think you should have been sacked or the play gets messed up because when there's a rush around you, the first thing the coaches want to do is blow the whistle, rather than you continue to play or go through your reads and progressions and finish the play.”
Depth concerns often dictate what coaches do. Pitt only had two scholarship quarterbacks this spring, so there was no way they were going live. Virginia Tech only has three quarterbacks on the roster this spring.
Still, all the protections most coaches take are not enough to keep their quarterbacks injury-free. Miami quarterbacks were off limits this spring, but Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage.
It was a noncontact injury.
According to the newspaper's investigation, "Florida State did little to determine what had happened." The paper also reported that a second woman "had sought counseling after a sexual encounter with Mr. Winston, according to the prosecutor’s office."
An excerpt from the article: "The woman did not call it rape — she did not say “no.” But the encounter, not previously reported, “was of such a nature that she felt violated or felt that she needed to seek some type of counseling for her emotions about the experience,” according to Georgia Cappleman, the chief assistant state attorney, who said she had spoken with the advocate but not with the woman."
The NYT also reported that the police investigator who handled the case, Scott Angulo, "has done private security work for the Seminole Boosters, a nonprofit organization, with nearly $150 million in assets, that is the primary financier of Florida State athletics, according to records and a lawyer for the boosters."
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation into Florida State's handling of the sexual assault allegations against Winston.
UPDATE: Florida State has since released this statement on its website in response to the article.
Somehow, Florida State and Miami both just won.
The rivals recently unveiled their new uniforms, and neither one opted for an outlandish, over-the-top style, instead choosing to stick with tradition and class. That, in itself, was refreshing. Unlike the dreadful first Maryland Pride uniforms, Florida State and Miami both managed to preserve their history while at the same time get an upgrade. FSU released garnet, white and black uniforms, while Miami will have four new looks: The orange jersey, “Juice”; the white jersey, “Storm Trooper"; a green jersey, “Surge”; and a new alternate anthracite “Smoke” jersey. At home, the Canes will wear orange. The 'U' logo on the palms of the gloves is a creative touch, but overall it's a simple, sleek and clean look that doesn't lose any of its edge.
It's good timing for both programs for different reasons. As defending national champs, Florida State has a new look -- one that's in the spotlight again as the nation's premier program. For Miami, the tumultuous days of the NCAA investigation are finally behind it, and the Hurricanes got a fresh start.
“These young men, who unselfishly guided us through some very dark days, now display a renewed attitude and spirit," Miami coach Al Golden said in a statement. "These new uniforms capture that outlook."
"These uniforms really enhance and embody the Seminole tribe," coach Jimbo Fisher told his team, "which is what we all represent. Without them, we wouldn't be the Florida State Seminoles."
Check 'em out, and cast your votes to let us know what you think.
It would only make sense that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was ready to do it all again this spring.
“No, it’s not for me,” Sumlin said in March. “I’ll be honest with you, you guys know me, that second half [of spring games] goes real quick. I’m ready to get out of there.”
The spring game in many ways goes against the core belief of Sumlin, and really every coach, of using every practice to get better. So the Aggies went without a game this spring, and will do so again in 2015 as Kyle Field's renovations continue.
A handful of programs aren't holding spring games this year. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy did not plan a spring game, and Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst believed it wasn’t in the program’s best interest to have one, either.
Both Chryst and Gundy have young rosters. Only Utah State returns fewer starters than the Cowboys. Chryst is still trying to put his stamp on a program that has had more head coaches than winning seasons in the last decade, and he is breaking in a new quarterback. To Chryst and Gundy, it did not make sense to waste a practice day for a haphazard game.
“Truly looking at this from the inside of the program and what this group needs, it was, 'What’s the best use of the 15 opportunities we get in the spring,'” Chryst said. “I felt like we didn’t have a group where we’re going to take just one full day and scrimmage. Bottom line is we wanted to make sure we’re maximizing our opportunities.”
Two coaches not questioning a spring game finale are the leaders of programs with some of the best odds to win the first College Football Playoff. Both Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are in favor of the model most programs still subscribe to: 14 practices, mix in a few scrimmages and hold a game at the end of camp. Fisher and Meyer believe it’s the only time in the spring to get an accurate read on how players react to a fall Saturday game atmosphere.
“What you get is the people in the stadium, you get pressure, you get outside people watching you get the lights on the scoreboard and [the game] matters,” Fisher told ESPN.com last week. “You get a game environment. It might not be the one in the fall, but it’s as close as you’ll ever get out in this practice field. To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.”
However, Meyer acknowledges the issues the modern-day spring game presents. Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller was out with an injury, but Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were healthy scratches. Fisher elected to sit starting running back Karlos Williams, leaving a fullback and a handful of walk-on running backs to carry the spring load Saturday. The sustainability of the spring game could come down to depth, but rosters are thinner with the 85 scholarship limit, and coaches are keeping their proven commodities out of harm’s way.
“Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the lack of numbers at certain positions causes the few available players to “double dip” and play both sides, opening those few healthy players up to injury. The emphasis on preventing and identifying concussions has grown substantially in the last few years, and Blankenship added that “a lot more guys are missing practice today with concussion-related symptoms, and that’s been consistent across the board with other coaches I talk to.”
To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.” -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the value of spring games
Meyer said spring games are often a “great opportunity to get scout-team guys a chance to play,” which in itself can be considered an indictment of the spring game’s inherent value.
“One time at Florida we had only five or six offensive linemen and they had to play both ways,” Meyer said, “but the experience of playing in front of [fans], if you want to have a practice but arrange how the receiver has to be the guy, to be in coverage and catch a pass and hear the crowd, that’s real.”
There are only so many programs that consistently draw 30,000 or more fans for a spring game, though. Those other programs don’t have the benefit of putting their players in a game-day atmosphere when only a few thousand fans fill the bleachers.
Blankenship understands he needs to promote his Tulsa program and bring in as many fans as possible. So last year, they tried a new spring game model. Instead of a traditional game of the roster being split, Blankenship operates on only 50 percent of the field and allows fans to sit on the other side of the 50 to get a more intimate view. The game resembles more of a practice as the team works on situations such as red zone and fourth down instead of keeping score.
A piece of him still wants a sound 15th practice, though.
“I do think [the spring game] is worth it from the fan standpoint,” he said, “but the coach in me would like to have another practice.”
“It’s a complete home run,” Dennard said. “After what we’ve built, it’d be hard to scale it down. People have come to expect this to be a big deal. It’s an investment into the future of our program.”
While Pittsburgh has struggled to draw fans for its spring games in recent years, Chryst was still cognizant of the program’s fans when he decided to cancel the spring game. So Chryst met with the marketing department at Pitt and helped introduce a football clinic for young players and offensive and defensive breakdowns of the Panthers’ schemes for the Xs-and-Os fan.
“It was different at first and people said, ‘What, no spring game?’ But when Coach Chryst announced the Field Pass, the response was overwhelming,” said Chris Ferris, associate athletic director for external relations at Pitt.
Could that union of a standard 15th practice with an added day of fan interaction be the union that seals the fate of spring games? Maybe.
“I think it is,” Blankenship said. “We’re much closer to that in our part of the country. I think the tradition of the spring game is something we’re all kind of tied to, but we’re all figuring out there’s a better way.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- At SEC media days last summer, someone asked Alabama head coach Nick Saban if he wears any of his four national championship rings.
"To me, it doesn't make any difference how many game-winning shots Michael Jordan made," Saban said. "The only one that matters is the next one. So there doesn't seem to be any purpose to me. I have them. They're there."
You put that championship in a velvet-lined box and store it in your closet. It has no effect on the future.
Florida State, which plays its Garnet and Gold Game on Saturday, will start next season as No. 1, just as the Seminoles ended last season. The Seminoles have 14 returning starters from the team that won the BCS National Championship three months ago. That includes the best player in the country, quarterback Jameis Winston, and the best defensive lineman in the country, end Mario Edwards Jr., and other talented players too numerous to mention.
Florida State must carry the expectations of a fan base and a college football nation that expects them to improve upon a perfect 14-0 record. That it is possible -- with the two-round playoff, the Seminoles could be the first team in modern history to go 15-0 -- doesn't make it any less daunting.
Jimbo Fisher is a graduate and espouser of the Nick Saban Institute of The Process. Fisher coached for Saban for seven seasons at LSU. The tenets that Saban preaches in the meeting room at Alabama -- smart choices and personal development, focus and discipline -- are heard from the pulpit at Florida State, too.
It would be only natural to assume that Fisher would consult the Sabanic Verses on the subject of following a national championship season. Not only has Alabama done so in three of the past four years, but LSU, with Saban as head coach and Fisher as his offensive coordinator, did so a decade ago.
Fisher knows what Saban believes. He coached it at LSU. And that's what convinced him that it's wrong.
"One of the things I wish we had done better then," Fisher said in his office recently, "was actually remember we were national champions. We were so focused to me on, 'Forget that. Don't get big-headed. Don't do that,' that I think you lost the aura and the confidence of winning the championship."
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The tribe is eager to get a glimpse of Motlow. On June 13, he will enroll at Florida State. And when he dons the Seminole logo for his first football practice as a preferred walk-on wide receiver, it will double as an homage to his ancestors, he says. Since Florida State adopted the Seminoles nickname 67 years ago, no known Seminole Tribe of Florida member has played football for the school. Motlow will change that in two months.
Motlow, a 5-foot-11, 182-pound receiver who attends Tampa (Fla.) Catholic High School, is one-quarter Seminole. His paternal grandmother is a 100 percent Seminole and is a resident on the Immokalee Reservation. Clarence, Justin's father, was raised on the reservation and fondly remembers his childhood. Growing up, Clarence hunted alligators -- “some by hand,” he said -- and sold the hides to tourists for a dollar. His grandfather practiced medicine on the reservation, and Clarence still abides by Seminole tradition in keeping secret the tribe’s sacred medicine practices.
Clarence calls his son an “urban Seminole,” but Motlow and his sister remain immersed in Seminole culture, as the family attends several tribal events annually. Motlow participates in tribal holidays and gatherings, playing skillet toss and working on his archery. In July 2011, he won gold medals in his age bracket in the 200- and 400-meter dashes at the North American Indigenous Games.
“I feel very honored to be able to call myself a tribal member,” Motlow said. “There’s a lot of heritage and history that goes along with that.”
There is a long history between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Florida State, whose students voted for the Seminoles nickname in 1947. For the past few decades, the relationship between Florida State and the Seminole Tribe of Florida has mostly avoided the negativity that engulfed several other institutions depicting Native Americans as mascots, which makes Motlow’s impending enrollment even more intriguing. Both the school and tribe publicize the harmonious relationship, and the tribe’s written endorsement of Florida State’s use of the Seminole name and logo persuaded the NCAA in 2005 to remove the school from the list of universities deemed to have “hostile or abusive” mascots.
“[The tribe is] quite proud and happy for him, but they’re also happy he’s getting an education,” Seminole Tribe of Florida spokesman Gary Bitner said. “Word travels fast. [The tribe] feels like it’s another positive point in the relationship between the university and the tribe. ... There is a great sense of pride in the name, and they feel like Florida State has really done it right.”
There was a point just a few weeks before signing day on Feb. 5, however, when it seemed Motlow would not be in this position. He already had made peace with the idea that he wouldn’t play for childhood favorite Florida State, and wasn't sure he would get a chance to play Division I football. He heard from a few Division II and III schools -- programs so obscure he can’t remember the names -- but even that interest was waning. He suffered a setback before his senior football season started when, on the second day of spring practice, he separated his shoulder. Motlow and his doctors did their best to avoid surgery, but it cost Motlow the entire spring evaluation period and summer camp circuit, pivotal recruiting steps before a prospect’s senior season.
With his prospects diminishing, Motlow's father still believed his son could be a contributor on a Division I roster. Clarence Motlow enlisted the help of a friend he knew Florida State would not turn away. Barry Smith, a former Florida State receiver and a member of the Seminoles’ 1979 Hall of Fame class, passed Motlow’s tape to Seminoles receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey, who after watching it showed it to head coach Jimbo Fisher. Justin Motlow had an offer as preferred walk-on not long afterward, and he committed in late January.
Now he’s a celebrity to the 3,963 members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Clarence Motlow has been inundated with calls, texts and emails from tribe officials wanting to see his son play, even offering to fly the family to Tallahassee in the tribe’s jet. The entire community is behind Motlow’s football pursuits, happy he will be the flag bearer for the Seminole Tribe of Florida as it breaks new ground this fall.
“That’s true history. It feels really cool to be recognized,” Justin Motlow said, “but now it drives me even more to succeed because I can’t let my tribe down.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- No position on the Florida State roster has taken as many losses as the defensive line over the past two seasons.
Four linemen were drafted a year ago. Another, tackle Timmy Jernigan, is projected to become the second straight Florida State defensive lineman to be drafted in the first round. The last time Florida State had at least five defensive linemen selected in consecutive drafts was 1998-99.
At many programs, losing so many players would be a major cause for concern and, as you'd expect, the defensive line has drawn some of the biggest questions this spring and last. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, however, looks at the situation differently.
Rather than lament potential depth issues, Fisher looks at the pure talent he has available for this upcoming season -- and the versatility they provide. Though only three scholarship defensive ends were available during the spring, two of them were consensus top-10 players at their position out of high school -- Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher.
“It’s kind of fun,” Edwards said. “The offense can’t pinpoint where I will be -- right or left side, inside or out. I feel I can go and play any one of the positions the coaches put me in at and be a factor.”
For Edwards, the process of not only becoming a master at his own position, but also learning several others, has meant more time studying the playbook and game tape. That has allowed the former No. 1 high school player in the country to feel even more comfortable with the defense.
The road has not necessarily been smooth for him. He was out of shape as a freshman, and last spring he had to learn an entirely new defensive scheme while following a strict diet and weight program. Edwards ended up starting, but he did not feel comfortable until midway through the season. That is when the results started to show.
Now that more of the pressure is on him to perform, Edwards says he is ready to dominate.
“I’d like to think this is a big year for me,” Edwards said. “I watched film of last year but not only was I looking at the good things I did, I looked at how many plays I left out there, just because I wasn’t aligned right, I wasn’t doing my job, I may have forgotten what I was supposed to do. I felt like I left tons of plays out there I could have made. This year, it’s reacting more than thinking.”
To help at end, Florida State might end up using linebackers Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe, whom Fisher called “dynamic rushers.” He did something similar with Christian Jones a year ago, and Jones thrived in that role.
Tackle Eddie Goldman, slated to replace Jernigan inside, was a five-star defensive tackle out of high school. Fisher said Goldman will end up being one of the team’s spring award winners because he has made such drastic improvement. Though not as powerful as Jernigan, Goldman is more athletic and a more natural pass rusher.
“Him and Mario -- it’s hard to handle them one-on-one,” Fisher said. “Eddie, his upside is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous how good he can be.”
Will he meet that potential this year?
“The way he’s playing right now? No doubt,” Fisher said.
Fisher also will play some of his true freshmen, the way he has done with guys such as Edwards, Jernigan and Casher. The Seminoles loaded up on the defensive line to make up for the heavy losses they have taken recently. Four of the seven players Florida State signed were rated four-star prospects out of high school. Two incoming ends -- Lorenzo Featherston and Rick Leonard -- are both 6-foot-7. They will not be tied exclusively to end, either.
“We like that hybrid guy, the versatility,” Fisher said. “You can go 3-4, 4-3, and create a matchup where they get locked on a back, where a back has to block them, that kind of stuff.”
Florida State took advantage of the versatility it had last season to great success. Despite more personnel losses, Fisher expects more of the same in 2014.
Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, meanwhile, lives in one of 24 states with right-to-work laws, which limits public employees from unionizing -- and would make it far more difficult for the football team to unionize, too.
On Wednesday, the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and can unionize. It’s a monumental decision that can change the face of college athletics, and one that opens a Pandora’s Box of questions, problems and possibilities. For now, the ruling is confined to private schools -- five of which reside in the ACC (Boston College, Duke, Miami, Syracuse and Wake Forest). While the immediate impact is of a narrow scope, the long-term effects of the ruling could give players the right to collectively bargain with schools in the same way professional athletes bargain for benefits.
Prior to Wednesday’s decision, ESPN.com interviewed every athletic director in the ACC about various national issues facing college athletics, including the possibility of player unionization and what it could mean not only to the sport of football, but to the entire structure of the NCAA. All but two of them spoke on the record about the topic of unionization.
All of them raised poignant questions that nobody seems to have an answer for right now -- including if schools would have to set salary guidelines that differ for a first-team quarterback and a third-team quarterback, and how Title IX factors into the decision. Many of them agreed that the student-athletes need more of a voice in college athletics, but this isn’t the way to go about getting it. None of them pretended to be experts on the topic, and like many observers throughout the country, are simply trying to grasp the breadth of the possible implications.
“This week’s decision, though, is likely to prompt an even closer look at the issue.
If you start to tinker with the student-university relationship and make [athletes] employees, it will have a huge impact across the entire university, not just the small percentage of those who participate in sports.” -- North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham
North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham pointed out the effect it could have on the entire university -- not just athletic programs.
“It will change the face of the university,” Cunningham said. “Student-athletes aren’t the only ones who are receiving scholarships and performing work on the campus. You’ve got graduate assistants doing research; you have all kinds of student involvement in different capacities at the university. If you start to tinker with the student-university relationship and make those people employees, it will have a huge impact across the entire university, not just the small percentage of those who participate in sports.”
Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski called player unionization “an incredibly scary thing,” but added that he understands why it’s come to this.
“We kind of backed ourselves into this corner by wanting to control every waking moment and have our kids here year-round, and have access to them all the time,” he said. “That sounds great, and coaches love control and I get that. I know why they feel that way and I appreciate that, but the other side is now this feeling that we own these young people, and their every thought and decision is something that has to be run through us, and I don’t care for that. Some of the backlash we’re seeing now is a result of that frustration that’s built up over that sense of lack of control of your own destiny. It’s a pretty human reaction, so I don’t begrudge people, and all that’s going on right now, I get why it’s happening.”
Louisville AD Tom Jurich applauded the athletes for standing up for themselves, but questioned the logistics.
“It’s not just going to be football players,” he said. “I’m a firm believer: If you’re going to pay athletes, you’re going to pay all the athletes. If you’re going to unionize, you unionize all the athletes. To me, there’s no difference between field hockey and football. Until that’s answered, I don’t even pay attention to it.”
Florida State AD Stan Wilcox said student-athletes should be negotiating for educational benefits, like an undergraduate degree plus a graduate degree, or time to make up credit hours to receive a degree. He cautioned what becoming an employee of the university could entail.
“I don’t think student-athletes really want to go down that road,” he said. “You become an at-will employee that can be hired and fired at any time. Your argument is that it gets you benefits, but you kind of have that now. If you become an employee, every employee has to pay X amount of dollars into a health care program. I don’t know if they’ve thought the whole thing through, as to what it really means to be an employee of the university.”
After Wednesday’s decision, everyone involved in college athletics will be thinking it through now.
ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and David Hale contributed to this report.
At that time in early October, her son Tyler Hunter was riding around Florida State in a neck brace. It was the only thing preventing even a minor car accident from paralyzing the then-20-year old. A tackle in a September game that left his hands temporarily numb was the tipping point. Years of battering receivers across the middle deteriorated Hunter’s neck. Doctors ordered he wear a neck brace around campus and while driving.
The Baltimore Orioles drafted Hunter in high school, and McGilberry asked he start sacrificing runners instead of sacrificing his health.
“He doesn’t love baseball like he loves football,” McGilberry said Monday. “You can’t take [football] away from him. I don’t think anyone can.”
Nearly six months after the surgery, Hunter is ahead of schedule and practicing. He’s undergoing monthly X-rays -- the most recent coming last week -- and is still in a non-contact jersey, but he’ll participate in every spring practice. The repartee with Jameis Winston is already underway, as Hunter has unsuccessfully tried to goad the Heisman winner into throwing his direction. Inexperienced backup Sean Maguire tried his luck Saturday, and the savvy free safety returned the interception for a touchdown.
“It’s been real exciting, just being able to be out there with the team again, being able to play football,” Hunter said. “I really appreciate the game a lot more now.”
Although Hunter is avoiding most contact (he admitted to popping a receiver last week, which he hid from his mother until she read it in a Monday article), those around him in the secondary see a confident player reminiscent of Hunter’s pre-injury form. They see the safety who persevered through a knee injury last spring to win a starting job in fall camp.
“He deserves to be out there,” sophomore defensive back Nate Andrews said. “He loves being out there.”
He wasn’t out there for the final 11 games of Florida State’s first 14-0 season in school history. He wasn’t out there for the ACC championship, and he wasn’t out there intercepting Auburn’s Nick Marshall or making snow angels in the confetti. He was out there on the sidelines, despondent.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher asked Hunter still travel with the team but it too often had an adverse effect, forcing him into the locker room as he battled with an overwhelming sense of emptiness. The white lines did more than separate him from the field; it formed a barrier from his teammates.
Against NC State, the first home game following Hunter’s season-ending surgery, he finally broke down.
“I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t watch this game,” he texted his mother.
“It was hard to watch,” Hunter said this week. “I couldn’t even watch from the sidelines.”
His head hanging, McGilberry refused to let that become the defining image of Hunter’s sophomore season. Abandoning teammates is not part of Hunter’s make-up, and McGilberry knew it. Florida State was starting a freshman and sophomore in the secondary and rotating two others. The injury meant he wasn’t on the field. It didn’t mean he wasn’t on the team, she told him.
“We had to have our meetings,” Fisher said of Hunter. “The things you face mentally, and the ghosts you chase and the wondering and not knowing, that’s the toughest part, and we had to help him through that. Once he got through that he was back helping any way he could.”
Through the final 11 weeks, Fisher said he can’t recall seeing a player study more film on his own than Hunter. He was dejected, but few knew the secondary assignments better. Terrence Brooks, a 2013 senior, credits Hunter for helping him reach new levels and calls him “another coach on the field.” For a defense that finished No. 1 in the country, Hunter’s absence became a rallying point.
As Florida State preps for a run at a second straight national championship, few on the roster are held in higher regard than Hunter. On a defense lacking seniors, Hunter, normally quiet and reserved, is becoming a vocal fixture.
“I don’t talk a lot, but knowing we need somebody to step up and be vocal and lead the team, I took it upon myself to do it,” Hunter said.
Fisher said it is that selflessness that’s endeared him to teammates. This season and these teammates mean more to Hunter than any career on the diamond ever could. The closest he wants to come to baseball is when he picks off a Winston fastball in football practice.
“He never thought twice about baseball [after the injury],” McGilberry said. “He still believes that was his best decision.”
“He’d supposed to be back in a certain day and he’d be a day late,” Burgess said. “With him, it was always, 'I got a chance to work a little bit longer.'
"... The thing that was obvious about Coach Kelly was he’d work. He put the hours in that are needed to be put in, and not everybody will do that. You got to have the people not looking at a clock all the time."
This was almost two decades ago, but Burgess’ name could easily have been substituted with any coach Kelly has worked under since 1990. Those who know Kelly well all say the same thing: Florida State could not have made a better hire at defensive coordinator than Kelly.
When Jeremy Pruitt left after one season as the Seminoles’ defensive coordinator for Georgia, it was the first time since 2008 that the defensive coordinator of the team with the No. 1 scoring defense left for another job. Kelly immediately stood out as the top in-house candidate, and coach Jimbo Fisher promoted Kelly from linebackers coach shortly after Pruitt departed. Fisher and several players said there are few, if any, changes from what the Noles ran under Pruitt to what they will run under Kelly.
The players already like what they have seen from their new leader. Sophomore defensive back Nate Andrews said Kelly finds a teaching moment every time he comes off the field.
“He teaches as you go along,” Andrews said. “If you mess up on the field, you come to the sideline [and] he’ll teach you, 'This is what you did wrong' or 'This is what you did right.'”
“Kelly will also coach the secondary. He was a defensive back at Auburn and the position most of his former coaches believes suits him best. Defensive coordinator at a BCS school was the natural progression for Kelly, who has coached nearly every position on the field. Most importantly, he quickly adjusted to each new job title, whether it was running backs or linebackers.
[Kelly] knows the game as good as anyone. He's going to recruit harder than anybody. He watches tape constantly. His work ethic is second to none.” Troy assistant head coach Shayne Wasden, who played with Kelly at Auburn and coached with him at Eufaula (Ala.) High School.
“The good, outstanding coaches can coach any position and probably should be able to,” said former Central Phenix City (Ala.) High School coach Wayne Trawick, who hired Kelly as a junior varsity coach in 1990. “You can’t be a good DB coach without knowing routes and you can’t be a good linebackers coach if you can’t understand offensive blocking scheme. A good young coach won’t just study the position he’s coaching if he wants to move up … and he can coach any position.”
Al Groh and Kelly sat across from the hall from each other at Georgia Tech from 2010-12. It was a high-traffic area, Groh said, as he and Kelly alternated between each other’s offices exchanging ideas. It isn’t always easy for a head coach or coordinator to solicit suggestions from position coaches, but Groh said he made a special exception for Kelly, whose ideas were worth considering.
It wasn’t until Groh left Atlanta that he fully realized how much teaching was ingrained in Kelly. Groh, serving as a TV analyst at ESPN, was sitting in one of Kelly’s linebackers meetings a few days before a Florida State game. At Georgia Tech, Kelly’s role was coaching special teams and the secondary.
“He did an excellent job of coaching linebackers, like it was his all-time position,” Groh said.
Shayne Wasden, the head coach while Kelly was at Eufaula (Ala.) High School, might know Kelly best. They were teammates at Auburn and Wasden called Kelly shortly after being named head coach. He offered Kelly the defensive coordinator position, and rarely gave that side of the ball another thought. He never had to. He called Kelly a “grinder” and doubts anyone was going to outwork him on defense. Wasden knew there was not a better teacher for his defense, either, a vital aspect for a high school program.
Teaching is what Kelly does, even away from the football field. He was a math teacher and directed the alternate school at Eufaula, and he tutored students in math after practice, even the alternate students, who are usually kept apart from the general student body and are lightly taught during the day.
Teaching is an essential trait for Kelly, who is saddled with replacing some of the Seminoles' biggest stars. Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan and Telvin Smith are all likely to be picked in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, and they were arguably the defense's three most vocal leaders.
“[Kelly] knows the game as good as anyone. He’s going to recruit harder than anybody. He watches tape constantly. His work ethic is second to none," said Wasden, now the assistant head coach at Troy. "He's done well everywhere he's been. They'll be really good on defense. I don’t know if [Florida State] could have hired a better [coach]."
2. West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson leaned on his old friend Tom Bradley to coach the Mountaineers’ defensive line, even though that’s the only position on that side of the ball Bradley didn’t coach in his 33 seasons at Penn State. West Virginia needs the help; its three-man line lost two starters, and the returnees have a total of 13 starts among them. When you’re coming off a 4-8 record, you don’t have a full cupboard. Bradley makes the Mountaineers a more interesting story than they would be otherwise.
3. It would be easy to unleash the snark about Jim Tressel applying for the presidency of the University of Akron. I will leave that to Twitter. Tressel pointed out that he has 35 years of administration in higher education. He works at Akron now, so he and the school know each other. All Akron must do is come to terms with Tressel lying to the NCAA and covering up his players’ transgressions. Is three years in coaching purgatory a sufficient sentence? Auburn decided so in the case of Bruce Pearl. But Akron is hiring a president, not a basketball coach.
Which means Sean Maguire, who finished fourth in Florida State’s quarterback competition last spring, is Jameis Winston's backup. Could Florida State get by with Maguire against Oklahoma State, Clemson or Notre Dame? For those wearing garnet and gold, it’s a sobering question they would prefer tabling for another day … or year.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher, though, saw what that might be like Saturday. With 400 miles and a baseball game separating his Heisman-winning quarterback from the Noles’ third spring practice, the 6-foot-3 Maguire played the role of starting quarterback. The redshirt sophomore’s game experience is limited to a few risk-free throws and bleeding off the final few minutes of blowout wins in 2013.
“I thought [Saturday’s spring practice] was a chance for our guys to step up, be with the [first-team offense] when Jameis wasn’t here,” Fisher said. “Early I thought they were a little nervous but as the team got going on I was kind of pleased. I think later in practice they started feeling more comfortable. It was a solid day. I saw some very encouraging things but still got a lot to work on.”
Kind of pleased. Solid. One practice was never going to fully assuage those concerns, but gauging from Fisher’s tone and body language, he is not feeling any more comfortable about life without Winston.
Maguire has the support of teammates, and Fisher noted his performance picked up as the morning went on and he grew more comfortable in his most extensive time with the starting offense. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound signal-caller is not short on talent. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and Fisher believed in him before any other college coach. He was first to offer Maguire, and Fisher’s track record with quarterbacks is one that does not warrant even a hint of second-guessing.
Maybe Maguire’s biggest hurdle is his name. He’s not Coker, who Florida State fans envisioned would follow the Seminoles succession plan and replace Winston in 2015. Waiting your turn was the Florida State way in the 1990s, as Florida State fans were spoiled by the run of Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell, Thad Busby and Chris Weinke, who all sat at least one season before the reins were passed. But the strong-armed Coker became a hot commodity during the winter, and the former No. 2 quarterback is enrolling at Alabama this summer.
Florida State still has 12 spring practices left for Maguire. He said his offensive line and receivers were encouraging following any mistakes, and the opportunity to work exclusively as a starter was an invaluable experience. And with Winston possibly playing baseball until late June, Maguire can throw to the No. 1 receivers in any player-organized sessions once practice ends.
“Getting reps with the ones is huge ... getting an opportunity to be able to show the team if Jameis is not here and something happens, we’re not going to miss a beat,” Maguire said.
Winston potentially not being on the field is a realization Florida State fans are not ready to entertain yet, but it’s something that will wear on Fisher until Maguire makes it clear the Noles are in good hands in an emergency situation. Maybe that happens in the coming days during the Noles’ first scrimmage. Fisher is eager to find out.
“Next week will be very interesting to see in that first scrimmage how he’s adapted,” Fisher said.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, however, graciously tipped his hand Wednesday when asked about what new formations and which underclassman receivers could mitigate the departure of potential first-round NFL draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, all 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds of him.
The humor could be a deflection as Fisher masks any possible concerns about replacing Benjamin, who at Tuesday’s pro day showcased a rare catching radius and leaping ability that no player on the Seminoles’ current roster has illustrated. Senior Rashad Greene's presence is vital, as he led the team with 76 catches last season, but no other returning receiver had more than 13 catches in 2013, which leaves mostly a unit with little to no in-game seasoning.
But while Benjamin’s size and strength combination won’t be replaced by anyone on the roster in its current form, his Tallahassee exit doesn’t necessarily mean a step in the wrong direction for the Seminoles offense. Whitfield and Wilson are small packages of instant offense. Whitfield initially trumpeted his speed for Florida State fans with touchdowns of 31 and 74 yards the first two times he rushed the ball, and then for a national audience with a 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the VIZIO BCS National Championship.
“You can jump or you can run there -- there are two different avenues [to catch the ball],” Fisher said. “Bobo and Kermit, those guys get the ball short and it’s hard to get them on the ground.”
Quarterback Jameis Winston knows receivers like Benjamin do not come around often, but he said neither do players with the acceleration and speed of Whitfield and Wilson.
“Kermit and Bobo, they’re going to catch the ball and you’re not going to tackle them,” Winston said. “Bobo is as electric as Kermit, but Kermit is special. And those guys can jump, and I’m pretty sure they can dunk.”
Expecting the talented but inexperienced Whitfield, Wilson, Jarred Haggins and 6-4 sophomore Isaiah Jones to quickly jell with Winston in the passing game is oversimplifying an issue that requires a quarterback and receiver to connect on an innate level. Official practice time is in short supply this spring in Tallahassee as Winston bounces between football and baseball, which will cost him Saturday’s practice.
Yet as foolish as it would be to assume Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t be missed, at this point it would be equally ill-advised to doubt any aspect of the team Winston touches.
“We trust all the guys we got. That’s why we come to Florida State, to win championships, and we've got great players,” Winston said. “It’s going to be a fast adjustment with timing, and we’re going to get this thing rolling.”
Wednesday marked the opening of spring practice for the reigning champions, who will likely be the preseason No. 1. The Waterford crystal football, which Winston laid lips on two months ago, will not be awarded to the national champions in Dallas, the site of the first playoff title game.
Whichever piece of hardware is eventually settled on, Winston knows simply repeating his Heisman numbers from 2013 won’t be enough to hoist it. With significant losses at receiver, running back and throughout the defense, the coaching staff is counting on Winston to continue maturing.
“I think you are always learning as a competitor different situations, different scenarios, how you impact your teammates in different ways consistently,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I think the knowledge of his offense and the things that he can do and make those decisions that much quicker, see reads that much quicker, even recognizing coverages and blitzes. ... He must continue to grow.”
Not even three weeks after Winston led the game-winning drive in the BCS championship game he traded D-ends for DHs, though. He missed most of the winter workouts with the football team and will miss Saturday’s spring practice. He will try to make up for lost time by working on his mechanics, a part of his game he can work on during his limited amount of free time. Fisher and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders have already alerted Winston to a few tweaks they would like to see by the April 12 spring game.
“Holding the ball a little higher and my hips. I have to get my hips into the ball that I throw,” Winston said. “Coach Fisher being a perfectionist and Coach Sanders is actually the one to bring that to my attention a lot. He is always on me, and I know Coach Fisher is always on him about me.
“I always want to get better. I’m never going to be the type of guy that just sits back and just lets things go. I’m going to get better on my hips, get the ball up higher, and I’m going to start throwing rockets.”
Fisher lauded the efforts of Winston and the rest of his team through the first day of spring. The fifth-year coach said this 2014 team could be further along at this point than any of his previous teams.
“We had a good practice [Wednesday]. Missed assignments and a couple little things but very pleased with our knowledge of what we were doing and executed for a first day pretty good,” Fisher said.
On Jan. 6, as Jameis Winston lifted a crystal football and brought the Rose Bowl to a roar, Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin stood quietly offstage. Known around Tallahassee simply by his jersey number, Martin beamed when a fan asked: "Hey, 11! Is he seriously going to play baseball again?"
Martin quipped: "Heck yeah he is. He's mine in two weeks." Then he raised his hands to assuage fears. "Don't worry. I'll take care of him."
So far, so good. Thanks to a wicked off-speed slider and a 90 mph fastball, Winston has allowed five hits and one earned run (with three saves and 13 strikeouts) in seven outings as the closer for the No. 1 Noles.
"A lot of people thought I wouldn't set foot again on the baseball field," says Winston, a part-time outfielder who made 32 starts last spring before his Heisman-winning campaign. "But one of the main reasons I came here is to play both. If any school knows how to help me handle it, it's this one."
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