NCF On The Trail: Jimbo Fisher

Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.

1. Much has been written about the defensive talent Florida State has been able to attract to Tallahassee under Jimbo Fisher, but what truly impresses rival coaches is the stockpile of offensive talent.

“We try to tell the recruits that they’re loaded everywhere -- quarterback, running back and receiver -- but they just keep picking FSU,” an ACC recruiting coordinator said.

Opposing coaches point to Fisher’s background as a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator as a big reason why FSU’s had success recruiting on the offensive side. And boy have they had success. The 2014 class featured the No. 2 receiver, No. 3 running back, No. 6 receiver, No. 7 tight end and No. 11 quarterback. It’s much the same in 2015. On Monday, FSU added No. 7 running back Johnny Frasier. He joins a class that has the No. 4 quarterback, No. 9 quarterback, No. 11 quarterback, No. 7 offensive tackle and No. 9 tight end.

Even the least astute coach with his nose buried deep in his playbook knew the Ed O'Bannon antitrust lawsuit and the vote for autonomy was going forever change college football.

One of the first changes expected to pass, and would first impact prospects in the Class of 2016, will be the addition of full cost-of-attendance stipends. Four-year scholarship guarantees are expected to be on the early agenda, as well.

Those moves are good. But there is potentially a lot to fix and the concerns aren't going away.

"I'm afraid we've opened Pandora's box," a Big 12 recruiting coordinator said. "We kept hearing over and over autonomy was going to be positive for student-athletes and address their welfare. But there's a growing concern by a lot of coaches I visit with, that this is simply an end run by the biggest schools in the country to stack the deck for them even more, especially in recruiting."

Yes, there are bigger subjects the Power Five has to fix first, such as cost of attendance and the stipend issue, but not far behind those should be adjustments on the recruiting trail. Focus them on the recruits and do it with all 65 teams in mind, not just the biggest few.

Heck, the biggest reason autonomy passed originally was the idea that change could reduce the infringement on recruits' academic preparation. What would improve their academic well-being more than fixing the out of control recruiting process?

Recruits are facing more pressure than ever before. If it's not dealing with a coach direct messaging them at all hours in the day, it's the pressure to commit while on an unofficial visit in March of their junior year without mom and dad sitting at their side because they couldn't afford to make the visit.

Outside of the ability to add an early signing period, the vote for autonomy gives the Power Five an opportunity to re-write many of recruiting's key rules, and if a majority of schools and conferences agreed, it could make the process less of a burden for the student-athletes and parents involved.

Let's allow recruits to take official paid visits earlier. Recruits are already committing earlier and earlier, so why not let them get on campus with mom and dad at their side so they aren't pressured into making a decision they might not want to make?

Let's fix the communication situation. Both coaches and recruits are craving more actual communication on the phone or even face-to-face, instead of only 140 characters at a time. Having actual conversations surely would lead to fewer decommitments or confusion.

And let's also ensure that everybody is playing with the same cards and introduce limits on the size of recruiting support staffs a school can have.

There's a litany of other rules the Power Five could adjust that would make recruiting better. And if this move to autonomy was truly done with in the interest in supporting the student-athletes -- and not a power grab by schools with the deepest pockets -- then there's no reason why it shouldn't step up and make much-needed changes.

Social Studies


Aug. 1 was the first day schools could officially offer Class of 2015 prospects in writing, and it's been fascinating to see recruits posting pictures of their official offer letters. Before it was often a mystery as to whether or not a recruit truly had all the scholarship offers he claimed or what promises were made by schools. In today's social media world, though, it's all out there for everybody to see.

What's also out there for everybody to see is the language schools use in their letters.

For example, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher expects the Seminoles to have a football graduation rate of more than 90 percent by the end of this season.

 

Also, Colorado received a lot of positive attention when it sent an offer letter to both Buffalo offensive line commitment Tim Lynott and his family.

 

And Les Miles led off his pitch to ESPN 300 cornerback and LSU commitment Xavier Lewis by talking about how LSU will always be competing for a championship.

 
Four-star safety Mattrell McGraw (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian) had never been to Florida State's campus prior to this past weekend. He'd heard things that painted a mental image of the area, but in reality, in person, things were a lot different.

The state's capitol, something McGraw admittedly didn't know about, the amount of college students and having things to do all surprised him. And in a good way.


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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- As the Jimbo Fisher Camp was ending, the coach stood in front of a bunch of prospects in a semicircle. Meanwhile, a five-star talent hung out on the field, talking to a few people and watching what was going on.

The prospect was surrounded by a couple of Florida State commitments in Kain Daub (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) and Trey Marshall (Lake City, Fla./Columbia). When you're Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover), you command that sort of attention from your peers.


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Gonzalez making a return trip to FSU 

July, 17, 2013
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Marlon Gonzalez (Cape Coral, Fla./Island Coast) wasn't exactly flying high on Seminoles fans' radars coming into the first session of the Jimbo Fisher Camp in June.

Now that they know who the 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end is, they certainly understand why he was taken by the Florida State coaches. Even more credibility has arrived with his recent inclusion in the 2015 ESPN 300.

Sure, Gonzalez will take the honor -- like he should. But at the same time, he isn't focused on that above the goals of his team.


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ESPN 300 athlete Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) is staying in the ACC, but he's leaving his hometown.

The 5-foot-11, 186-pound four-star prospect committed to Florida State over Miami on Monday afternoon, calling the Seminoles' coaching staff to share the news.


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ESPN 300 CB names UGA his leader 

July, 8, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia coaching staff is looking for another cornerback in the Class of 2014 to pair with ESPN 300 athlete commit Malkom Parrish (Quitman, Ga./Brooks County). Its chances improved over the weekend as another ESPN 300 standout Kendall Randolph (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln) named the Bulldogs as his leader, followed by Florida State and South Carolina.


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Jimbo Fisher's recruitment of quarterbacks has nearly reached a point where they come to him and not the other way around.

If you look at, it makes sense. Just during his time at Florida State, he has produced back-to-back first-round selections in the NFL draft in Christian Ponder (Vikings, 2011) and EJ Manuel (Bills, 2013).

But it didn't start there. And it probably won't end there, either.


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ESPN 300 analysis: Florida State 

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As far as Florida State is concerned, there are plenty of notable and recognizable names in the newly released ESPN 300.


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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Another commitment has come in for head coach Jimbo Fisher during Florida State's first summer camp.

Rising senior Malique Jackson (Jesup, Ga./Wayne County), a long, rangy athlete at 6-foot-1, committed to the Seminoles after camping in front assistant coach Jeremy Pruitt. Jackson primarily worked out at cornerback, a place where Pruitt seems to like size.

"Yes, they recruited him as a corner," said Jackson's high school coach, Jody Grooms.

Jackson is the Seminoles' fourth commitment of this camp session, joining Ryan Sousa, Ethan Frith and Marlon Gonzalez.

Jackson attends the same school that produced current starting right guard Tre' Jackson.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Ethan Frith (Summit, Miss./North Pike) showed up to Florida State with a point to prove. And a new physique to show off.

Previously weighing in at 336 pounds, the offensive tackle this time checked in at 292 pounds. In the end, it very well could have earned him a spot on the Seminoles roster, especially given he ended up committing later in the day.

"I just wanted to compete and show Coach Jimbo [Fisher]," he said. "Since the last time I came here, I have lost 25 or so pounds.

“I just felt like it is the right place for me,” Frith said. “I love it down here. I like all of the coaches. I like all of the people down here. I just felt like it was home for me and it is where I should be.”

Right after his workout at the camp, Frith indicated he wasn't sure where he was in regard to making a decision. It certainly didn't appear imminent.

But in talking things over, Frith got the feeling that it was the place for him.

“Coach Trickett, getting to working with him and talking to him,” Frith said. “Then getting a chance to sit down and talk with him.

“He is a great coach,” Frith said. “I’ve been around [tough coaches] all of my life, so it isn’t anything new. I am looking forward to it. I plan on going to the NFL and he is the one who can get me there.”

Head coach Jimbo Fisher was expectedly happy with the news that he had a new offensive tackle coming in.

“He was excited,” Frith said. “I don’t think he expected me to, but he was excited when I did.”

As for the weight loss, Frith is in a position to stay trim. He's established new eating habits that set him up for prolonged success.

"Eating healthier, no fried foods, no cokes or Mountain Dews," he said. "My 40-yard dash has gotten faster. I'm more agile."

Frith is the Seminoles' 12th commitment of the 2014 class.

Official Visit: Thomas’ trouble; AU heats up

May, 8, 2013
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NoleNation’s Corey Dowlar talks with Phil Murphy about the latest in Florida State 2013 signee Matthew Thomas' saga, and TideNation's Greg Ostendorf stops by to talk about the impending decisions of ESPN 150 recruits Tre’ Williams and Justin Thornton.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- After a trip north on the weekend, Ryan Davis' (St. Petersburg, Fla./Northeast) fondness of Florida State has deepened.

On Saturday the 2015 athlete, who also has offers from Arizona and USF, took in the Seminoles' annual spring game.


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Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, who faces the challenge of restocking depth this cycle, had one of his top offensive guard targets on campus last Tuesday.

Corey Martinez (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Catholic), who has been to Florida State before, spent the whole day seeing what the Seminoles' campus has to offer.


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