TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State appeared to be building one of the nation’s top 5 classes.
And then defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt opted to take the same job at Georgia on Tuesday.
Florida State coaches immediately went on the offensive and called recruits. A few are wavering and evaluating their verbal offers, and Pruitt’s decision could ultimately cause some of them to choose another school when National Signing Day arrives on Feb. 5.
But the years of relationships built by coach Jimbo Fisher and the other assistants, not to mention a national championship in 2013, means the overall strength of the class appears solid.
"There is no doubt that he was a young, energetic coach that was active on the recruiting trail," Scout.com recruiting analyst Geoff Vogt said of Pruitt. "However, it should be noted that Jimbo Fisher sells the FSU program and he is still in Tallahassee.
"FSU may drop off with a few of the prospects that Pruitt was high on, but I do not expect any significant difference to the overall quality of the class."
The class has been bolstered by a verbal commitment from the state’s Mr. Football, running back Dalvin Cook of Miami Central. Cook ran for 1,940 yards and 34 touchdowns, averaging 11 yards per carry to help Central win a state title.
Cook had made a verbal commitment to Florida but on New Year’s Eve flipped to Florida State, and he has already enrolled in Tallahassee. And with the Seminoles losing Devonta Freeman (a 1,000-yard rusher) as well as James Wilder (eight touchdowns), there’s not as much experience returning at tailback in 2014. Karlos Williams converted from safety in September and made an instant impact on offense. But the backups are Ryan Green, who saw a few carries late in games, and Mario Pender, who was academically ineligible for the 2013 season.
"I think he’s one of the special guys in this country," Fisher said of Cook. "Some guys move the chains, other guys change numbers on the scoreboard. I think he’s a guy that changes numbers on the scoreboard. Not only that, he understands how to win … he comes from a tremendous program, understands how to prepare, understands everything that goes with being a champion."
Florida State also needed to land a few receivers after senior Kenny Shaw graduated and redshirt sophomore Kelvin Benjamin departed early for the NFL draft. After Rashad Greene, a 1,000-yard receiver, there are few established pass-catchers. Greene will be a senior in 2014, as will reserves like Christian Green and Scooter Haggins.
The Seminoles signed three receivers in the class of 2013 — Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones. Whitfield saw the most playing time and had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the BCS championship game.
But Florida State also needed, and found, a few elite receivers with Travis Rudolph of West Palm Beach and Chris Worton of Homestead. The Seminoles are also chasing a pair of Scout.com five-star receivers in Malachi Dupre of River Ridge, La., and Ermon Lane of Homestead.
"Adding more talent at the receiver position was essential in this class," 247Sports analyst Chris Nee said. "The Seminoles got the ball rolling with the addition of Travis Rudolph at the Under Armour All-America Game. Rudolph is a player capable of making an instant impact. They are also in a good position to add Ermon Lane, a big receiver (6-foot-2) who could be a natural replacement for Benjamin."
Florida State’s biggest priority is on the offensive line. The Seminoles will start four seniors in 2014 and it’s a chance for underclassmen to gain experience in the fall before fighting for a starting job in 2015. Florida State has verbal commitments from a pair of junior-college linemen, Chad Mavety of Nassau (N.Y.) CC and Kareem Are of Fort Scott, Kan., as well as prep standouts like Brock Ruble of Hyattsville, Md., Ethan Frith of Summit, Miss., Corey Martinez of Tampa and Alec Eberle of Mechanicsville, Va.
"Another major focus for Florida State was adding depth and talent on the offensive line, specifically at offensive tackle," Nee said. "The interior of the line will improve with junior college early enrollee Kareem Are as well as others such as Alec Eberle and Corey Martinez.
"At tackle, the Seminoles have added one of the nation’s best junior college prospects in Chad Mavety. From the high school ranks they have added Brock Ruble, Ethan Frith, and they are in a good position to secure a pledge from Roderick Johnson by National Signing Day."
The defensive class is heavy on linebackers and linemen, but is loaded with four-star prospects. At linebacker, FSU has commitments from Jacob Pugh of Tallahassee, Delvin Purifoy of Pensacola and Kain Daub (an early enrollee from Jacksonville). Up front, the Seminoles have commitments from defensive tackles Demarcus Christmas of Bradenton and Dexter Wideman of Saluda, S.C., along with defensive end Lorenzo Featherston of Greensboro, N.C.
And the Seminoles also have landed four-star defensive back Trey Marshall, a Lake City native that has enrolled early and could play corner or safety.
"The defensive class is strong, especially in the front seven," Nee said. "The best player added on that side of the ball is Jacob Pugh. He can play any linebacker spot or come off the edge as a speed-rusher. The defensive line group is led by tackles Demarcus Christmas and Dexter Wideman. Both are versatile, physical players who set the tone in the trenches."
Fisher rebuilt the program through recruiting. The 2011 class was ranked No. 1 by Scout.com, and the 2012 group brought quarterback Jameis Winston, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, cornerback Ronald Darby and kicker Roberto Aguayo. Even the 2013 group helped out as true freshmen, with defensive backs Nate Andrews and Jalen Ramsey making an immediate impact.
It’s clear that Fisher and his staff, even after losing six assistants last year and Pruitt this week, have done a good job of evaluating talent and winning the recruiting battles to bring top prospects to Tallahassee.
"I would sum up recruiting in the Jimbo Fisher era with the phrase: he has cut down on the misses," Vogt said. "By cutting down on the misses, he has had a bigger pool of talent to work from. … Looking at the last two classes it is hard to see many guys that won’t contribute at some point."