Jimbo Fisher says FSU was able to address many needs with its recruiting class.
By BOB FERRANTEFS Florida
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State landed five-star linebacker Matthew Thomas, five-star defensive back Jalen Ramsey and one of the nation’s fastest football players, wide receiver Levonte Whitfield, before lunchtime on Wednesday.
Seminoles also lost two coveted prospects in what has been a hit-and-miss National Signing Day for a program that lost six assistant coaches — and hired five — this offseason.
Thomas’ teammate at Miami Booker T. Washington, offensive lineman Denver Kirkland, chose Arkansas over Florida State. A few hours later, a tearful wide receiver, Fort Lauderdale Northeast’s Stacy Coley, donned a cap that said “Swag” and decided to stay close to home and attend Miami over Florida State.
But the sting of the losses of Kirkland and Coley are softened by the signings of 22 student-athletes that placed Florida State’s class at No. 15 in the Scout.com rankings.
Among the key members of the class are Thomas, Ramsey and a large group of four-star prospects that includes tailback Ryan Green of St. Petersburg Catholic, defensive tackle Keith Bryant of Delray Beach Atlantic, wide receiver Isaiah Jones of Milton, guard Ira Denson of Madison County, and linebackers E.J. Levenberry of Woodbridge, Va., and Tyrell Lyons of Jacksonville First Coast.
“We really met a lot of needs,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Our new staff did a tremendous job by going out very quickly and building relationships among new recruits and establishing who they are as coaches and what they are as men.”
Thomas had 155 tackles his past two seasons in high school. He and early enrollee Freddie Stevenson of Bartow help strengthen a linebacking corps that must replace starters Vince Williams and Nick Moody. Two other starters in 2013, Christian Jones and Telvin Smith, are both seniors.
“He is one of those guys that can change the game,” Fisher said of Thomas. “Can rush, can cover. He has great ball skills. He’s just one of those guys that is a tremendous, tremendous football player.”
New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who was hired in December, played a key role in landing Ramsey, a defensive back whom he had been monitoring for a few years in his former role as Alabama’s defensive backs coach.
Ramsey is considered the top prospect from Tennessee and is one of the top cover corners in the class of 2013. He was a longtime verbal commitment to Southern Cal before changing to the Seminoles on Monday night in a phone call with Fisher.
“Very explosive, very big, physical,” Fisher said of Ramsey. “Can run, great ball skills. You talk about a top-notch family, top-notch young man. You could go on and on and on.”
Florida State also landed two signees who have enrolled early, including four-star defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who will bolster a defensive end corps that also loses Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins to the NFL.
One of the fastest high school football players in the country was the first to sign with Florida State. Whitfield, an Orlando Jones standout who runs the 40 in 4.37 seconds, signed early Wednesday morning and his fax was received in the coaches’ offices at 7:02 a.m.
Whitfield, a three-star prospect, caught 38 passes for 520 yards and four touchdowns as a senior. He is the cousin of Florida State football-track athlete Marvin Bracy. Whitfield is expected to also compete in football and track.
The Seminoles landed two offensive linemen in Wilson Bell of Prichard (Ala.) Blount and Ryan Hoefield of New Orleans Brother Martin High.
Florida State also signed quarterback John Franklin III of South Plantation, who will have time to learn the playbook as the Seminoles enter the spring in a three-way quarterback duel between Clint Trickett, Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker.
Despite the loss of six assistant coaches, Fisher said he essentially acted as Florida State’s recruiting coordinator. He spent plenty of time trying to nail down recruits in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, an area in Southeast Florida that he has recruited for the past 20 years.
Fisher admitted that the turnover led to recruits going elsewhere but that Pruitt and the other new assistants were able to open new doors, too.
“It could have (hurt),” Fisher said. “Maybe. I actually think it opened up more doors with guys that we got on the back end. It may have been a wash. We got in on some key guys that we never had a chance (on).”
Most significant signing: Thomas. The five-star linebacker can play on the outside and excels as a run-stopper and in coverage. He could easily see playing time in 2013, but is an essential part of the 2014 team after the Seminoles say goodbye to seniors like Christian Jones and Smith.
Biggest surprise: Coley to Miami. The playmaking wide receiver was long thought to be headed to Miami, Florida State or South Florida. But an emotional Coley was crying on the stage at his Fort Lauderdale school before saying that he would go to Miami.
The one that got away: Kirkland. Florida State returns four starters on the offensive line, but it could have used the 6-foot-5, 330-pound tackle for the long term. Losing a five-star like Kirkland stings, but it wasn't as damaging once the coaches landed Bell.