Florida State hits jackpot on Signing Day
By BOB FERRANTE
Feb. 2, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The fax machine was in fifth gear Wednesday morning. And it wasn't even 10 a.m.
By 9:48 a.m., Florida State had signed national letters of intent from 15 student-athletes on National Signing Day, including five-star prospects James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams.
And by the end of the day, FSU had 21 signed letters in house. Coach Jimbo Fisher felt that he had replenished at every position with both quality and quantity.
"There's recruiting, there's player development, then there's coaching," Fisher said. "We had to recruit players; we got the ones we wanted. Now we have to develop players and we have to get them on the field and put them in position to make plays."
Fisher said this was the best class that FSU has had since he arrived on campus in 2007. While many fans are curious to see if FSU has the best class in the nation, Fisher cares very little about any recruiting national title.
He talked Wednesday about finding not just quality players but also quality individuals. And he often went into his rivals' backyard to do just that.
The FSU pipeline to Miami and Fort Lauderdale that was so beneficial during the 1990s, when the Seminoles won two national titles, was again flowing wide open to Tallahassee as a combined seven players from Dade and Broward counties signed with the Seminoles.
Fisher noted that he and his staff know South Florida like the backs of their hands. Fisher always recruited from West Palm Beach on down Interstate-95, as did running backs coach Eddie Gran. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and D.J. Elliot also assistants at the University of Miami, and offensive coordinator James Coley was a high school coach and offensive coordinator at Florida International.
"There's a large number of players there and a large number of players in which we evaluated and thought they were very good players," Fisher said. "It always seems to be that way. We have a lot of connections there."
FSU also has connections in the heart of Gator Country.
An hour after missing out on St. Augustine Menendez linebacker Tony Steward (who opted for Clemson), FSU heard good news from Lake City Columbia defensive end Timmy Jernigan.
"I had to figure out whether I wanted to stay close to home or be away from home," said Jernigan, one of the top defensive linemen in the nation. "It really came down to LSU and Florida State for me. I chose Florida State."
FSU's war room erupted in applause. Defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins, who had been recruiting Jernigan since he was in middle school, reached across the table and high-fived wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey.
When Jernigan stood up and gave the chop on national TV, Dawsey did the same in the war room.
With the exception of Steward's announcement, the morning went as well as FSU expected.
FSU coaches looked relaxed with their feet propped up on the conference room table while they checked their Blackberrys and watched the live ESPNU broadcast. Most of the morning was smooth-- the war room's dry-erase board had checkmarks next to all of the names that FSU coaches had received verbal commitments from over the past year.
From top to bottom, Fisher was pleased.
On Williams: "I think Karlos is one of those unique guys that comes around every 10 or 15 years. I don't want to put pressure on him and how he plays and how he develops. He has great top-end speed and he has tremendous ball skills."
On Wilder: "A guy that can carry 25 times (a game). He's very underrated in his ability to make you miss. Very underrated athlete."
On wide receivers Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin: "I'm excited about those two guys. Rashad Greene is extremely fast. But then at the same time very polished. Great route runner. Excellent hands and a return guy. Benjamin is 242 (pounds). And he has ball skills that are phenomenal. And he runs routes like he's 5-10, 180. When he wants to compete, he can do what he wants to do. He's a player."
On Jernigan: "I think he just had a comfort zone here. Over time, the consistency in our relationship is what won him over. Odell did a tremendous job in building that and being very consistent for him and eventually won him over."
On defensive linemen Derrick Mitchell and Nile Lawrence-Stample: "(They) could be first-round guys."
Fisher was quick to sing the praise of every player, from the five-star stud to the three-star prospect.
"Our three-star guys are going to be some of the best guys in this class," Fisher said.
It's a class that could be paying dividends for years.