May 30, 2007
TALLAHASSEE The Jacksonville area, known regionally as Florida's First Coast, has provided the Florida State football program with a wealth of talent through the years.
Cornerback LeRoy Butler, running back Edgar Bennett, linebacker Sam Cowart, defensive end Derrick Alexander, wide receiver Andre Cooper and running back Leon Washington rank among the most accomplished former FSU stars from that region.
In recent years, however, the Seminoles have had a significantly lower recruiting profile on the First Coast. Junior cornerback Tony Carter and senior center John Frady are the most prominent current players from the area.
It's a trend that appears ready to change, now that the program has stabilized its coaching staff.
Prior to the new regime's arrival, four different FSU assistants Jeff Bowden, Joe Kines, Jimmy Heggins and Kevin McHale had been assigned as the point men on the First Coast since 2000. Officially, Odell Haggins has been assigned the area in 2007.
But new receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey has had a tremendous impact this spring, as the Seminoles have picked up three commitments all from First Coast High and extended offers to two more prospects from the region. Several other rising seniors in the area also are on FSU's radar.
Dawsey, who previously recruited the area for South Florida, has established an especially strong relationship at First Coast High, where wide receiver Avis Commack recently became the Seminoles' 10th commitment. The speedy, 6-4 wideout a double state champion in the hurdles followed teammates Nigel Carr (linebacker) and Jermaine Thomas (tailback) when he pledged his allegiance to FSU.
In addition to the trio of Buccaneers, FSU already has extended scholarship offers to Jacksonville Trinity Christian tailback Jamie Harper and Terry Parker wide receiver Alfred Jenkins. White High cornerback Patrick Nixon soon could join that list.
Dawsey is certainly no stranger to Jacksonville. In addition to his previous position at USF, the former FSU wide receiver spent a great deal of time during his college days in the city with Bennett, his close friend.
Their relationship nearly spawned another reunion, as coach Bobby Bowden initially offered Bennett the running backs coaching position, which Bennett declined in order to remain in that same capacity with the Green Bay Packers. Ex-FSU tailback Dexter Carter was hired to fill that staff slot, moving to Tallahassee from you guessed it Jacksonville.
Carter has been assigned the south Georgia area, just north of Jacksonville, as his primary recruiting region. That established yet another link the Seminoles plan to utilize with greater success under the new regime.
HAMILTON TRIES SPRING AGAIN
With the trend of early commitments seemingly growing stronger each year, it's becoming increasingly rare when a late basketball signee makes a significant impact on his team.
FSU hoops coach Leonard Hamilton has had more luck than most in that area. In fact, Hamilton's top three players in Tallahassee Georgia forward Al Thornton (a mid-year enrollee), junior college guard Tim Pickett and Georgia (via prep school) center Alexander Johnson all were late signees.
Now the Seminoles are hopeful that the trend will continue, with the recent addition of combo guard Chris Blake of Mobile (Ala.) LeFlore.
A four-year starter, Blake led LeFlore to the state semifinals as a sophomore and junior before capping his career with a championship in Alabama's largest classification. A do-it-all player, LeFlore averaged 21 points and six assists per game as a senior, earning all-state honors. He also was the runner-up for Alabama Mr. Basketball, after leading the Rattlers to a 32-3 record and a No. 14 national ranking by USA Today.
"He is the most unselfish player I have ever coached," long-time LeFlore coach Otis Hughley said. "The only thing that matters to him is the final score. ... It's not going to surprise me if he becomes an outstanding player in the Florida State system."
FSU's system of identifying players who can help the program, then staying with them through the ups and downs of the recruiting process when other schools back off, has been a real strength of Hamilton and his top assistant, Stan Jones. Their extended web of contacts that spider out well beyond the high school and AAU circuits, along with their knack for relationship-building, have kept them in the hunt for productive recruits at times when they have not been able to secure elite players in the early signing period.
Despite a well-stocked backcourt of returnees, Hamilton is hopeful that Blake's greatest strength leading winners will help the Seminoles get off the NCAA Tournament hump they've called home since 1998. LeFlore compiled a four-year, 125-16 record with Blake in the lineup.
"He has been successful and on winning teams throughout his career," Hamilton said, "and that attitude will bode well for both Chris and our program."
FOOTBALL: UNFAMILIAR PREDICTIONS
A fixture in the national rankings for two decades, Florida State is about to find out what life is like as an underdog.
The Seminoles were nowhere to be found in the national polls after finishing 7-6 in 2006. That marked the first season they failed to finish the year in the Top 25 since 1986, ending the nation's longest such streak.
That also may be where they start the 2007 season, based on some of the preseason magazine rankings. Athlon does not have the Seminoles among its Top 25, while Lindy's (21), Rivals (20) and Fox Sports (17) have them slotted considerably lower than usual.
"There are a lot of question marks about this team," Athlon senior editor Mitch Light said.
While there is significant optimism within the FSU camp, the staff overhaul obviously cannot offset the Seminoles' recent trend of under-achievement, at least in the eyes of the voters.
TRACK THRILLS EVOKE MEMORIES
As the Florida State men's track team prepares to defend its NCAA title, it's hard to ignore the impact that program's rise from the ashes has had on other sports.
While sprinter Walter Dix and 400-meter specialist Ricardo Chambers get most of the attention as the nation's fastest in their respective events, football cornerbacks Michael Ray Garvin and Patrick Robinson, running back Antone Smith and wide receiver Rod Owens also have contributed to the team.
Garvin, an All-American in the 200 as a freshman, will be part of FSU's top-ranked 4x100-meter relay team when the Seminoles go after their second consecutive title.
More importantly, the recent success of the track program under Bob Braman has drawn the attention of dual-sport football prospects such as Commack, from Jacksonville.
It's no coincidence that in his former post at Louisiana State, FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher reaped the benefits of two-sport stars, especially but not exclusively track sprinters. It should be noted that Fisher has supported quarterback D'Vontrey Richardson's participation on the baseball team, which limited his time during spring practice.
Not to be forgotten, FSU enjoyed some of its greatest football success with its stars competing in other sports. Twenty years ago, Deion Sanders set the standard by competing in the Metro Conference baseball and track championships on the same day.
The litany of the Seminoles' two-sport stars of the past is highlighted by Heisman winner Charlie Ward and also includes the likes of Terrell Buckley and Danny Kanell.