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Departures Leave Many Holes To Fill

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

TALLAHASSEE – There was plenty of practice space available when the Florida State football team began its organized summer workouts on June 2, and it won't exactly be overcrowded when the incoming freshmen and junior college transfers begin arriving on June 21.

Ghosts just don't take up much practice space, and the Seminoles – based on a review of their 2007 roster – will be full of apparitions.

Attrition has taken hold of the program and left enough gaping personnel holes to make you wonder what might happen this fall if injuries strike.

Thumbing through the 2007 roster, you'll find no fewer than a dozen players who had eligibility remaining in 2008 who are no longer with the team. Some of them have moved on by choice, while others left with an assist from a coaching staff bent on a total makeover.

That process began in earnest when coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher was hired in January 2007 as offensive coordinator, along with line coach Rick Trickett, receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey and running backs coach Dexter Carter, and one-time assistant Chuck Amato returned to lead the linebackers. They were joined by Bob LaCivita, who was appointed director of player personnel and assigned the task of identifying talented high schoolers.

The combination of events also led to the departure of long-time recruiting coordinator John Lilly, who left for a job on Mark Richt's Georgia staff at the conclusion of the 2007 season. Lilly since has been replaced with James Coley, who – like Trickett and Dawsey – had worked with Fisher before.

Clearly, the Seminoles are moving forward with Fisher providing the vision of the type of players needed to resurrect the program's fortunes.

As FSU coach Bobby Bowden might say, the staff now is "singing from the same hymnal." Of course, that's the same methodology Bowden applied when building the Seminoles into a national power with his veteran staff.

To be certain, Fisher has an eye for the type of players he wants on scholarship. He also knows what he doesn't need, which goes a long way toward explaining some of the attrition.

Since the end of spring practice:

  • Rising junior linebacker Marcus Ball requested, and was granted, his release from the school. Having already served a pair of suspensions for violating team policy, it is believed that Ball was about to fall victim to the "third-strike" rule.

  • Starting left tackle Daron Rose, the elder statesmen as a rising junior on a paper-thin front, was declared academically ineligible and transferred to a junior college.

  • Well-traveled tight end Jonathan Hannah, projected as an opening-day starter, reportedly is no longer in school.

  • Tight end Matt Dunham is attending a junior college, and his status for the fall remains uncertain.

  • Sophomore safety Anthony Leon transferred after failing to live up to his billing.

Those defections do not include the end-of-season decisions by tailbacks Jamaal Edwards and Russell Ball, offensive lineman Tyler Graves and wide receiver Damon McDaniel to transfer.

Another offensive lineman, rising fifth-year senior Geoff Berniard, was told that his services would not be needed in 2008. That decision apparently was made when the coaches learned that the career reserve with no shot at seeing playing time was on track to graduate prior to the start of the fall semester.

Of course, the biggest post-spring news surrounded the status of second-team All-ACC receiver Preston Parker, who was arrested in late April and charged with a felony count of carrying a concealed weapon and also with possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Parker's case was resolved in a Palm Beach County court in May, when the felony charge was reduced and he was placed on probation. He immediately was suspended by FSU for two games and given a lengthy list of requirements to fulfill in order to remain in school.

Fisher, apparently, doesn't stray far from Bowden's philosophy when it comes to dealing with troubled youngsters. Despite popular opinion that Parker should have been dismissed, FSU stood behind the talented youngster, while also outlining the strict conditions – which include probation, regular drug testing, community service and counseling – for his reinstatement.

The status of a third tight end, 2007 starter Charlie Graham, is still unclear. Graham was dismissed at the end of the fall semester for academic reasons and transferred to Tallahassee Community College. School officials cannot confirm on the record that Graham has made the necessary academic improvement to be reinstated, because he is technically a recruit again.

However, Graham's situation took a strange turn when he was cited by Tallahassee police in mid-May for firing a gun into the air in a residential community. In the police report, Graham admitted wrongdoing, but he told officers he was celebrating his clearance for reinstatement to FSU. School officials have not commented on the incident.

The decisions of linebacker Geno Hayes and defensive tackle Letroy Guion to enter the NFL draft after their junior seasons have been well-documented. The two were late-round choices, causing some to wonder why they opted to leave.

What has not been widely reported is that the FSU coaching staff went to great lengths in an attempt to persuade Guion to return for his final season of eligibility. He passed on that opportunity for what he described as "family reasons." Some may find it surprising that Hayes, a first-team All-ACC selection, was not courted by the coaching staff to return.

FUTURE BENEFIT IS SILVER LINING

The additional vacancies could prove beneficial to the Seminoles in the long run.

FSU signed 30 players in February, three of whom enrolled in January and will be counted against the previous class. The attrition allows for the majority of signees to enter school, even though a handful initially were identified as potential grayshirts who would enroll in January 2009.

Perhaps more importantly, it could allow FSU to sign close to a full allotment of players again in 2009. That would not have been the case had the Seminoles been at the full complement of 85 scholarships.

FSU will lose eight scholarships over the next two years as a result of self-imposed sanctions for the academic misconduct scandal that rocked the program last fall. In theory, the Seminoles could sign a full class, providing the total number of scholarships accountable for 2009-10 does not exceed 81.

As a result, don't be surprised if more underclassmen leave the program before the spring 2009 semester begins in January.

In short, the returning players are on notice: Get your academics in order and don't step out of line with either the law or school policy, or risk being replaced by someone more suitable to the new regime.