August 5, 2002 TALLAHASSEE - Quaint would best describe the gathering of Florida State's 2002 football signees when they recently checked in to begin their collegiate careers. Only 13 players from the 22-member signing class were on hand for the indoctrination.
Five players failed to meet NCAA initial-eligibility requirements, tying the 1995 total for the highest signing class attrition rate over the last 14 years. A sixth player, prep All-American wideout Chris Davis, suffered a torn ACL just two weeks before he was scheduled to report. A seventh member of the class, juco All-American wideout Chauncey Stovall, was still in junior college. (He eventually received his diploma, which allowed him to join the Seminoles later.) Two others, defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and juco linebacker Nate Hardage, already were in the fold after enrolling in January.
FSU coach Bobby Bowden seemed to take the exceptionally high attrition rate, normally seen only in the SEC and other academically challenged places, in stride.
ìYou sign guys with the idea that you're going to lose some, because you only have this many numbers (85 scholarships),î Bowden said. ìSo you know you're going to lose some. OK, why do you go ahead and sign ëem? So you can place ëem at a junior college and they'll come back. Ö We did that with Charlie Ward. He turned out OK. That's why it doesn't alarm us coaches. Of course, we'd love to have them all here right now, but we couldn't handle it.î
Few programs in the ACC can afford to take the kind of attrition hit the Seminoles already have absorbed this fall. After all, FSU's depth has long been one of the reasons it has been able run roughshod through the league. While few players from FSU's 2002 signing class figured to contribute beyond special teams and select backup roles this season, high attrition rates usually take a toll somewhere down the road.
FSU was hit particularly hard along the defensive line, where tackles Chris Anderson, Chris Bradwell and Chris Turner were among the five academic casualties. The Seminoles' defensive line depth is fine for the 2002 season, but with Tony Benford and Mike Shaw set to complete their eligibility and Darnell Dockett a big season away from declaring for the NFL draft, FSU could be extremely short-handed at the interior line positions by the start of spring practice.
To a lesser extent, attrition also could impact the receiving corps. Parade All-American wideout Dishon Platt was among the prospects who failed to qualify. With Davis on the shelf this season with a torn ACL, the potential for spring depth problems remains an issue. Wideouts Talman Gardner and Robert Morgan are seniors this fall, while fourth-year junior Anquan Boldin also could move on to the NFL with a big season.
Bowden may put a positive spin on the current attrition rate, but he surely remembers how FSU's lack of depth in 2001 contributed to their shocking 8-4 campaign.
Linebackers Reversing Trend?
Bowden is very encouraged with the signing class of linebackers, which meets one of the program's immediate needs.
Freshmen Sam McGrew, A.J. Nicholson and Buster Davis each will have the opportunity to play their way into the two-deep lineup during two-a-day drills, in part because of the Seminoles' recent run on recruiting misses at the linebacker position.
ìIt's very important because the one thing that I'd say (in) the last four years that we haven't recruited effectively was linebackers,î Bowden said, ìand all of a sudden we've got three good prospects.î
With the graduation of three-year starting middle linebacker Bradley Jennings, the Seminoles entered camp with disappointing 280-pound senior Jerel Hudson as the tentative starter. Underline tentative, because defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews has told Hudson to lose weight or be prepared to move to defensive tackle.
Not surprisingly, the Seminoles will take a long look at all three newcomers in the middle, hoping to shore up the position. For now, senior Robert May is listed as Hudson's backup, with January juco arrival Hardage as the third-teamer.
May, a Chicago prep star who signed with Illinois in 1999 but failed to qualify, was a very late recruiting addition out of junior college in 2001 and unremarkable as a reserve last fall. Hardage originally signed with FSU in 2000, failed to qualify, re-signed last winter and enrolled in January, but a series of injuries prevented coaches from getting a feel for his ability to contribute right away. In short, the position is wide-open.
Other than true juniors Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware - bonafide stars as the starting outside linebackers - FSU has had more misses than hits on the recruiting trail up until this year.
Former linebackers coach Chuck Amato signed in-state prep All-Americans Mike Hamilton (1998) and Corey Collier (1999) in back-to-back years, but Hamilton later left with academic problems and Collier (a rising junior) may go down as one of the biggest busts in FSU history. Class of 2000 signees Hardage and Chad Mascoe failed to qualify. When prep All-Americans Eric Moore (2000) and Willie Jones (2001) proved too slow for linebacker, they bulked up in an attempt to get into the rotation at defensive end. Sophomore Ray Piquion (2001) has yet to provide a glimmer of hope that he'll materialize as a regular.
Aside from Boulware, Pope and this year's newcomers, the most promising linebackers in the program may be junior Allen Augustin (6-1, 206), a heady former walk-on, and sophomore Marcello Church (6-1, 215), a 2001 signee. Both are classic tweeners but too good to overlook entirely.
The 2002 signing class should take care of FSU's immediate needs, but linebacker help will remain a priority this coming year, which is why the Seminoles covet Tallahassee high school product Ernie Sims and several other prep All-Americans.
Bowden Takes Financial Hits
Bobby Bowden is one of the top-paid coaches in college football, with an annual salary approaching $2 million. But Bowden's wealth took a hit recently with a pair of failed off-the-field business interests.
Bowden was a partnered investor with former Miami Dolphins and Alabama star Bob Baumhower in a Tallahassee restaurant, Wings, that recently closed its doors. As if that close-to-home failed venture wasn't enough, the Birmingham (Ala.) News recently reported that Bowden had invested $1.5 million in an offshore trading company that was shut down by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.
Bowden's son, Steve Bowden, is a partner in a firm that is being sued for its connection to the Millennium Fund, which allegedly defrauded 14 investors of $10.8 million. The fund guaranteed a 14-percent return from trading contracts to buy and sell commodities. Bowden, Burgdorf & Young reportedly solicited college coaches for money to contribute to the fund, promoting it as a retirement investment, but did not have hands-on operation of the fund.