January 24, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- The recent dismissals of heralded Florida State freshman receiver Fred Rouse and offensive guard Cornelius Lewis created quite a stir with the message board set but hardly came as a surprise to anyone who closely follows the program.
In announcing their dismissals, FSU coach Bobby Bowden cited "conduct detrimental to the welfare of the football team" in a short press release, which closed by noting that there would be no further comment from the staff.
While the Buckley Amendment protects the students' rights from the school disclosing the official reason for the dismissals, it was widely speculated that Rouse and Lewis -- who are close friends -- were guilty of the same misdeed that led to their suspensions for the Oct. 22 game at Duke this season. At the time, Bowden said the suspensions were for a "violation of team policy."
When searches with Tallahassee police authorities failed to turn up an arrest for either player, and both were academically eligible and enrolled in school for the spring semester, most of the conjecture centered around the athletic department's drug and alcohol testing. Its three-strike policy takes disciplinary decisions out of the domain of Bowden and everyone else, dictating a one-game suspension for a second failed test and dismissal for a third.
The mercurial Rouse, the nation's top-rated wideout as a senior at Lincoln High in Tallahassee, is not the first troubled local product to crash and burn with the hometown Seminoles. Nor, in all likelihood, will he be the last.
FSU's critics will point to Rouse's recruitment as an indictment of the team's continued pursuit of questionable characters. In reality, Bowden's staff merely did what any major program would do when a high-profile prep prospect is suiting up in the shadow of its own stadium.
Certainly, the Seminoles weren't the only suitor for Rouse. He chose FSU over Texas, Miami and Alabama. Despite academic question marks and character concerns, he also was hotly pursued by Southern California, Florida, Tennessee and many others.
That's not to dismiss FSU of all culpability. Privately, staff members confessed that dealing with Rouse and his family through the recruiting process was ... well, difficult and extremely high-maintenance. Yet they still rolled out the red carpet, even sitting the 6-4 Parade All-American speedster down with offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, who outlined how his size and speed would translate into the scheme.
Rouse, however, had little impact on the Seminoles' 8-5 season. He caught six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, though he did start in FSU's three-receiver set against Penn State in the Orange Bowl. In fact, Rouse's greatest exposure on the national scene came as a result of his sideline tirade, involving teammates and an assistant coach, during the Seminoles' loss at Virginia.
With his dismissal, Rouse joined a list of distinguished Tallahassee prep products, including Mike Gibson, Eric Turral and Tamarick Vanover, whose troubled FSU careers came to premature -- albeit not completely unexpected -- endings. Each prospect was recruited despite a background that should have raised numerous red flags.
Sadly, those names overshadow other Tallahassee products who flourished at FSU and beyond, including Martin Mayhew, Casey Weldon and Ron Dugans, to name a few.
The fact is, FSU cannot afford to turn its back on highly touted local products in the recruiting process. Allowing them to get away to other schools, or being tagged as disinterested in hometown products, generates ill will within the local prep ranks and provides opponents with negative ammunition for future recruiting battles.
In the case of Rouse and a handful of others who have failed, FSU was gambling that being close to home -- with a great deal of community support -- would serve as a positive influence.
Unfortunately for the Seminoles, now they will be left to deal with the negative fallout of Rouse's departure as national signing day approaches, just one year after he was considered one of the crown jewels of a banner class.
SWANN SCORING WELL FROM WING
As junior Al Thornton continues his emergence as one of the ACC's best forwards, there are signs of a second player stepping forward to become a consistent -- and much-needed -- No. 2 option for the Seminoles.
One year removed from his aborted debut as the potential heir-apparent at point guard, sophomore Isaiah "Zeke" Swann is providing coach Leonard Hamilton with all-around production at the offensive end of the floor from the wing guard position.
Late last season, with Von Wafer deep in the funk that would lead to his early departure for the NBA, Hamilton identified Swann as a player whose skills may be better-suited for the wing.
An explosive athlete who plays much bigger than his 6-1 height, Swann had many of the same strengths that made Georgia Tech's Will Bynum an invaluable asset for the Yellow Jackets. Blessed with a deft left-handed shooting stroke from long range, plus the abilities to beat his man off the dribble and distribute the ball, Swann had all of the assets Hamilton coveted in a potential second scorer to Thornton.
"There's no question that we feel we need to have that (second scorer)," Hamilton said. "What has happened is we have a couple kids ... who are slowly moving in that direction. (Swann is) very capable of being a double-figure scorer every night. We're hopeful he'll mature into the role."
That's why Hamilton moved Swann to the wing late last season. It's a position Swann has filled more than capably as a starter since the opening game of 2005-06.
Swann struck for a career-high 17 points, including the game-tying three-point play near the end of regulation, in FSU's 87-82 overtime win at Virginia. He also contributed three assists to the cause.
To prove that it wasn't merely his night, Swann followed up with 14 points, a team-high seven rebounds and a career-high eight assists in FSU's
90-87 loss at Boston College. Through the first 14 games of the season, he averaged nine points and three assists.
Perhaps because of his point guard background -- he followed a prep career in the Maryland high school ranks with a season directing the offense at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia -- Swann has been somewhat reluctant to assert himself offensively.
"If I have a shot I'm going to take it, but if my teammate has a better shot I'm going to go ahead and give it to him," Swann said. "That's how I play, how I've been playing my whole life."
But with junior forward Alexander Johnson struggling to get into double figures on a nightly basis, the Seminoles clearly need more from someone.
"I haven't really felt like I've needed to score, so I've been giving the ball up," Swann said. "Now I'm looking for my shot a little bit more, because conference play is getting a little tougher."
At times Swann appears to lose track of his man on defense, though his athleticism has allowed him to compensate. His long arms and the quickness to keep from getting beat off the dribble have helped him to 22 steals, which rank third on the squad.
Still, it's impossible to overlook Swann's skills as a scorer. Through 14 games, he already had equaled his three-point field goal total (17) and double-figure scoring performances (five) as a freshman. That included three consecutive such games against Virginia Tech (his late free throws helped seal the win), Virginia and BC.