May 1, 2007
TALLAHASSEE Standing ovations are not out of the norm on Bobby Bowden's Seminole Boosters Tour of clubs throughout the Southeast. Bowden, of course, has been revered by Florida State supporters for decades, even during the recent down seasons.
Yet there is a marked difference to this year's tour, where the welcomes seem warmer and optimism is running a little higher than normal, a development undoubtedly linked to the offseason additions of five new assistant coaches.
Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher received a rousing ovation the kind usually reserved for his boss during a recent visit with the Tallahassee club. Likewise, Chuck Amato, Rick Trickett, Lawrence Dawsey and Dexter Carter have been welcomed warmly along the tour as well.
Now it's not altogether surprising that the group is entering the fifth month of what likely will be an eight-month honeymoon period, which is to say, the start of their first season together is still three months in the offing.
But more important than the warm wishes and glad tidings from fans, the group is not content taking bows. The coaches are busy making an impact, especially on the recruiting trail.
The Seminoles already have secured seven verbal commitments for the 2008 class. That is an especially positive development when you consider that the coaching staff does not get to make the rounds at Florida high schools until May, when spring football practice begins at that level in the Sunshine State.
The early payoffs are the result of hard work put it identifying future prospects for FSU during the whirlwind month of January, when the new staff was trying to salvage the 2007 class. That group came up short by FSU standards, in no small part because of sagging records and the staff overhaul.
The addition of Bob LaCivita, to the new position of director of player personnel, certainly has had an impact as well. FSU already has offered scholarships to more than 50 rising high school seniors, many of whom took part in the "Junior Day" LaCivita coordinated shortly after arriving in Tallahassee from a similar position at Florida.
One of the most encouraging signs from the crop of early commitments is the number of players from high schools that have not been especially fertile for the Seminoles over the years.
Jacksonville First Coast, a program that has sent several players to rival Florida as well as South Carolina and Clemson, provided FSU with two early commitments: linebacker Nigel Carr and tailback Jermaine Thomas Jr. There's a good possibility that a third promising First Coast prospect, wide receiver Avis Commack, will join them later.
Dawsey is the Seminoles' lead recruiter at First Coast, a school he mined during his brief tenure as the receivers coach at South Florida. It certainly hasn't hurt that the former FSU standout spent a lot of time in and around Jacksonville with his close friends LeRoy Butler and Edgar Bennett during his playing days.
The Seminoles also landed two commitments from nearby Crawfordville Wakulla: heralded linebacker Nigel Bradham, the state's No. 1 prospect according to at least one service, and defensive back C.J. Holton. That development could have long-term positive ramifications, considering that Wakulla coach Scott Klees grew up as a Florida supporter.
Through the years, FSU has done relatively well mining Tallahassee for some of the top local talent. Ernie Sims, Antonio Cromartie and Craphonso Thorpe are among the most prominent local products who recently starred for the Seminoles. Still, there have been a number of standouts who have slipped out of town for other Division I destinations, including rivals Florida and Miami.
Fisher, whose primary recruiting turf consists of Tallahassee and the surrounding area, recently met with all of the region's high school coaches. During that meeting, he pointed out that nine Division I-A prospects left town last year alone, and that he has no intention of seeing that trend continue. Not surprisingly, Fisher received a warm response.
Among the other three commitments, defensive tackle Anthony Hill's nod to defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews is promising if for no other reason than FSU has not had a great deal of success with Pensacola High prospects since Derrick Brooks' matriculation 17 years ago. Assistant Odell Haggins successfully swayed linebacker Vincent Williams (Davenport Ridge) out of Polk County, which recently has turned out a run of players for Florida. Andrews also got a commitment from safety Nicky Moody (Philadelphia Roman Catholic), who had a bunch of big-time offers, including one from Penn State.
While the honeymoon period almost certainly will end with FSU's first loss in 2007, or even the first sign of faltering in a specific area, the staff clearly is intent on striking while the buzz around the program changes is audible to all.
RECRUITING: OLD TURF, NEW FACES
FSU recruiting coordinator John Lilly recently revealed the new primary recruiting areas for the re-tooled staff. While the four returning coaches maintained ties to familiar territories, the newcomers were plugged into spots where they won't be strangers, either.
Amato, who spent 18 years recruiting the Miami area for FSU before leaving for N.C. State, will be back on familiar ground. Amato still actively recruited the fertile Dade County region as the Wolfpack head coach, so he should benefit from his familiarity with the players and coaches there.
Dawsey, who made in-roads in Jacksonville early on, will spend most of the spring in the Tampa/St. Pete area, as well as in Southwest Florida. The former Tampa Bay standout and USF assistant has significant name recognition in the area and will be a substantial upgrade from Darryl Dickey.
Trickett steps into the Daytona Beach, Orlando and Space Coast slot, long held by Billy Sexton. Carter has been assigned the area along the coast north of Tampa in the Pasco, Lake, Citrus and Sumter County region.
Haggins, who has become one of FSU's most valued recruiters, will retain his roots in Polk County but has added fertile Jacksonville and its surrounding area, replacing Mark McHale. Haggins spent time working in the Jacksonville area with troubled youth before joining the FSU staff prior to 1994.
As for out-of-state assignments, familiarity also played a role there.
Trickett will share Pennsylvania a prominent recruiting hot spot when he was at West Virginia with Amato, a native of the Keystone State. Trickett also will tag-team with Andrews in Alabama, a primary recruiting base for both men for more than a quarter-century. Fisher has retained Louisiana, where his good name from the LSU days remains strong. Carter, a Georgia native, will tag-team with Haggins along that state's east coast.