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Florida State

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

After Two So-So Classes, Another Juggernaut

TALLAHASSEE — It had been eight years since Florida State linebackers coach Kevin Steele had spent a full season as an assistant on the road recruiting, an area that helped shape his reputation while an aide at Nebraska under Tom Osborne. "I liked it then," Steele said, "and I still enjoy it." Steele had a big hand this year in helping the Seminoles land one of the nation's consensus top classes, particularly with his strong efforts in South Florida and South Carolina. He said his transition back to the road was quite easy, mainly because FSU enjoys the same national stature the Cornhuskers had throughout the late 1980s and mid-1990s. "I do not want to coach without a chance to win a national championship," Steele said. "We've put ourselves in a position (to win one) with this group of players and this signing class." In addition to meeting their needs with a 25-player haul, the Seminoles served notice that two consecutive subpar recruiting classes were by no means a sign of a program in decline, even in the face of a beefed-up ACC. The Seminoles may have found their quarterback of the future by signing two of the state's top three — Mr. Football and Parade All-American Xavier Lee, plus another popular All-American choice in Drew Weatherford. They also rebuilt the receiving ranks with 6-6 Greg Carr and burner Kenny O'Neal, who comes to FSU via California but was raised in Georgia. Then even gave themselves another well-regarded specialist in Gary Cismesia, even though they already have two kickers on scholarship. Defensively, the Seminoles loaded up from back to front, plucking seven defensive backs to help soften the upcoming loss of six seniors to graduation. Three more linebackers, on top of last year's stellar group, should secure that position for at least two more years. With the program's top two tackle targets in the fold, Aaron Jones and Emmanuel Dunbar, the interior line also appears set. In short, FSU coach Bobby Bowden and his staff left nothing to chance in an attempt to build on last season's 10-3 campaign, thanks to another remarkable closing effort by its re-energized coach. Steele marveled as Bowden set out to seal deals, most of which proved successful. "(Bowden) has an uncanny ability of knowing what button to push on what person," Steele said. "When he walks in that front door, he has that instant connection with whoever he comes in contact. He has that ability of making everybody feel at ease." There were signing-day disappointments, to be sure. FSU went to the wire and lost on defensive end Brandon Miller (Georgia), linebacker Willie Williams (Miami) and defensive tackle DeMario Pressley (N.C. State). And while it was widely reported that a pair of commitments, defensive end Darrell Robertson (Georgia Tech) and wide receiver Carl Grimes (Michigan State), walked away from FSU, the school essentially let both players go without a fight because they would have put the team over the 25-newcomer limit. "If we'd have had 40 scholarships, we could probably have signed 40," Bowden said. "At the end there, we had to call some kids and tell them we're filled up. We were scared of the number (25)." The bountiful bunch couldn't have come at a better time for the Seminoles, who lost about one-fifth of their last two signing classes to academic ineligibility. Though embarrassing, FSU's attrition problems proved beneficial on the recruiting trail this year, because the school was able to target a full class of signees. What made this Florida State class unique was the way recruiting coordinator John Lilly and the rest of the staff were able to execute their plan. In their pre-recruiting meetings, the Seminoles were able to target their primary areas of need and most-coveted players with a limited amount of the normal haggling. More importantly, FSU was able to hit its marks. In South Florida, the Seminoles signed three — Dunbar, plus defensive backs Trevor Ford and J.R. Bryant — of their top five targets. The same held true in Jacksonville, where the staff identified five early priorities and came away with the trio of cornerback Tony Carter, tailback Lamar Lewis and offensive guard Cornelius Lewis. A .600 batting average, of course, is strong in any league. The Seminoles even continued that trend beyond geographical bounds as Steele, a highly popular first-year linebackers coach, reeled in three of his top five choices. Offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins had a similarly stellar effort with a five-player haul, including a pair of sky-scraping offensive tackles and a trio of interior linemen. Collectively, the line class of tackles Courtney "Baby Shaq" Abbott and Geoff Berniard, plus interior linemen Dumaka Atkins, Jacky Claude and Lewis, may be the most critical haul of widebodies for FSU since the 1997 class. That group ultimately played in three consecutive national championship games. "I thought it was imperative that we get five this year," said Bowden, who sweated out last season, when FSU's offensive front was thin and inexperienced. "They're all good-looking guys. We've got one tackle (Abbott) that's 6-9, one (Berniard) is 6-8. One of the short ones is 6-5. I like all those offensive linemen." Bowden, appearing much younger than his 74 years at the end of what is usually a grueling recruiting cycle, looked like someone who enjoyed the process this year. "It just seemed like the reception was so much better this year for some reason," said Bowden. The coach said he encountered fewer questions about his age (he always brings it up first) and very little parental resistance. Of course, it probably helped that the Seminoles headed into the heart of recruiting without last year's Adrian McPherson gambling flap hanging overhead. And the fact that FSU was coming off its first 10-win season since 2000 didn't hurt, either. "It makes it a lot more positive when you have a good year," Bowden said. "I don't consider this past year a great year. I consider it a good year." That, in itself, speaks volumes of Bowden's focus. He intends to get the Seminoles back in the national championship race before he calls it quits. While FSU lost a few five-star prospects on signing day, it did meet its needs. "We needed offensive linemen, we got five," Bowden said. "We needed linebackers, we got (four). We're going to lose six defensive backs soon. We brought (seven) defensive backs in, and they are good ones. Some of them had committed to other universities and decided to come here Ö and then we lose a couple." The fact that most of FSU's prized commitments stuck to their word made for a relatively seamless signing day. Even Carter, who made his official announcement on TV following FSU's press conference, sent his letter of intent in prior to going public. "There weren't a lot of big surprises at the end," Lilly said, "which isn't all that bad." That's not to say the class was without a couple of shortcomings. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews would have preferred at least one defensive end, but it wasn't a necessity. Given the recent trend of early departures, offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden probably would have liked another wideout. And again, FSU has its usual share of academic question marks. Nevertheless, Bowden hardly could contain his excitement while studying the list of names before him on signing day. "I was trying to figure out when the last time was we brought a group like this in," Bowden said, adding that it compared favorably to his 1985 class, which included Deion Sanders, Sammie Smith and current FSU assistant Odell Haggins. Though it remains to be seen if that comparison is fair, the 1985 class provided the foundation for a 14-year run in Tallahassee that ranks among the best in college football history.

FSU Assistant Returned Home For Timmons

TALLAHASSEE — Few coaches in college football have the reach of Florida State linebackers coach Kevin Steele. With time spent in the SEC, the Big 12 and the NFL, Steele's tentacles virtually cover a map of the United States. The former Baylor head coach also can turn a doorknob with the very best on the recruiting trail. That was one of the reasons FSU coach Bobby Bowden added South Florida to Steele's recruiting territory this season. That part of the Sunshine State is one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the nation. It's also a place where the Seminoles have struggled to land talent since long-time assistant Chuck Amato left in 2000. While the Seminoles successfully pulled in three of their top five targets from South Florida this year, it was Steele's personal ties to his hometown of Dillon, S.C., that paid off in the signing of Florence (S.C.) Wilson star Lawrence Timmons. He was the Palmetto State's defensive player of the year after racking up more than 150 tackles, and he was one of five high school linebackers on the Seminoles' A-list of coveted prospects. The B-list? "It didn't exist," said Steele. Encouraged by friends, family members and football acquaintances that Timmons could play at FSU, Steele made a return trip to Dillon (S.C.) High — his first since graduating nearly 30 years ago — for a game against Wilson to see for himself. Up to that point, a highlight film of Timmons hauling in TD receptions from his tight end position was all the FSU coaches had to evaluate. "I knew he could play in space, that he was a great athlete with good hand-eye coordination," said Steele, whose visit confirmed what he had hoped. "He can run. He'll hit you. Physically, he looks like a taller Ernie Sims." Sims, a rising sophomore and future star, was Steele's lone signee last season after he was hired in January. That was a pretty good start for FSU's newest assistant. This year, between South Florida and South Carolina, Steele may have done even better.

Who Got Away?

The following prospects had firm scholarship offers from Florida State and/or took official campus visits to Tallahassee but signed with other programs: Metairie (LA) Archbishop Rummel DT Nader Abdallah (Ohio State), Melbourne (FL) Palm Bay WR Xavier Carter (LSU), Concord (CA) De La Salle WR Cameron Colvin (Oregon), Tallahassee (FL) Lincoln OL Calvin Darity (UNC), St. Martinville (LA) High WR Early Doucet (LSU), Hollywood (FL) Chaminade WR John Dunlap (NCSU), Riverside (MO) Park Hill South OL Brett Gallimore (Michigan), Robersonville (NC) Roanoke DB Trimane Goddard (UNC), Newnan (GA) High WR Demiko Goodman (Georgia), Detroit (MI) St. Martin WR Carl Grimes (Michigan State), Ventura (CA) St. Bonaventure DB Terrail Lambert (Notre Dame), Jacksonville (FL) First Coast WR Mike McIntosh (Florida), Colquitt (GA) Miller County DE Brandon Miller (Georgia), Newnan (GA) High DT Ernest Mitchell (Arkansas), Immokalee (FL) High DB McIntosh Nicolas (Florida), Greensboro (NC) Dudley DT DeMario Pressley (NCSU), Jonesboro (GA) High DE Darrell Robertson (Georgia Tech), Waco (TX) High DB Marcus Walker (Oklahoma) and Miami (FL) Carol City LB Willie Williams (Miami). The following prospects also had scholarship offers from Florida State but eliminated the Seminoles very early in the recruiting process: Grand Prairie (TX) High QB Rhett Bomar (Oklahoma), Tucker (GA) High RB Thomas Brown (Georgia), Gulfport (MS) Harrison Central WR Tony Burks (Mississippi), Jacksonville (FL) White DB Dawayne Grace (Florida), Neptune Beach (FL) Fletcher DB Kyle Jackson (Florida), Long Beach (CA) Poly WR Derrick Jones (Southern Cal), Arlington (TX) Grace WR Lance Leggett (Miami), Sarasota (FL) Riverview OL Drew Miller (Florida), Vanceboro (NC) West Craven DT Gerard Miller (NCSU), Lake Mary (FL) High LB Keith Rivers (Southern Cal), Norcross (GA) Greater Atlanta Christian FB Brannan Southerland (Georgia), Northeast Mississippi (MS) Junior College DB Mario Stevenson (LSU), Crawfordville (FL) Wakulla OL Jim Tartt (Florida), Reserve (LA) East St. John RB Derron Thomas (Miami) and Sandersville (GA) Washington County OL Seth Watts (Georgia).

Compiled by Dave Glenn 2004 Florida State Football Signees

Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Stars High School/Junior College Comment
Courtney Abbott OL 6-9 335 3/3 Atlanta (GA) Westlake SP-16 GA; 1st-team 4A; "Baby Shaq"; over Ga., UVa
Dumaka Atkins* OL 6-4 280 2/4 Sarasota (FL) Booker RV-11 OG; SP-22 OL; 1st-team 3A; over Fla., Mich. (!)
Geoff Berniard OL 6-8 320 3/3 Lafayette (LA) St. Thomas More SP-31 LA; 2-time 1st-team 4A; over USC, Tulane
J.R. Bryant* DB 6-1 170 4/4 Miami (FL) Killian RV-4 CB; IN-5 CB; TL-9 CB; 3rd-team 6A; over Miami (?)
Greg Carr WR 6-6 200 3/4 Citra (FL) North Marion RV-21 WR; 1st-team 3A; also BB; over Ga., Miami (?)
Tony Carter* DB 5-9 175 3/4 Jacksonville (FL) Mandarin RV-2 CB; TL-4 DB; 2nd-team 6A; over UNC, UT (?)
Gary Cismesia PK 5-11 209 3/2 Bradenton (FL) Lakewood Ranch 3rd-team 5A; 60-yard range; late switch from GT (!)
Jacky Claude OL 6-4 290 3/4 Miami (FL) Edison RV-8 OG; 1st-team 5A; over NCSU, Rut., USF (?)
Emmanuel Dunbar DT 6-5 265 3/4 Deerfield Beach (FL) High RV-12 SDE; 1st-team 6A; over NCSU, OU, VT (?)
Jamaal Edwards* RB 6-0 202 4/4 Greensboro (NC) Dudley SP-2 RB; IN-3 RB; TL-5 RB; early over UNC, UVa (?)
DeCody Fagg^ WR 6-3 185 4/3 Chatham (VA) Hargrave From Quincy (FL) Shanks; hurt (no FB) in 2003; re-sign
Trevor Ford* DB 6-1 187 3/4 Miami (FL) Northwestern RV-6 CB; TL-9 S; 3rd-team 6A; over IU, KSU, Miami
Rodney Gallon LB 6-0 210 3/4 Tallahassee (FL) Lincoln SP-17 LB; TL-16 OLB; 1st-team 4A; over Aub., Neb.
Kenny Ingram* DB 6-6 200 4/3 Orlando (FL) Edgewater IN-4 S; TL-6 S; 1st-team 6A; also BB; over Ga., Miami
Aaron Jones* DT 6-3 270 4/4 Orlando (FL) Edgewater IN-6 DT; TL-8 DL; 1st-team 6A; over Ga., Miami, NCSU
Xavier Lee* QB 6-4 200 5/5 Daytona Beach (FL) Seabreeze IN-2 QB; TL-4 QB; 1st-team 3A; over Aub., OSU, Texas
Cornelius Lewis OL 6-4 305 2/3 Jacksonville (FL) Raines SP-45 FL; 3rd-team 3A; over Aub., Clem., UNC, UT
Lamar Lewis RB 5-9 188 3/3 Jacksonville (FL) Trinity Christian SP-42 FL; 1st-team 1A; 4-year starter; over GT, WF
Joe Manning DB 6-0 175 3/3 Tallahassee (FL) Lincoln SP-12 DB; 2nd-team 4A; over Aub., Neb., Syr., UT
Darius McClure DB 5-11 188 2/3 Adamsville (AL) Minor Hard-hitting safety; long-time Auburn commitment
Kenny O'Neal* WR 6-1 195 4/4 Oakland (CA) Skyline IN-8 WR; SP-9 WR; top sprinter; over Fla., Ga., Ore.
Joe Surratt FB 6-1 255 2/2 Pace (FL) High SP-59 FL; 3rd-team 3A; 176-958-13; over USF, USM
Jae Thaxton* LB 6-3 225 3/4 Hartwell (GA) Hart Co. RV-8 ILB; SP-16 LB; 1st-team 3A; over Ga., LSU
Lawrence Timmons* LB 6-3 225 4/4 Florence (SC) Wilson SP-6 LB; TL-10 LB; all-state; over Fla., UNC, UT (?)
Jonathan Warren* DB 6-1 190 4/4 Madison (FL) Madison Co. RV-9 S; IN-10 S; 1st-team 2A; hard hitter; over Fla. (?)
Drew Weatherford* QB 6-3 205 4/4 Land O' Lakes (FL) High TL-7 QB; IN-9 QB; 1st-team 4A; early over Aub., UT
Barry Wright^ LB 5-11 215 3/4 Coffeyville (KS) CC From Pensacola (FL) Woodham; 4.5 speed; over WVU
*-All-American (top 250 by two/more services)
^-enrolled
(!)-strong academics
(?)-unconfirmed academics

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