TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Having won a national championship just a month ago and having signed yet another top recruiting class just hours before, Jimbo Fisher and his staff hardly needed any type of vindication or validation as they spoke to a legion of Florida State supporters at the school's annual National Signing Day “war party.”
But given the amount of drama surrounding the program over the past few years – as much drama as a program that's gone a combined 26-2 with two ACC titles, a national title and produced a Heisman Trophy winner over the last two seasons can have, anyway – it was hard to blame them for firing back a little bit.
“Two years ago, I couldn't coach the offensive line anymore,” veteran line coach Rick Trickett said. “Last year, Jimbo couldn't call plays.
“So all we did on this staff is win 14 games, a national championship and score more points than anyone in college football.”
Trickett, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, is as famous for his salty disposition as his resume as an offensive line coach, which, it turns out, is awfully good.
But he had a point.
A 2012 season that saw the Seminoles finish 12-2, win both the ACC title and a BCS bowl game for the first time in the better part of a decade, and place a nation-leading 11 players into the NFL draft left fans feeling unfulfilled. And media wondering aloud whether the program had reached its zenith under the man who replaced Bobby Bowden – good enough, but not elite.
In hindsight it feels silly that all those departed draft choices coupled with a new starting quarterback had us wondering if the Seminoles would take a step back in 2013.
If FSU's triumph in Pasadena was a touchdown of sorts for Fisher and Co., then National Signing Day was the emphatic extra point.
The Seminoles signed a crop of 28 prospects that recruiting analysts universally believe is of the “rich get richer” variety.
ESPN and Scout each considered FSU's latest haul the third-best in the nation, Rivals and 247Sports both placed it fourth. Splitting hairs between Alabama, Ohio State and LSU, all agreed that this class is loaded with the best that high school football has to offer.
And the biggest.
From Day 1 as FSU's head coach, Fisher spoke of the importance of “the guys who put their hand in the dirt” – coach parlance for game-changing offensive and defensive linemen.
The Seminoles won their title on the backs of players 6-2, 292-pound defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan and 6-6, 320-pound left tackle Cam Erving – players who ensured their offensive had time and space to operate, or made sure the opponents' did not.
FSU on Wednesday helped ensure its future in that regard by signing seven offensive linemen and seven defensive linemen, devoting literally half of its class to players who will line up in the trenches.
Their listed heights and weights are all eye-popping. It's one thing for Chad Mavety, a junior college offensive tackle two years out of high school, to carry 315 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame. It's something else to see a high school senior like Roderick Johnson, the four-star tackle from Missouri who committed to FSU on signing day, stand at 6-7, 330.
Brock Ruble, a tackle from Maryland, weighs in at 6-8, 320. Center Alex Eberle of Virginia is the lightweight of the bunch at 6-4, 270.
All told, FSU's offensive line class combines for an average of 6-foot-6, 312 pounds - which will come in handy when all of FSU's five projected starters along the line either graduate or run out of eligibility following the 2014 season.
And FSU got big not only up front – its group of defensive tackles averages 6-3, 294 – but also at the skill positions.
The class features, among others, 6-4 quarterback J.J. Cosentino, 6-4 linebacker Jacob Pugh and 6-3 receiver Ermon Lane.
In total, not a single member of Fisher's 2014 signing class stands less than 6-feet.
“I'm a size guy,” Fisher said. “I think it matters.”
There's good reason to take him at his word.
From 2005-2009, the five years before Fisher became head coach, FSU signed a total of seven players who weighed at least 300 pounds, and not a single one became a regular contributor to the team. In 2008 and 2009, years that ushered the end of the Bobby Bowden era, the Seminoles didn't sign any.
Not coincidentally, FSU went a combined 38-27 in those five years. The Seminoles are 45-10 through four years under Fisher.
On Wednesday, Fisher inked eight players who come in at no less than 300 pounds, and four more who are at least 280.
Being big, especially up front, played a big part in Florida State overwhelming the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013 and in toppling Southeastern Conference Champion Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game.
Despite the Tigers' healthy score, their 232 total rushing yards were nearly 100 yards short of their nation-leading average of 328.3 per game.
“The guys who put their hand in the dirt on the offense and defensive lines, that controls the game,” Fisher said. “You can have all the skills in the world you want. We saw that in the Super Bowl. You got to win those battles up front.”
And with their latest haul, the Seminoles are a good bet to win their share of those battles – and plenty of games – for the foreseeable future.
Two more years of Jameis?
Fisher raised eyebrows Wednesday with an off-hand comment about quarterback Jameis Winston's future.
Asked about recruiting top-level receivers to come play for a Heisman Trophy winner, Fisher said he expects Winston to be around not only for the 2014 season but also for 2015. As a rising third-year sophomore, Winston is eligible to enter the NFL draft after next year, where he's practically a lock to be very high selection, if not No. 1 overall.
“Everybody says he’s going to stay one year and leave,” Fisher said. “Which I don’t think that’s true. I think it will be two.”
Fisher's remark, of course, was only an opinion, and an odd one at that. Whether or not he truly believes he'll have Winston for another two seasons is anyone's guess, but it doesn't change the fact that the odds of the star quarterback playing more than one more year of college are extremely slim.
Even if Winston himself currently plans on staying longer, a lot can change over the course of a year and the allure of professional football (and the riches that come with being a potential first-round pick) will be extremely difficult – and maybe even unwise – to turn down.