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Perry for Your Thoughts: Florida State puts emphasis on community as season approaches

Let’s read some football!

“This game has meant everything to me.

I’ve played it or coached it since I was five years old. I absolutely love the relationships that you build through this game. I had some incredible coaches that poured into me when they didn’t have to.

There is so much that goes into it, to the wins and the losses, which obviously it matters, but also embracing the impact that you can make to help change somebody’s life. That is why I got into coaching. I mean I love the schematic part of it. I love all of the things you can do in working game plans, but for me, if we can make a difference and help these young men be successful for whatever this life can throw at them and how they respond, and the leaders they can become, the friends, the brothers, the sons - all of those things are essential and what I believe my job responsibility is.

If we have guys that are doing things the right way off the field, I believe we have a much higher opportunity to see them succeed on the field. It is a true joy and to see guys grow and buy into that, and when you get those experiences, when they play out in a young man’s life, that is what makes coaching so rewarding.

That is something I’ve always believed is critical.”

We were roughly six months into Mike Norvell’s Florida State Seminoles football tenure when he almost lost his team.

An admitted exaggeration had his team, who had barely gotten the chance to establish a secure level of trust with his team before spring was shut down and students sent home, aflutter with skepticism. Defensive lineman Marvin Wilson, who has quite clearly established himself as the current face of Florida State football, took on the duty of speaking up for his teammates and what followed was one of the more constructive learning moments that’s happened within the confines of 403 Stadium Drive in quite sometime.

“I was able to come out and understand where my mistake was made,” Norvell later said about the incident while speaking with the media in August. “I incorrectly used the word ‘every’ in a statement that was made in an interview, and I own that decision. We came together as a team.”

He gave that quote while addressing yet another issue within the team — this time, concerns raised by receiver Warren Thompson about feeling “lied to.” This had a different feel, especially when other players (including Wilson) who haven’t been afraid to stand up and speak presented an opposite message.

It was a result of mixed communication, interpreted by many in the fan base as a “dive move,” leading to a desire to kick Thompson off the team — a hilariously illogical concept to imagine playing out in headlines.

Thankfully, Norvell is not a rash message board commenter. While his tone was stern in the aftermath when having to answer questions about the situation and was displeased that he couldn’t keep the conflict in-house, he did his due diligence, and actually worked to repair a relationship with a player who has certainly shown he’s need it.

“I love Warren. I do. This is one of the toughest times in our program’s, in our country’s history, the fear, the unknown, a lot of the things that are going [on]. These guys, maintaining control of their thoughts, where they are and looking at the reality of situations, I feel bad for all these guys that I’m coaching and that the coaches are coaching, that they are having to live through this experience.”

“When I got here, Warren actually wasn’t on the team. I told him that this was our new beginning and for eight months, up to this last week, I’ve enjoyed every moment of that development and that relationship. I think he understands the choices that he made and some of the things that happened as he was going through the situation, but we are moving forward together. I’m grateful for the opportunity the help him grow and develop and to be able to continue to build that relationship.”

All of this has been to say, there’s been a little extra meaning towards the emphasis on brotherhood that’s came about in the last week of fall camp. Norvell says it’s something he’s always emphasized, since back in his Arizona State Sun Devils days when he would travel with his team to go on a camping excursion.

The idea was always for the team to have some sort of retreat, but the coaches could have never imagined the new need that would arise for it. Days after rumors circulated by some sites that players were on the verge of opting out, the team was together, enjoying themselves and absolutely losing their minds watching James Blackman chuck a fish into the water.

Hanging out, palling around, chilling, relaxing all cool and all is something that team always have done — Marvin Wilson holding a paintball gun will forever be embedded in my mind — there was a different energy to this, almost assuredly because of what Norvell called “campfire breakouts.”

“It’s something I’ve done for a long time in my coaching career...position coaches with their position, just really being able to tell our story. It’s amazing that we spend so much time together as a football team, but sometimes the story gets left out not having full comprehension of the things and events guys overcome, what’s helped lead them to Florida State.”

To hear everybody’s story it was something new,” senior defensive end Janarius Robinson said. “Some people felt like a weight was lifted off their shoulders just being able to talk to their brothers about something that they don’t open up, some people said they never told nobody else but like their close family like their mom. For them to sit there and feel comfortable enough around their brothers to tell us, it really means a lot and shows how close this team has really gotten.”

“This is my fifth year here and I don’t think this is anything we’ve ever done.”

Before you even consider the mess that has been 2020, think about what some of those athletes have been through. Outside of the final run of the Bobby Bowden years, you’d be hard pressed to find a period of time that FSU has been more scrutinized and ridiculed — with the players bearing the brunt of it. The toll that takes, combined with the uncertainty of everything else, has to be a humongous weight on you.

The moment, and week, overall has reminded me of when I volunteer as a camp counselor at St. Stephens, a Greek Orthodox summer sleepaway in South Carolina (yes, I am a nerd!) For the first few days, we’d have to deal with kids trying too hard, or acting too cool to do something, or singling out one kid and leaving him, or trying to stuff entire rolls of toilet paper down a toilet set up on a single tank septic system. And then come Wednesday or Thursday, we’d sit down at night, and kids would start sharing their struggles and stories and worries and hopes and fears and somehow, in their tiny child brains, they finally register, “oh, there are other humans, and they feel things too, did everybody know this?!”

After that, you see them stepping up to do the kind of dorky cheesy things you only see in movies — giving their ice cream to younger kids just to see a smile on their face, going out of their way to sit with somebody who isn’t talking to anybody, coming together as a complete unit and absolutely crushing and demoralizing the 11-year-olds in water balloon relay races.

I know, I know, the name of the game is win, and I also know, we heard and assumed similar things in the first few months of the previous coaching staff. But trust me, I know what tangible, dramatic emotional realization looks like, and its a phenomena that FSU has been experiencing all week.

“As you sit there and you look at relationships,” Norvell said, “when you’re willing to invest in a relationship with a young man and the team gives you a better sense of passion and purpose when you get the chance to compete with them.”

“When you’re side by side and you’re in a tough and challenging moment, and you know that relationship is strong, you know what that relationship has been built upon, I think you’re going to give more.”

I can’t stop watching the new release from James Blackman. Well, I say release, but really it’s about where he loads the ball. Blackman’s loading the ball deeper and doing a better job elevating his throwing elbow above his throwing shoulder. This load and motion shortens his delivery and develops more consistency on his throws. Then, when you look at his lower body, he’s emphasizing being more consistent about getting weight on the front knee and being balanced.

Three (over)reactions from CoachAB on Florida State’s first scrimmage

I’m going to go out on a huge limb here and say that James Blackman should and needs to be Florida State’s starting quarterback moving forward.

You’ve heard all the rationalizations about why he’s struggled to reach the expectations placed on him by the fanbase, and while I’m not dismissing them, I don’t care too much for them at this point — they’re whatever. I’m going based off what I’ve seen on our (limited) glimpses of film, what I’ve heard from the team and coaches and just the pure fact that when it comes down to it, Blackman is your best option in this offense.

“Offensively, we think (James) Blackman can fit what Mike likes to do,” an anonymous ACC coach told Athlton Sports. “It’s a versatile offense that wants to be able to bend and change around what the personnel can do. Blackman just made so many bad decisions last year. That’s the improvement you can expect immediately.”

Norvell has hammered home the importance of shaking off mistakes and not compounding them — both in answers directly about Blackman and in ones implied to be about him. The common theme has been don’t turn one bad play into a bad performance, one that resonates as a lesson to be learned for a quarterback who hasn’t been shy about letting his emotions fly.

Norvell, from the last week of media availability:

“James is a very bright young man. There are different things that we want to put him in a position to be successful from the physical aspect of it, but really just teaching the mental aspect is mistakes are going to happen.

There are going to be good calls, there are going to be bad calls, there are going to be good throw and bad throws. But making sure that you can shut that off, learn from the mistake or learn from the success and let each play be its own play.”

“A turnover problem is usually a response problem, how you respond to different situations when bad things happen. Your reactionary decisions to might not be right. And then, I’ve watched a lot of film on James, it’s easy to point a finger to a quarterback in a lot of situations, but you know, there’s a lot that goes into this game. James has been through a lot. There’s times he’s played very well, there’s times he’s not played very well. I’m excited about what I’m seeing from him. I’ve been around a lot of good quarterbacks in my day, we’ve had some success at that position. I think James and the investment he’s taking in learning what we’re doing, the response to when things don’t go right, I think he’s playing more under control in that regards.”

“I’ve watched a lot of games and really just that response, always be in control of you. Not letting a situation or mistake carry on to two, three, four plays down the road. Always got to go out there and play the next play. If something bad happens, your response will truly determine who you are and your identity as a player. I think James understands what we’re asking for there.”

From freshmen to seniors, his leadership and experience has been lauded. Both rookie quarterbacks, Tate Rodemaker and Chubba Purdy, spoke on Blackman’s willingness to talk with him and go over plays — and they aren’t alone.

“...the way J-Black has been able to read stuff and be able to help us as an offensive line, point out, ‘Ok, look. We need to flip this protection because they’re coming from here. Oh, look. On this run play, they’re going to slant,’” center Andrew Boselli said.

“I’ve been impressed with him. It’s very obvious that he has the best grasp of the offense and he just takes command out there…Just stuff like that, communicating to the offensive line is something we didn’t do last year and the way he has been able to do it this year has been impressive.”

Now, with all that said, it would be a disservice to the talents of Jordan Travis to keep him off the field this season. We’ve seen how Norvell likes to use athletes however he can — he hasn’t had an athletic pass thrower like Travis possibly ever. We’ve seen that Travis has some zip on throws (he does have an MLB brother in his family, after all), and maybe the only other person more anxious to show off that skill than him is Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham.

I also feel obligated to mention Tate Rodemaker here, before our Kevin Little (Xs and Noles) comes and hunts me down. If you watched his and CoachAB’s freshman quarterback breakdown, you’d see there’s a lot to like from Rodemaker — fundamentals, processing, progressions — with that at least partially being attributed to being a coach’s son. Watch for him to continue making some noise, and possibly serve as the Teddy Bridgewater to James Blackman’s Drew Brees, as Travis takes on a Taysom Hill role (but you know, not being 40 years old.)

We learned this week that the roller coaster saga of Florida State’s non-conference opponent (which FSU had crossed fingers on being Florida, but Scott Stricklin begged to keep the SEC to a 10-game slate. Listen, I don’t write the news, I just make it up.)

After the Southern Conference called its season, Samford opted out of maintaining the matchup between the school and Florida State. While some outlets reported that there were talks about possibly adding USF, there were never any serious discussions about adding an FBS opponent, making Jacksonville State an easy choice (Florida State is also scheduled to play Jacksonville State in 2021).

If that name seems moderately familiar to you, and you’re sure it’s not because there is a city named Jacksonville and not a state, it’s because that game was one of the final blocks in the Jenga Tower of the Bobby Bowden era.

A terribly broadcast, rainy, disgusting slopfest ended in a 19-9 victory for Florida State, who were extremely close to having their own Appalachian State vs. Michigan moment. (Though, as pointed out by one of our writers, you technically had to be a good football team to have an Appalachian State vs. Michigan moment.)

This is the only piece of video I could find, which is so painfully 2009 I felt shutter shades and a Zune manifest in my pocket like the sorcerer’s stone when I played it: