After Keon Coleman went for three touchdowns against LSU on Labor Day weekend, Mike Norvell thanked the transfer for saying “yes” to his program.
Flashback four years earlier, and wanting to participate in this program was not so easy.
On November 3rd, 2019, Florida State showed Willie Taggart the door after being the headman for just 21 games. A recruiting class that ranked in the top 20 the year before was getting its first taste of Florida State football as a once proud program was in disarray.
A month later, a young hot shot coach under 40 who had never held a power five head coaching job named Mike Norvell was tabbed as the person to lead the Seminoles from the darkness. The recruiting class above did not commit to Mike Norvell when they signed a year prior, and many of them did not want to be a part of the climb.
Only eight of the 20 enrollees and five transfers remain on the roster.
They are the original “real ones”.
Each player had their own battle to get to where they are now, and their journey will be rightfully celebrated this weekend.
Step 1: Building the foundation
Work. The four-letter word is the only one displayed walking into the practice facility and crosses Mike Norvell’s t-shirt almost every practice. He understands that FSU cannot reach the heights it wants without it. It is also the only word that brought them out of the mess.
The story of the climb is interwoven between these players and the team. As the team struggled, the players had their personal battles. Jordan Travis, now owner of several school records, wasn’t able to get on the field as a full-time starter until 2022. Akeem Dent was on the field when Jacksonville State pulled off their improbable Hail Mary that looked to be the nail in the coffin for the FSU program. Jarrian Jones and Renardo Green were shredded by Notre Dame, giving up 41 points and only forcing nine incompletions to Jack Coan. Kalen DeLoach and the linebacking core were consistently gashed on the ground.
When Florida State went 0-4 to start the season two years ago, everyone outside the Moore Athletic Center called for everything except disbanding.
Inside, it was back to work.
“I’m pissed off we’re 0-4...we’re gonna work our butts off to go get better. And we’re going to do it the right way. And we’re gonna have a standard of how we operate,” Norvell said passionately after falling to Louisville, a speech preempting a three-game win streak.
“Who wants to be part of the solution? I have those guys right now in the locker room. We did not win. We came up short — but they did not stop. They continued to believe. And for the guys that we recruit, for the coaches that are on this staff, for players that are on this team, that’s what I want.
The homegrown seniors being honored tomorrow “built their confidence through the work,” as Mike Norvell commonly says. Quitting or packing it in would have been easy when the team spiraled. Instead, they took their lumps.
They did it the hard way. When everyone questioned their resolve, they responded.
Two years ago, no one could have predicted that these players would be the sole reason Doak Cambell sold out for an FCS team. But, because of them and the work that they put in when no one believed in them, they get to bask in the limelight.
Step 2: Hard work pays off
Bobby Bowden believes that a program can be rebuilt in four steps. Lose big, lose close, win close, win big.
In Mike Norvell’s fourth year, they are reaching that final step.
As each one of the players I mentioned earlier was part of the problem with the 0-4 start, all of them have produced a moment for the ages this year. After those outside the program felt that FSU should take a linebacker in the portal, Kalen DeLoach made the play of the year with his fumble touchdown against Clemson. Jarrian Jones, early in his career, did not look like he could reach his potential, shut out the country’s target leader, and made the game-sealing interception against Miami. Renardo Green found himself in a similar situation to Jones, picked off Heisman front runner Jayden Daniels to open the season, and FSU scored three plays later to put the ‘Noles up by three scores against LSU. Dent has been key to the Seminoles’ communication on the field, and he has an essential piece in the defense, which has fielded one of the better pass defenses in the country.
And finally — Jordan Travis.
What can be said that hasn’t already? Describing his contributions to Florida State in just one play or way feels superficial, and Norvell agreed last Monday.
“It’s the whole journey. You can’t just put — with him, it can’t be just about, you know, a glimpse or even just a game. It’s just who he is. Watching him grow, watching him improve, watching him care, watching him invest, the confidence that has been built just in who he is and what he’s all about.”
Two years earlier, the student section booed Jordan Travis off the field. Against Miami, they chanted his name. All of these seniors faced the preverbal adversity and pushed through. Now, they are the leaders on a 10-0 team with their eyes set on the College Football Playoff.
Step 3: Building for the future
When Florida State went down against Duke at the half, the team needed a pick-me-up.
Enter Fabien Lovett.
“Fabien was really the one that stood up in the locker room.” Braden Fiske said postgame, “He made a statement of this isn’t who we are, and let’s turn this around. Everybody was on board, but it was mainly he stood up, and he took charge, and kudos to him. He’s a great leader for us, and he stepped up in the moment...”
The story of Norvell’s revitalization of the Florida State program cannot just include those players he inherited. Facing depth issues and a talent deficit as a result of roster mismanagement, the former Memphis coach needed to find a way to burst through quickly.
The answer? The transfer portal.
When Mike Norvell got to Tallahassee, he inherited a team that gave 71 sacks in the 21 games of Willie Taggart’s tenure. This year, through the help of an offensive line that is majority transfers, they are a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, given to the best offensive line in the country.
Many players scheduled to walk tomorrow did not begin their college journey at Florida State. Jared Verse began at an FCS program. Casey Roddick played for a team that finished the season with one win last year. Miami spurned the 305 native Tatum Bethune, and he was forced to play at a nonpower five conference to start his college career. The list goes on.
Norvell gave these players an opportunity, and they said yes — to accepting the challenge and chance to take the next step in their careers, at the same time infusing talent into the Florida State roster and helping Norvell turn the program from also-ran to playoff contender.
With this in mind, the head man knows Saturday will be emotional.
“I mean, this is going to be our seniors, their Senior Day, our seniors’ last home game. That’s something that it means a lot to me...You know, this is a group that deserves to be celebrated. I’m just so excited for what they have done, and you know, obviously to be able to recognize them as we go out there on Saturday, also a very special occasion.”
Saturday marks the end of an era for Florida State and the start of a new one. From a roster-building perspective, no Seminole team will look like this one again. Florida State has the No. 3 recruiting class in the country and could take over 25 high school players. The success on the field has translated into the high school ranks and should be celebrated. These players left the team better than they found it, and the bandwagon is starting to fill up. However, that leaves fewer scholarships for transfers. I expect FSU only to be able to take 5 to 7 guys just from a pure number perspective. The transfer king may need to retire his nickname as he finds other ways to build his team.
These seniors leave a void on the field but an even larger one in the locker room. The bright side is the legacy that they left.
The young players coming in and those here will need to uphold the standard they set. The way things are done and the work put in is non-negotiable. Those players walking tomorrow found a program falling by the wayside and turned into a place with the #1 2024 and 2025 commits on campus last weekend. Their story is unfinished, with so much to play this season. But Saturday makes one thing clear. This is the end of an era for Florida State and the start of a new one coming next year. However, what these seniors did in their short time here will never be forgotten.
2023 Florida State Senior Day: Tentative List of Honorees
(Participation or non-participation in Senior Day does not necessarily indicate anything for the players who have eligibility remaining)
- Danj Altine - Defensive Back
- Tatum Bethune - Linebacker
- Dennis Briggs - Defensive Lineman
- Jeremiah Byers - Offensive Lineman
- Kalen DeLoach - Linebacker
- Akeem Dent - Defensive Back
- D’Mitri Emmanuel - Offensive Lineman
- Braden Fiske - Defensive Lineman
- Renardo Green - Defensive Back
- Jarrian Jones - Defensive Back
- Fabien Lovett - Defensive Tackle
- Casey Roddick - Offensive Lineman
- James Rosenberry - Long Snapper
- Thomas Shrader - Offensive Lineman
- Jordan Travis - Quarterback
- Jared Verse - Defensive End