Over the 2020 season, all coaches were tested and challenged in unprecedented ways in the history of college football — but even among those, first-year coach’s challenges were unique.
To first scrub away the rot and toxicity left from years of neglect. To then clear away the rubble and somehow build from scratch the foundation of a future on top of a great past no one has forgotten. To do it with kids you don’t know and kids that don’t know who to trust, with playbooks you can’t install because of viruses you can’t see.
It was a near-impossible ask.
A year ago Florida State did not get a spring camp, much less a televised spring scrimmage. One year later, watching Florida State’s annual Garnet and Gold game on Saturday made one thing apparent — the transfers from the 2021 class will shape this season and the seasons to come.
These transfers, these eight players, don’t just bring talent to a 3-6 team that had holes all over the roster. They also bring experience; loads of it.
By the end of last season Florida State was one of, if not the, youngest team in the country. A young team that didn’t know how to compete, much less how to win. These eight young players could also bring much needed leadership. Experience is, after all, the best teacher, and five of them have just one year of eligibility remaining after collectively starting dozens of games elsewhere.
Out of eight transfers, seven are already on campus — quarterback McKenzie Milton, running back D.J. Williams, pass rushers Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas, and defensive backs Jarques McClellion, Brandon Moore, and Jammie Robinson. Receiver Andrew Parchment will soon join the team this summer.
Right now FSU is in a vulnerable place, sitting in a crucible. The period of potentially profound change has already begun. The roster and culture have undergone wholesale changes. But it is not over. Year Negative One has flipped to Year Zero. Norvell has swept away what came before, and has set the stage for something new.
The question is how far and how deep these transfers will leave their mark on this program, and the direction they leave it.
Perhaps most tantalizing of all, they could bring change to a program that for parts of the last few seasons has looked and felt stagnant and adrift. Not the kind of usual empty platitudes of hope and renewal you can find anywhere around football message boards this time of year. No, a real kind of change, the kind of change that lasts, like a river bending a new course. Many of them won’t be here long, but that doesn’t change the truth that they have the opportunity and the power to change the future of Florida State football.
Their positions are no accident or coincidence — quarterback, receiver, and secondary were among the weakest or most unstable positions last season.
The young men come from all over. They come from outrageously successful and confident mid-major teams. They come from across the vaunted, bloodthirsty, and cannibalistic Southeast. They come from Kansas (we hear it’s very nice).
While all of the eight will contribute critically important roles to this team, Milton, Johnson, and Robinson in particular could be the key to a Seminole resurgence.
Milton is widely thought of as the front-runner for the starting nod at quarterback. He displayed great touch on his passes, and good accuracy and ball placement. He does a good job getting the ball out, taking what defenses give him, and limiting mistakes. His lightning-quick release helps him evade pass rushers while giving coverage defenders less time to react.
He used it to great effect on Saturday when before the snap he identified the one-on-one coverage on true freshman receiver Malik McClain and avoided a sack by quickly flicking the ball out to McClain for the deep sideline fade. He also floated a perfectly thrown deep ball over two defenders to another true freshman receiver in Joshua Burrell to raucous applause. But Milton also brings experience in pose and demeanor: a calm hand in a still-uncertain sea, earned as the signal caller of an undefeated team.
Jermaine Johnson is a stud. That’s as simple as you get.
Johnson is just as impossible to miss on the field. He’s long, he’s explosive, and he’s smart. He is, as Coach Adam Brown said, simply the best edge rusher the ’Noles have had since NFL first-round pick Brian Burns. On Saturday, Johnson was featured at the stand-up Fox position, consistently harassing FSU’s quarterbacks and disrupting plays.
Cornerback Jammie Robinson could also be a key piece to a defense that was especially poor on passing downs last season. Robinson largely played in the slot, or the stud/nickel position, during the game. He will have crucial run and pass responsibilities, defending the edge and the field in coverage. Though he got beat once in the game by Milton for a touchdown on a corner route to yet a third freshman receiver in Bryan Robinson, Robinson shows physicality and promise. The ’Noles could always use more of that. Seminole fans will hear Robinson’s name a lot this season, and if he lives up to his potential that will be a very good thing.
Together, these eight transfers could raise the floor and ceiling of this team. Watching the Spring Game, FSU is not currently a wildly talented team overall — and these players have the rare ability to greatly alter how much faster and closer FSU can get to changing that. Doing so would have far-reaching consequences on the future of the program, showcasing that there is something building in Tallahassee.