The No. 13 Florida State Seminoles are now one day away from their first bowl game appearance since 2016, seeking the program’s first 10-win season since that year. Florida State heads into its matchup against the Oklahoma Sooners after ending the season on a five-game win streak, having spent the past couple of days in Orlando prepping to take the field at Camping World Stadium for the Cheez-It Bowl.
It’s been a busy offseason for head coach Mike Norvell and his staff, who in the wait for bowl week have been putting in work during the early signing period and transfer portal process.
“For a coach, it is craziness,” he said of December. “You love each of the phases of what being a college football coach is. When it’s all meshed together — the organization, the departments, the staff — I’m so grateful for the work that they do, because you can’t do it on your own. Everybody has to take ownership in those responsibilities and make sure that each phase is operating as the best that it can be.
When you mix recruiting visits with being on the road with the bowl practice, the practice, the game preparation and game planning — all those things thrown together. It is definitely a wild time. It is the new age of college athletics.”
Norvell and Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables spoke today as part of a pregame press conference, touching on each team’s mindset ahead of the matchup, the investment they’ve seen from the players and coaches and other storylines heading into the Cheez-It Bowl.
“It really is a special time, us being able to be in our home state,” Norvell said. “There is a lot of excitement. We know it is going to be a great atmosphere, and we know it is going to be a great game with two of the best brands in college football, being able to match up — two very explosive teams.”
“Florida State is playing as well as anybody in college football here in the back half of the season, and has had a terrific, outstanding season,” Venables said. “An incredibly talented team. They are long and fast and incredibly explosive.”
“Coach Norvell and his staff deserve so much praise for the way they have built the program, the right way in the last three years.”
You can watch the full press conference and read the transcript from it below.
Florida State vs. Oklahoma: Mike Norvell, Brent Venables December 28 Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. We have coach Brent Venables and Coach Mike Norvell here for our head coach press conference ahead of Cheez-It Bowl.
COACH NORVELL: It’s been a great week for the Cheez-It Bowl — wonderful hospitality, each event, the overall experience. This will be a week that our guys will remember forever. It is one of the benefits of playing in a bowl game, is you get one more chance to be together for this team, this group.
I am really proud of our players for the way they have prepared and the things they have done throughout the course of the season to grow and continue to get better. I think we brought the right mindset and approach throughout the course of the week, even with the wonderful events that we have been able to take part of.
I thought the event yesterday where both teams got together at Fun Spot — that was special. It is two teams with great character. I thought the interactions were remarkable, especially being able to serve and give back to the youth of this community.
It really is a special time, us being able to be in our home state. There is a lot of excitement. We know it is going to be a great atmosphere, and we know it is going to be a great game with two of the best brands in college football, being able to match up — two very explosive teams.
I have a lot of respect for Coach Venables and the way that he does things. You see the growth, you see the explosiveness from his group, and we know it is going to be a heck of a matchup.
It has been a wonderful week. I am proud of our guys and excited for tomorrow evening.
COACH VENABLES: I would second many things Coach Norvell had to say. Again, I would like to thank the Cheez-It Bowl, Steve Hogan, our bowl host, the hotel. Accommodations have been just fantastic. The week has been seamless. We have had a mix of business and pleasure.
I am proud of our players for their workmanlike attitude, their excitement and their preparation. But at the same time, had a great opportunity to get away from the practice field and meeting room and enjoy Disney World and all the things that Orlando can give in regards to the bowl experience.
Fantastic setup for practice, accommodations at Boone High School. The coaches there have been incredibly gracious to us and our team. Thankful to them as well. It has been a wonderful experience. As Mike said, this is a season of its own, and this will be something that the players remember forever.
I am proud of how we have handled our business and the opportunity again to briefly give back to the community and keep the main thing, the main thing, and have the right perspective of what this thing is all about.
The matchup is going to be a fantastic matchup. Florida State is playing as well as anybody in college football here in the back half of the season, and has had a terrific, outstanding season. An incredibly talented team. They are long and fast and incredibly explosive.
Coach Norvell and his staff deserve so much praise for the way they have built the program, the right way in the last three years. Seeing the growth. Having intimate familiarity with Florida State and the program. Having competed against them for well over a decade now, just a wonderful job by them, building the program. Their players have tremendous belief in what they are doing, great chemistry and cohesion, and going to be a great, great challenge for the Sooners tomorrow night.
Q. For each of you. Coach Norvell, let me start with you. Welcome back to Orlando for the first time in a long time. You will be facing off against a quarterback in Dillon Gabriel who has spent time in Orlando, and you have a man on your side, who spent a lot of time in Orlando, in Tatum Bethune. Preparing for Dillon Gabriel is unique how, and has Tatum Bethune been helpful in that process?
COACH NORVELL: Obviously, each year is its own. These two guys have been teammates, and had an opportunity to compete with each other. You always rely on all resources that you can talk to.
When you watch film, you see an unbelievable competitor. Dillon is special in so many ways, just the play-making ability. He can make so many throws on the field. He is athletic. He evades challenging situations, and is able to extend plays. He is a great playmaker.
It is going to be a great challenge for our defense, and being able to try to make him uncomfortable, to be able to try to get him off-rhythm. Even in that, some of the best plays that show up are when he is in those situations.
They have a very talented receiving core. This is a very explosive offense, and you have seen that against a variety of different defenses where they have been able to produce and produce at a very high level. Dillon is a wonderful player, and it is going to be a great challenge for us.
Q. Coach Venables, you alluded that the Seminoles have been hot the late part of the year. When you have a team that is coming on late and doing it in many ways offensively, how does it affect you as a coach in preparation?
COACH VENABLES: Well, they have great balance all year. Their ability to run the football. They are incredibly deep at running back. Trey Benson is a fantastic player, runs with power, speed, vision, patience. He is hard to get on the ground. You see him break a lot of tackles. All their backs break a lot of tackles.
Then you have Jordan Travis running the mesh, you know, and it is the lesser of all evils. Fantastic football player. Have enjoyed watching him grow and mature. I love college football. I love players. I love watching journeys. I am a fan of everybody.
I am a fan of Jordan Travis for what he is about. Man, he has guts. He has toughness. He has matured from where he was as a freshman to where he is now. He has done it all, man. He has gone through the ups and the downs, the highs and lows. He is scarred up. He is proven. He is battle tested. I have tremendous respect for him.
They have the playmakers on the outside — a 6’7” monster in Johnny Wilson, 80 [Ontaria Wilson] and 4 [Mycah Pittman] — that can flat get it. Then, their tight ends do a great job as well at attacking the middle of the field. They have a fantastic screen game.
They are very, very balanced. I think the offensive line is as good as we have seen all year. Probably the best unit that we have seen. They are incredibly well-coached by Alex Atkins. Just do a terrific job. They play with great cohesion. They make very few mistakes, and do a great job of identifying what is in front of them and what they want to do from a targeting standpoint.
It is a complete unit and probably the most complete, most explosive unit that we have seen all year.
Q. Coach Venables, when you took over at Oklahoma, what attracted you to bringing Coach Lebby in? What did you see in him? What did you want out of your offense?
COACH VENABLES: Jeff and I have obviously known each other since the early 2000s as a former player at Oklahoma, when I was on staff there. Watched him grow in the profession. Been around a lot of successful coaches and offenses and players. Just got a great depth of experience of coaching multiple positions himself, offensively.
The one common denominator wherever he’s been, has been explosive, attacking offenses. I believe in an aggressive mindset. I think creating stress on the opponent is what it is all about, not allowing people to get comfortable. We like to do it on defense, and I like to have an offense that is continually pushing the pedal in regard to philosophy and schemes.
Jeff is incredibly bright. Great love for the University of Oklahoma. He is a great fit for me and our staff, and what we want to do.
Q. Wanted to ask you about L’Damian Washington and the way that he has handled this season and the situation that he was sort of thrust into there early. What stood out to you about that? How have you seen him grow over the season, and have you made a decision yet or do you have a timeline on what you want to do with that spot moving forward?
COACH VENABLES: LD has done a fantastic job. I am incredibly proud of him. As you said, thrown into a very difficult situation.
Hey, I have always said, you stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready. It is better to be prepared for an opportunity that may never come, as opposed to never being ready for an opportunity when it does come.
So sometimes, that is the timing, it is not real convenient necessarily for anyone. But, he has done a fantastic job. Handled it like a pro. He has a great story, tremendous maturity to him. Great perspective on life. He is a relationship-driven guy, so it wasn’t like he had to get to know everybody all of a sudden, both staff and certainly the players.
There were bridges already built and trust that is critically important when you are running a room and developing the trust of the players. I think he has done a great job both on and off the field this season.
I haven’t made any final decisions in that regard, but very, very proud of the job that he’s done this year.
Q. December is such a busy month now with the bowl preparations, transfer portal, recruiting, all that kind of thing. How challenging was it for both of you to go through it? And also, would you rather see this schedule be loosened up so you have more time to focus on some of this stuff?
COACH NORVELL: It is definitely challenging, and it is a dead sprint for basically every minute you have until you finish up the last game.
One of the things, I did appreciate this year was the instituted dead period for those couple days after the last game. To really be able to sit down and visit with your players, because I think there is so much that gets put on what is coming and getting out on the road.
Obviously, you have early signing day, which a majority of your class is going to sign. Now, you have thrown in the transfer portal and all the unique experiences that you have with that. Being able to sit down with your players and reflect back to what the year has been, but also talk about future opportunities that there are and the continued steps of growth for each of them.
For a coach, it is craziness. You love each of the phases of what being a college football coach is. When it’s all meshed together — the organization, the departments, the staff — I’m so grateful for the work that they do, because you can’t do it on your own. Everybody has to take ownership in those responsibilities and make sure that each phase is operating as the best that it can be.
When you mix recruiting visits with being on the road with the bowl practice, the practice, the game preparation and game planning — all those things thrown together. It is definitely a wild time. It is the new age of college athletics.
Grateful for the staff we have and the work they put into it, and it has been a dead sprint since that last game ended, and it is not slowing down any time soon.
COACH VENABLES: Yeah, it literally does take a village. So many different constant moving components the last several weeks from the roster management, communication with your current players, new players, transfer portal, high school guys, signing day, Bowl practice, Bowl events, finals. There are so many things that are going on at once. You really do need a team that is well-educated and ready to hit the ground running. You have a very small window to get it all done.
Like Coach said, something that was new this year was the dead period that they instituted. There was multi-level reasoning, but all the championship teams are playing for a conference championship. I know in the past years, they have probably always felt like they were behind in recruiting and everybody else had a week advantage being on the road.
So this gave you an opportunity to, one, have those exit meetings with your current team and get the bowl preparation things set up in such a way to lay things out from a practice standpoint and handle finals.
Where we are at in Oklahoma, we have to go kind of go coast to coast to find recruits, so it was pretty crazy. Like Coach said, the last few weeks, managing all of that at once.
It has been fun. Everybody has the same set of rules. We are not any more disadvantaged than anyone else. We will have roughly 35 new players when it is all said and done. This is the last year that you can, quote/unquote, flip a roster and sign more than the 25 initials.
We wanted to take advantage of that as best that we could as well, so that adds just another layer to it.
Q. You guys sitting 6-6 on the season going into this game tomorrow night, how important is it to get a victory, finish with a winning record, for the success level of your first season?
COACH VENABLES: If we are 6-6 or we are 11-1 — the game is every bit as important. You don’t prepare any different. You don’t look at it any different. You don’t invest any different.
I don’t want to our program and players to play to a record, to a bowl venue, to an opponent, to a scoreboard, to home or to away, whether it’s a playoff or it’s not a playoff, this is a meaningless game and all that. The locker room doesn’t ever look at it that way, or at least the locker room we are trying to build for the long haul. Something that has longevity and sustainability.
You play and compete and perform and have expectations that are built around a standard. Whatever those standards are for you and your program. That is our focus, and it is always incredibly important.
You fight and prepare and work for victory. That’s what it is all about. And when you don’t experience that, when you come up short, man, it is incredibly disappointing. For us to try to build momentum and try to build this team the right way, this is another step and another opportunity in doing so.
Q. And you talked about how hot Florida State was going into this game. For a Bowl game, does that momentum build? Is it easy for that to go away with the length of time between?
COACH VENABLES: Just go back and look at history. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Oklahoma played Clemson in 2014 in this bowl game. They did not win that game, but the very next year they went back to the playoffs in 2015.
It doesn’t have anything to do with it. As we said before, this is a season of its own, which you are always trying to create momentum. The rock effect, if you will, and positivity and belief, all of those things. This is an opportunity to do exactly that.
Q. The bowl game looks like it could give some opportunities for some younger guys to get some additional reps on the field. For younger guys in that position, what do you look for from them heading into a game like this? As a quick follow-up, the signees that have been around the team this week, how big of an opportunity is it for them to shadow the team and see the preparation heading into the game?
COACH VENABLES: Yeah, that was fun, to get them, just to be able to pull the curtain back for them. Give them exposure to what to expect, get our players to get their arms around them and welcome them. Helping them in their transition.
That was a lot of fun for us as a staff to be able to watch these guys we have been recruiting relentlessly the last several months, and to be able to have them here as part of the bowl experience is really cool.
We invited all of them. Many of them were not able to come for obvious reasons, maybe you don’t — if you come to the bowl game, you are not allowed to play in your postseason All-Star game. That is something that they would have to be willing to give up. One of our guys wasn’t able to play in the All-Star game because of injury. He just chose to come hang out with his new teammates. So, it was really cool.
For us, didn’t necessarily need to see anything from them. Get them exposure from fundamentals and how we practice, how we prepare, what the Bowl experience is like and transitioning relationship-wise with their teammates. I thought it is a cool thing for them to be able to experience. It is more about them and their experience than it was for us as a coaching staff.
Q. Seems like a lot of guys that had decisions to make about the future were very adamant about playing in this game and the opportunity to get that tenth win. Speak to what that says about the culture and the team and how important this game was to them?
COACH NORVELL: Yeah, they love each other, and it is what you try to build within a team. You have guys that truly care about who they represent and who they get to be a part of the journey with, all of those experiences. There were many of them that made the choice to play in the game before, really, ever even talking to me about it.
I am big on every individual is going to have their own unique circumstances of what they go through and decisions they have to make. These guys, they understand all the work and the relationships that have been built. They get another opportunity here at the bowl game and to be able to go take that field once more. Some guys have decided to come back for another year, and some guys, they will be playing their last game. It’s the last opportunity for this 2022 Florida State team to be together.
I am proud of them for making that choice. I know that there is always a lot of different factors that go into it, but these guys, they care about each other. They care about Florida State. They care about this team. They want to finish this season as good as we possibly can, and it is great that they are going to be able to do it together.
I’m just excited about all the investment that they have made and to be able to take the field once more for this unit and this group.
Q. I know today is about the Cheez-It Bowl, but we haven’t spoken to you since last week and you added one more to your signing class. Can you talk about what you guys added in Peyton Bowen and maybe pull the curtain back a bit on some of the symbolism that day with the poker chip and the Bible verse?
COACH VENABLES: I am really proud of Peyton and his family. As you all know covering student-athletes and watching their journey, these life-changing decisions are never necessarily an easy thing, and quite a journey for Peyton and his family. I am incredibly proud that he chose the Sooners, and they just wonderful people.
Peyton brings a tremendous skill set, dynamics, instincts, speed, just great, great instincts, natural feel for the game. He is a winner. Comes from one of the best high school programs in the country, Denton (Texas) Guyer. He is going to bring a wealth of experience playing at a very high level from a competition standpoint. He is a humble, hardworking guy.
From a symbolic standpoint, we have our poker chips we hand out to guys. As Mike will tell and you as you all that cover recruiting, it can be a very strenuous, long process, and it literally is a race. You want to run the race to win. Winning is what it is about, but you have to run those races with endurance. That is nothing more, nothing less.
Just really excited to add another dynamic piece to what we are trying to build on both sides of the ball, but obviously Peyton in the return game and on defense in particular.
Q. Is the poker chip going to be the new bat signal?
COACH VENABLES: I’m not necessarily — I’ve got a million things going on (laughter), I don’t know, I had a little time on my — we had a little break. The players went home for a few days. It was boredom, I guess, and excitement.
Q. Just as it relates to tomorrow night, we have seen Marcus in a boot and Andrew Raym had surgery sometime last month. Where do you guys stand in terms of health heading into this one?
COACH VENABLES: You just named two of them that won’t play. Other than that, we feel the guys that traveled down here are with us. We haven’t had any injuries, so everybody else will be full tilt.
Q. Derrick LeBlanc is from this area, and he’s one of the guys able to come down and play with you all in practice. How has he looked early on in the practices, and what’s your expectations for him moving forward?
COACH VENABLES: Yeah, Derrick has been great. I feel like he has been on the team for a couple of years now. We had a long-standing relationship from where we were previously. Coach Todd Bates did a great job in recruiting him, and wonderful family.
He is mature beyond his years. He is very comfortable in who he is. He has an old soul to him. Incredibly bright. Understands the language to a certain degree already. Fundamentally sound. Is a real technician. He will really benefit from time with Coach [Jerry] Schmidt in the weight room in gaining strength and continue to add size. He played most of his career as a defensive end, and he will transition inside for us.
He is just very technically sound. He is a ball junkie. He is always on YouTube studying the game, working at his craft. Got great humility. Tremendous work ethic. He has a great future if he continues to do what he has done in the past. He is long. He is skilled. A lot of natural ability.
Q. For your senior players for which this bowl game will be their last game, what kind of conversations do you have with them in terms of kind of seeing them off, and then do you normally keep in touch with your senior players after they leave?
COACH NORVELL: Absolutely. This is our last opportunity to wear the garnet and gold of Florida State. They will forever be Noles. It is part of who they are. It is the work that they have done. This is a celebration of all of it with one more opportunity.
It is special. Many of them, the future is unknown. A lot of them will be preparing for the [NFL] Draft, and to see what opportunities present themselves on the next level.
The objective is still the same. Come tomorrow night, it is to go out and be better than they have ever been. To be able to do it on a great stage against a wonderful opponent, it is going to be an exciting time. I am sure it is going to be an emotional time. Everything that we do throughout the course of their career is to prepare them for when the last day, when it shows up, that they are ready for whatever that next step might be.
It is a wonderful group of young men. I am honored that I got a chance to coach them, pour into them, and for however many years they have been here, it just sets up for the lifetime relationship that is in front of us.
COACH VENABLES: That is what it is all about — the college journey. Growing from boyhood to manhood, and everything that happens from a transformation standpoint on the field and off the field is what it’s all about. Graduation, being a senior, needs to be a big deal.
Mike and I share the same values and perspective that we don’t want to commercialize the college game. This is a developmental game. Development of people is the greatest calling of coaching. To see your seniors, it is no different than your own children in regards to graduation from college. It is a huge moment in their life and a pivotal moment in their life. It is an exclamation mark, both the game and graduation and certainly the bowl game, the venue.
Those types of things you want to always focus on their legacy, leaving your mark, finishing what you started. Being people that others can learn from and being a great example for the next team.
As Mike said as well, these are forever relationships, absolutely. If you are about the right stuff, for us as a program, we are a relationship-driven program. I love all of my players. One of the most fulfilling parts in the coaching profession is to watch them go and be great husbands and fathers and leaders in an NFL locker room or a leader in their communities. Taking the values and the things that they have learned from your guidance and your program and the village that is constantly pouring into them and watching them go be great at whatever is next when the game is done.
This is an opportunity for this team, team 128, and the seniors, to show how we play, how we compete. This is a great opportunity for us, for them to leave their mark.
Q. Walking up here, I saw a slew of people in Florida State gear and just kind of enjoying everything and outside. Now that you have been here, can you talk about the advantage it is to have this game here and to have your team here, and the fan base that gets to be a part of this and how special it is to come here for this game?
COACH NORVELL: It is great. Obviously, Florida is a destination, and to be able to play a bowl game here in our home state, it’s a wonderful experience. We have a lot of players from the Orlando area and surrounding region. For those families, for those friends, for all of our wonderful fan base that is going to be able to be a part of this game and this experience, it is definitely exciting. Being able to feel that energy, it started at the beginning of the year and it has continued to build.
We knew some of the challenges that we faced and some of the obstacles that we had to overcome. To be able to end this season here in our home state with so many of our fans that are going to be able to be a part of this game, It is going to be a wonderful atmosphere.
Like I said, it means everything to us, because not only who we represent there in the locker room, the passion, the care, the relationships that are a part of this team. It is also who we represent. It is special to be a Florida State Seminole. We have one of the greatest fan bases in the country, and to feel their excitement and just the joy to celebrate this team and to come root them on, it is wonderful to be able to be here in Orlando. It is where we end the 2022 season, and it is also where we begin the 2023 season.
It is been a wonderful experience in all regards when it comes to that, but definitely grateful for our fan base.
THE MODERATOR: Coaches, thank both of you for your time.
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