My name is T.J. Lawrence, and I am the athletic director at Fort Lauderdale High School.
This past weekend, myself, my head football Coach Richard Dunbar (@coachdunbar49), three of our players on the Fort Lauderdale High football team, as well as a couple of assistants, were invited to come be a part of Junior Day activities at FSU in Tallahassee by Coach Odell Haggins.
The staff at Tomahawk Nation reached out to me to see if I would be willing to share my experiences and observations throughout our stay in Tallahassee. Here is a recap of my experience and my takeaways from attending Florida State Seminoles football’s Junior Day, and the first day of spring practice.
A sign of progress
As a FSU alum and the AD at Ft. Lauderdale High School, it has always been my dream to have a caliber of prospects at Lauderdale that are good enough to be considered by Florida State. It has taken some time, but we are getting there, slowly but surely.
Where this coaching staff is leaving no stone unturned, I felt the previous regime didn’t know what they were doing. The kids I brought up this year are totally under the radar, but this coaching staff is leaving nothing to chance. It costs them nothing to invest in these kids and keep genuine tabs on them throughout this recruiting process. It just takes time and energy put in to the process of building relationships.
(I’m biased, but I think these kids are all world and I will take them over anybody else in the country.)
I do know last year we were screaming from the hilltops that we had a kid who could play at FSU. An offensive lineman at that. Can you imagine our surprise when FSU said he wasn’t good enough for FSU and never came back around.
Wasn’t good enough?? He signed with Clemson.
So he wasn’t good enough for FSU, but somehow was good enough for the defending national champions. FSU didn’t want to look into this fine young man. They relied on the services to tell them who was good. This coaching staff is doing their leg work. If they are recruiting my unranked (yet extremely talented) group, I can only imagine what they are doing with every other high school.
This past weekend, I heard multiple times from multiple FSU coaches how they didn’t need somebody else to tell them if a prospect is good. They said they put the work in and if the kid is good, they bring it up the ladder for the whole staff to see. He assured me they look at film all the time on kids. They believe their own eyes as opposed to the rankings some kids get because they can play flag football real good without pads on or had the money to get to a showcase. Now of course, those top recruits deserve all the love, but the point is, even with those top kids, this FSU staff is still going to trust their eyes and their other colleagues to assemble the best roster for FSU.
Junior Day at Florida State
The three players we brought up were:
Wide receiver Jahmal Edrine: ‘21 prospect. Jahmal Edrine #2 in pic
Wide receiver De’Quan Williams: ‘22 prospect. De’Quan Williams #6 in pic
Offensive lineman Darien Parris: ‘22 prospect. Darien Parris #57 in pic
Along with coming up with my coaches and players I was fortunate enough to bring one of my three daughters along with me on the trip. She, along with her twin sister, both got accepted into FSU for this upcoming fall semester and will be a part of Class of 2024. I graduated from FSU in 1996 so proud to say the family legacy lives on for another generation with the Lawrence family.
We were greeted by FSU staff when we arrived at 8:45 a.m. for the team’s 9 a.m. practice. The first thing you notice as you enter the practice fields is 100% energy. Coaches, players, and grad assistants all were flying around. If energy and organization translates to on the field wins in the future, we will win the national title next season. You can tell from the first second you are on the field that this staff will not be outworked.
I am an athletic director on the high school level, so while I was viewing the practice I was looking at it through an organizational view point. The first thing I pointed out to my head coach and players was the passion and energy the grad assistants were in making sure everything was done correct.
From moving sleds and landing pads, to preparing for the next drill they busted their rear ends to make sure there was no dead time in between each of the 25 5-minutes drill sessions. They deserve the utmost respect because without them moving at a NASCAR pit crew speed, practice would have come to a halt multiple times. These unsung heroes deserve their recognition.
The second thing I noticed was that there was a lot of planning that went into the organization and flow of practice. This practice wasn’t just thrown together. Every single person on staff from Coach Norvell, to coordinators, to position coaches, to those before mentioned grad assistants knew the plan, knew where to go, knew where to go next, and knew what each drill’s purpose was.
The coaches on staff worked really well with each other. You could tell that a lot of them had worked with each other in the past, but each coach participated in each drill with unbridled passion and energy.
You could also tell the players weren’t used to it. At one point I saw a coach tell a very prominent player to pretty much be quiet and don’t say a word back when he is being corrected. I loved the accountability being applied. What I loved even more was when that same player corrected his mistakes, it was the same coach who was first to run up to him and high five him like the player had just scored a game-winning touchdown.
The most telling moment of the weekend for me came during the middle portion of the practice. I walked by my head coach and he was talking to a local high school coach. His comments will forever stick with me on how far Florida State had fallen in the last couple of years. I asked how often he came out to practice last year he flatly said, “Never, there was nothing for me to watch last year.” He mentioned that he would come to some of the practices that Jimbo had and said they were very spirited and felt like he learned a lot from those. He then continued by saying when he came out two years ago, he was excited to see the new staff and Taggart. That year he went to three practices and stopped coming because he said they were a joke. His words were “It was like a club out here, a resort. Music and dancing, no accountability.” He stopped coming because it was a waste of his time.
Those remarks and that thought stuck with me throughout the weekend. Later, he said he was loving what he was seeing and mentioned he will be back again soon. Those comments were so telling for me, on what a mess the last staff made this situation.
As practice wrapped up, I noticed that a lot of the FSU coaches had their families out there. I kept hearing the word family being thrown around quite a bit, so it was refreshing that as the coaches walked off the field they were greeted by their kids running up and screaming “Daddy!” as they were scooped up by their respective fathers.
I am a father of three daughters, so the family aspect to me is always big to me. I just feel that there is a strong correlation to a strong family man and a great coach. Family is said a lot around the program. I must [have] heard it 100 times on Saturday alone. But when you observe the way they are with their own kids, along [with] the way they treat their players it just comes off as 100% believable.
After practice was over we were on our own for lunch. Must admit, I was highly disappointed. I heard in the past there was a paid buffet and the famous Honey Chicken is served. I wanted to see what that was all about. If it is good enough to get Marvin Wilson to commit, I wanted some of that. Instead I had Subway. A little disappointing to say the least, lol.
After my dud of a lunch, we came back to the Moore Athletic Center and the players were measured and weighed in the sports training room. As we walked in, we were greeted by Odell Haggins who greeted us and said how happy he was that we were able to come up.
I have to admit, this is where I became a fanboy. After Bobby Bowden, there is nobody I would rather meet and talk to than Odell. He had come down to the high school a couple of weeks ago to invite us all and I was able to take a picture with him. When I showed my wife, she said I was grinning like a little school boy. On Saturday, I introduced my daughter to him and told him she was going to be a student here next fall and he gave her a big ol’ smile and high five and said “that’s what I’m talking about.” His being able to remember me and the players from a couple of months ago was awesome and meant the world to the players.
From there I again became impressed with the new coaching staff. The night prior my coaching staff went to the coaches social as I stayed back with the boys at the hotel. When we walked into the Moore Center after lunch, they were genuinely happy to see them again the next day and remembered who they were and what they had talked about the previous night. We had brought a couple of assistants with us and they greeted them, talked to them, paid attention to their questions like my guys were asking the most important question there ever was. I was impressed.
Look, I brought up three unranked players, myself, my head coach and 2 assistants. Everyone treated us like we were Dalvin Cook and Bill Belichick. They stopped and talked to the players and coaches. [Coach] Dillingham was especially attentive to my coaches and players. Not because he had to be, but because he wanted to. I again was impressed by the character of the whole coaching staff.
The training room is nice and has a lot of amenities, but my first thought was that I bet TAMU (boooo), Clemson, Oregon, Alabama and other alike programs probably have better. I don’t know if that’s true, it just felt like the room needed some resources poured into it to bring it up to the state of the art training facility that other schools can show players and recruits. Again, it wasn’t bad by any means and impressive in its efficiency, but lacking in bells and whistles that some recruits might be looking for.
After measurements, we went into the team meeting room where Coach Norvell gave his impassioned speech that revolved around…….you guessed it, family. I loved the speech because it felt like it was genuine and sincere. It was energetic and emotional without being corny. After the speech I wanted to sign up and go to work for the man. Just the genuine aspect that comes off while he talks gets you to believe in his vision for the program. Again I am an observer of people and I kept noticing all the mothers in the room nodding their head yes, every time Norvell spoke about family and what was important to him and in like what he wanted to do for the players as men off he field. We all know, if you get Momma on your side you already won half the battle. He just comes off as a genuine and honest man who believes FSU will make these potential players the best possible player and man they can be in the future.
After the talk by Coach Norvell we were brought onto the field. This is where my players’ eyes lit up. That stadium is impressive, even more so when you are on the field and can imagine it filled up with 80,000 doing the chop. They kept saying, “this place must be crazy for a night game.” After that it was onto taking pictures of the boys in the uniforms. They were each given the black uniforms. I am a traditionalist, so I was hoping for the white tops garnet numbers, gold pants, gold helmets. But the blacks do look sweet and my youngsters loved them. They got to take pictures and feel what it was like to play for the ’Noles. The whole day and all the things they did, they will remember putting on that jersey for a long time.
After that it was onto the guided bus tour. I won’t bore you with the details but the campus comes off really well. That red brick everywhere is impressive. I know my players said it was a great campus and came away impressed.
After that it was small talk until the basketball game at 4:30 p.m. I really wanted to give my coaches and players an opportunity to stop and see what a real college athletic atmosphere was like. During these visits it’s a lot of go go go. Players had a blast at the game. Crowd was great, game was great, atmosphere was wonderful, and best of all we won the regular season ACC championship. I loved that the players got to see a prominent FSU athletic team win something of meaning, in-person. We stuck around for the post-game celebration and then all piled back into the vans to head back home.
The grind never stops. The players had to be at the Under Armour event in South Florida at 8 a.m. With the game not ending until 7 p.m. with the celebration of the championship won, we didn’t get on the road until 7:30 p.m. With the time change causing us to lose an hour, I don’t know how they were ever able to make it to the event and perform at a top level. But that is the high school grind for these players and coaches.
I’m not the most eloquent of writers, but the passion, energy, and organization of the practice and the coaches had me coming away highly impressed and excited for Florida State football’s future, immediate and long term. Excited to be a NOLE again after what I saw this past weekend.
Athletic Director, Ft. Lauderdale High School
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