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Florida State of Recruiting: Where Tribe ‘21 is and where it goes from here

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Taking stock of FSU recruiting

Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Tomahawk Nation recently wrapped up the first round of our Florida State of Recruiting articles, in which we analyzed each position group with early names to keep an eye on during head coach Mike Norvell’s first full recruiting cycle.

This has been an unprecedented recruiting cycle, as a national pandemic and social unrest has created an unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment for college football programs and coaches. Nonetheless, Florida State currently holds commitments from 13 prospects in the 2021 class. Now it’s time for us to take a step back and evaluate where Tribe ’21 is currently situated, take a peek into the future to see where it may be headed, and assess some of the complicated current and anticipated factors of this recruiting cycle. As always, check out our Official Florida State Seminoles football Recruiting Thread for the latest updates.

This article will focus solely on traditional high school and JUCO prospects in the 2021 class, not on incoming transfer players, though it can be argued that moving forward, transfers should be included in recruiting rankings.

Where Tribe ’21 currently stands

The Strengths:

Quarterback: Coach Norvell and Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach Kenny Dillingham successfully zeroed in on their top prospect early, gaining a commitment from Luke Altmyer. The talented gunslinger from MS has taken a leadership role in the class and frequently communicates with other prospects. His national stock has consistently been on the rise, as demonstrated by his most recent offer from Alabama, and he is talented enough to afford the coaches the option of only taking one QB in this class, should they not find another prospect they like.

Tight End: Coach Norvell is notorious for utilizing the tight end in his offense to great success, and he and Coach Chris Thomsen are impressively flipping the entire TE room. The first commitment came from versatile and criminally underrated AL prospect Jackson West, who should be an excellent fit for everything Norvell hopes to accomplish on offense. He could line up at TE or in the offensive backfield. The most recent addition to Tribe ’21 comes in the largely unknown JUCO prospect Koby Gross with little available film. The CA prospect has not visited campus in person yet but clearly impressed the coaches enough to earn a committable offer, and it will be interesting to see where he falls in national rankings. He should have 4 years to play 3 and will likely be counted on as an immediate contributor. FSU was long in the driver’s seat for TE prospect Michael Trigg, but Trigg disappointingly severed ties with FSU after the commotion between Coach Norvell and Marvin Wilson. Not to worry though, as FSU continues to scout and offer prospects. Keep an eye on athletic AL prospect River Helms, MS fast-riser Jalen Shead, and gigantic OH prospect Mitchell Evans, among others.

Linebacker: Coach Norvell and Coach Chris Marve have made noise at this position, first securing a pledge from legacy Jacksonville LB Branden Jennings. Jennings is appropriately nicknamed “Godzilla” and hits like a bullet train, and we cannot wait to watch him wreak havoc in the backfield for years to come. The ‘Noles turned to the Lone Star state for their next pledge, Jordan Eubanks. Our staff has Eubanks pegged for the “Stud” role, a hybrid linebacker-safety role, where he can show off his versatility and high football IQ. Eubanks plays against excellent competition in Texas. These two form a strong foundation for Coach Marve’s LB class moving forward. Dequaveon Fuller, a commit from the prior staff, is still listed in the class but we at TN do not believe he will sign with FSU. Louisiana LB and recent Memphis commitment Andrew Jones is a name to watch, as we expect FSU to be in strong position to flip him if his grades improve. LB/S hybrid Dink Jackson is another prospect with whom FSU sits in great position.

No Need to Panic:

Running Back: While FSU does not currently hold a commitment from a running back prospect, the ‘Noles are in good shape with several prospects. Most notable are powerful CA bruiser Byron Cardwell and electric LA speedster Ke’Travion Hargrove (current Louisiana Tech commit). Hargrove is blowing up nationally and having ace Louisiana recruiter and RB coach David “YAC” Johnson could ultimately be the difference-maker. Cardwell consistently mentions FSU as a favorite and plans to visit campus at least once. Other names to know are Vernon, FL athlete K’wan Powell and a pair of AL prospects, Joseph McKay and Jaylin White.

Wide Receiver: FSU currently holds one WR commitment from dynamic SC prospect Joshua Burrell. Burrell presents a large target and at 6’3 and 212 pounds, is already physically college-ready. He is one of the top players in South Carolina and has a great combination of physicality and speed. FSU also sits in the driver’s seat for LA stud Destyn “Fatt” Pazon, a wiry, polished, lethal prospect who can take the top off a defense and an uncanny ability to find openings in coverage. Pazon has NFL potential and would challenge for playing time immediately along with Burrell. Coach Norvell has history as a WR coach, and along with Coach Ron Dugans, this is a position group that FSU fans need not worry about on the trail. Other targets include MS jumbo stud Isaiah Brevard and LA sleeping giant Keon Coleman, who FSU continues to recruit despite being left out of a “final” top 3.

Defensive Back: Perhaps historically the strongest position group in terms of recruiting success, the defensive backfield currently boasts commitments from TX playmaker Hunter Washington, FL stud Omarion Cooper, and fierce South FL ball-hawk Kevin Knowles II. All three players could profile initially at CB but are versatile enough to transition to safety based on needs and depth chart. Cooper is perhaps the best of the bunch and should be an immediate contributor, but all three form a strong foundation for DC Adam Fuller and DB Coach Marcus Woodson to work with. Other names to follow are legacy safety Corey Collier, LA beast S Sage Ryan, CB Kameron Grays from AL, and a pair of local studs in Ahmari Harvey and Terrion Arnold.

Under the Microscope:

Offensive Line: I will start by saying that both current commitments, GA C Bryson Estes and FL G/C Jake Slaughter, are very nice prospects with high football IQs and definite takes for FSU. Estes has experience playing right tackle and guard for his high school, but noted that FSU wants him as the man in the middle. His versatility and great fundamentals at an early stage should position him to be a future mainstay on the line. Slaughter is another versatile lineman who could cross-train at guard and center. He likely will not be ready for immediate playing time, but shows good footwork and straight-up nastiness. OL Coach Alex Atkins, a star coach in the making, has two big uglies that will perform well in Coach Norvell’s system.

That said, and stop me if you have heard this before, where are the offensive tackles? The position that has been a constant bane of the existence for ‘Nole fans in recent years and this cycle has shown OT target after OT target commit elsewhere, causing understandable concern for Seminole faithful. FSU is still speaking with some of these, but we cannot help but wonder why FSU seems so snake-bitten at the position. While the new staff has yet to land a commitment from a 2021 offensive tackle, it is in contention for prospects like Rod Orr from AL, Dietrick Pennington from TN, and George Jackson and Terrance Ferguson from GA. Other OL names to keep an eye on are Jacksonville interior OL Michael Myslinski and Ole Miss commit Micah Pettus. Suffice to say, Coach Atkins remains intent on searching far and wide for prospects, so new names will surface from the high school and JUCO ranks.

Defensive Line: Mainstay DT Coach Odell Haggins and newcomer DE coach John Papuchis lead the charge in finding defensive linemen to don the garnet and gold, but so far FSU holds only one commitment in underrated DE Joshua Farmer from Havana, FL. Farmer was the first pledge for the ’21 class under the new staff, and is rising nationally and could eventually grow into an athletic DT. The defensive line is a point of pride for FSU historically and badly needs more talent infused into the depth chart, particularly on the ends. Orlando DE Shambre Jackson, a relentless punisher who can set the edge or blow up a backfield, is a primary target for the ‘Noles and a good bet to end up in the class. Farmer’s high school teammate Darrell Jackson is a talented athlete who could profile at DE, and tall and rangy NC developmental target Zyun Reeves is another name to keep in mind at the edge.

At the defensive tackle position, Coach Haggins once again has FSU positioned well for several targets. Marquis Robinson from Milton, FL, is perhaps the most realistic big-name target FSU is after, while St. Augustine’s Luther McCoy and JUCO Jalen Williams are also high on FSU. National recruits interested in the ‘Noles include Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins from SC, NJ stud Tywone Malone, Auburn commitment Lee Hunter, and CA all-name team candidate Victory Vaka, but many of these recruitments will depend entirely on OV’s and how many spots better programs have to fill, so take them with skepticism.

Obstacles and unknowns of the 2021 recruiting cycle

Pandemic. Civil unrest. Protests. Shifting dynamics. Volatile stock market. In today’s climate, we have been conditioned to go to bed each night thinking “what the hell else could happen tomorrow?”, only to have our grim expectations realized or even surpassed. (Giant murder hornets? Seriously?). With so much happening in the country, college football recruiting understandably takes a back seat, yet it is truly remarkable how difficult recruiting has become for coaches and for prospects.

New coaching staffs are already behind in the sped-up world of recruiting. Established staffs can shift their attention to recruits in the next cycle while newly hired staffs scramble to salvage a class, sometimes only having a few weeks to do so. These are known as “Year Zero” classes and are notorious for falling apart within a few years. A great way for new staffs to try and catch up to their peers are in-person visits, either at the homes of the prospects or on campus during unofficial visiting days and prospect camps. Well… at least the staff did everything they could before things went off the rails.

Campus visits are crucial in recruiting, from the timing and the frequency to the agendas and the weather. The NCAA suspended all campus visits in March, taking away an incredibly important time for the new staff to show recruits how they plan to transform FSU football. Dozens of top prospects were expected to attend FSU’s spring game. We have no doubt the staff was excited about holding Junior Days and continuing to hold high school coaching socials. Coaches are now forced to get creative with aspects of campus visits, holding virtual campus tours and meetings over Zoom. This is incredibly difficult for prospects as well; not being able to visit closed campuses and meet with coaches and players in person. But hey, there’s always the national and regional summer camp circuits for prospects to showcase their talent and... oh wait, those were all cancelled too. As a recruiter in this cycle, you’d better have an eye for talent because the opportunities to evaluate have been incredibly limited thus far.

As a result of the pandemic, many players are opting to commit to schools that are closer to home or to coaches with whom they have long-established relationships. There has been a huge increase in early commitments this cycle, but many players are simply holding spots in classes while continuing to pursue their options. Committing to a “safe” option gives feelings of security and comfort which are harder to come by these days. Coaches may now only have a short window of a few months to host Official Visits (players may take up to five official visits, in which the school pays for everything). Prepare for an equally active decommitment and flip season if this happens.

Another unknown is the status of the recently created Early Signing Period in December. With so many prospects unable to visit campuses, coaches, parents and advisors are encouraging them to hold off on making final decisions. The timetable for campus visits is up in the air and the longer that stretches out the less likely prospects will sign in December. Regardless of whether the ESP takes place, look for a crazy January in the 2021 cycle.

Keeping all of this in mind, where is Tribe ’21 headed?

Let’s talk recruiting strategy. We’ll never know what may have been under normal recruiting circumstances but had FSU been able to host a spring game, the TN squad is confident that FSU would have several more commitments, have a strong national buzz, and be right in the thick of recruitments for some bigger names. That did not happen, so Mike Norvell and his staff had to adjust on the fly. What has taken form is a strategy based on mixing quick fixes with regional recruiting ties.

The new staff has hit the transfer portal hard and found resounding success. Following last season, FSU is bringing in 8 total transfers. RB, TE, OL, DL, and DB are all getting infusions of talent already familiar with college strength programs and the grind of college football. This looks to be the beginning of a trend for FSU (and nationally) as the transfer portal continues to expand. Look for FSU to add one more graduate transfer this summer- we are keeping an eye on the OT position, specifically.

With so many travel restrictions due to the pandemic, the new staff has not been able to spend quality time at Florida high schools to establish or strengthen relationships. While the staff is no stranger to recruiting the Sunshine State, out of state regional ties for new staff members are naturally stronger at this point thanks to the inability to make the rounds in-state. Florida and Georgia will always be the bread and butter for FSU recruiting and offers show that the new staff is by no means ignoring either state. However, they have expanded their nets regionally to reflect relationships held by the new staff members. Louisiana has emerged as a focal point and with ace recruiter like Coach YAC, it certainly should be. While LSU will always be king in the state, FSU is making serious noise there. Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, the Carolinas, and Tennessee are also regional strengths for the staff and offers reflect the attention being paid to these states. California and Arizona will remain states in which FSU will fight for certain players but will not gamble too heavily. The DMV area (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) is less of a focus now but FSU will still pick some fights for talent.

While some ‘Nole fans may view this recruiting strategy as giving up on the state of Florida or as heresy from the recruiting bible of Coach Bowden, they shouldn’t. FSU is not conceding south Florida to its rivals, nor is it intentionally ignoring other in-state hotbeds that have been fruitful in the past. This is not a reflection of priorities for the next 5-10 years; it simply reflects circumstance. Once coaches can travel more normally, you will see every member of the coaching staff visiting Florida high schools in their assigned territories and creating relationships. Until then, the staff will naturally rely on establish ties and relationships.

Because of this, Mike Norvell has put even more emphasis on trust and relationships in his recruiting strategy. The staff has proven that, in most cases, a prospect needs to have quality time with coaches and have built a strong relationship before a committable offer is extended. Even then the staff encourages prospects not to commit unless they have explored all options and are fully comfortable being a Seminole. Coach Norvell has spoken numerous times on prospects wanting to commit to the ‘Noles but being told to wait until relationships are strengthened. The staff has also shown that they will not take many chances on academic risks, particularly early in the game. Coach Norvell is building a class that will be reliable, not gambling on talent that will clearly present constant headaches in the classroom.

On field results will matter (duh). However, it will go beyond the wins and losses on the final record. Fans like to assign numbers as a form of confidence in recruiting, but I’m here to tell you that a 7-5 season versus a 9-3 season on paper has minimal impact when recruits are considering new coaching staffs in their final decisions. What truly matters is the ability to show recruits that your plan is working, and that you are successfully implementing your schemes on offense and defense. Recruits need to know that coaches are backing up their rosy talk with film that shows progress. They need to see how they will fit into the new schemes, and they need to see how coaches communicate with their players while trying to create sustainable positive changes. Most importantly, they need to see how players are progressing and demonstrable evidence that these coaches will get them into the NFL. Skill players need to see progress from the offensive linemen who will be blocking for them, and offensive linemen need to see progress from the skill players they are protecting. They need to see buy-in, and they need to feel like they are part of a supportive family.

Finally, the staff will need to prepare for a wild winter recruiting period. We at TN believe that FSU has positioned itself very well when the decommitments start happening. FSU looks to have a solid class right now with only one or two prospects looking at other options, while other programs have built strong classes on paper that will fold due to non-qualifiers and decommitments closer to National Signing Day (looking at you, Rocky Top). FSU has made it clear that they are not taking “place-holder” commitments.

We are expecting a full class of 25. Keep an eye on the OL and DL and offensive skill positions and how FSU fills things out. Some new names will emerge, and some will resurface, while FSU will be dropped by some prospects and may have its heart broken a time or two. We’ll be rolling out the next round of our Florida State of Recruiting series in the coming months, incorporating data into the articles and providing updated target lists and scouts.

Final thoughts and call for questions

This recruiting cycle has been a wild ride so far and we are not even into July yet. There will be ups and downs, losses, victories, and twists and turns we will not see coming. Names to watch will come and go. It all adds to the fun and passion of following recruiting, but please remember that these are 17 and 18-year old kids making enormous decisions in an unprecedented time. Please do not be that jerk on Twitter who insults a kid and just leave it to Gator fans to say things like “we didn’t want him anyway” or “he was afraid of competition”. I like to think TN is better than that, and TN consistently proves me right in my assumption.

Finally, we want to hear from you, Tomahawk Nation! In the comments below, let us know what topics you want to read more about and what questions you want answered. Our community has excellent ideas and creativity and we want to showcase it. We are planning some roundtables and would love them to center around questions from the community, so don’t be shy!