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Is FSU struggling with high school recruiting under Mike Norvell? Part 2- the names

Taking a deeper dive into each of Mike Norvell’s FSU classes and the names behind the rankings

Florida State v Louisville Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Welcome to the second of a three-part article series examining high school recruiting results under Mike Norvell. Part 1 covered the numbers behind FSU’s high school and transfer portal recruiting during Mike Norvell’s tenure as head coach. In Part 2, I want to take a deeper dive into the names behind the numbers to analyze the attrition and additions yielded by each high school recruiting class. In Part 3, we’ll put it all together and attempt to answer the question once and for all: does Mike Norvell’s FSU coaching staff struggle to recruit high school prospects?

A key aspect of every recruiting cycle is decommitments. While Part 1 gave data and rankings of each recruiting class, it didn’t tell the full story behind recruits that were one-time FSU commitments but didn’t sign with the Seminoles. Those decommitments are a big source for the question we’re attempting to answer here, so let’s get to it.

Norvell’s 2020 transition class ranked 22nd nationally. Of the 25 prep signees, 13 are no longer on FSU’s roster. This includes 5 of 8 blue-chip signees, so the current Seminoles roster only boasts 3 blue-chip signees from the class of 2020: Lawrance Toafili, Stephen Dix, and Ja’Khi Douglas. Toafili and Douglas have found success when healthy in crowded position corps. Dix was pressed into action before he was ready, which has impacted his development. He has also dealt with injuries.

Of those remaining signees, 2020 yielded two consistent starters in Robert Scott Jr. and Alex Mastromanno. It also features contributors of various levels (and injury histories) in Toafili, Dix, Douglas, DJ Lundy, Markeston Douglas, Kentron Poitier, Tate Rodemaker, Darion Williamson, Zane Herring, and Thomas Shrader. I believe more attrition from this class can be expected during spring and summer, likely anywhere from 1-3 names.

Let’s take a look at the decommitments from the 2020 class:

QB Jeff Sims: mutual split with FSU, recently transferred from Georgia Tech to Nebraska.

RB Jaylan Knighton: struggled with injuries, transferred from Miami (FL) to SMU.

WR Malachi Wideman: signed with Tennessee, didn’t go to class and subsequently removed from Tennessee’s program, transferred to Jackson St.

LB Keyshawn Greene: signed with Nebraska, left Nebraska quickly for FAU, entered portal again and has fallen off the map.

DB Jalen Harrell: went to Miami (FL), didn’t do much, entered transfer portal and landed at UMass.

DB Isaiah Dunson: went to Miami (FL), didn’t do much, entered transfer portal, committed to Baylor.

DE/LB Morven Joseph: signed with Tennessee, then transferred to FAU.

DE Josh Griffis: recommitted to FSU before entering transfer portal, transferring to Jackson St and then getting into legal trouble.

DB Derek Bermudez: signed with Ole Miss, didn’t do much, currently in transfer portal.

OL Alex Atcavage: signed with FAU.

Looking at that list, time has proven that FSU really didn’t lose much (it also sheds light on some of the evaluation “skills” of the prior staff... yikes). In my opinion, Joseph is the only player who could be a contributor in the rotation at FSU right now. Sims and Atcavage were encouraged to go elsewhere by Norvell’s staff. After entering the transfer portal from Nebraska and Tennessee, respectively, Greene and Wideman reportedly tried to transfer to FSU and both were denied by the staff, which had clearly moved on. Griffis has shown significant character concerns. Harrell, Dunson, and Bermudez have not lived up to their rankings. Knighton has struggled with injuries and is likely no longer the same player he was in high school.

Overall, even though Norvell’s staff pushed for Greene, Joseph, and Wideman to rejoin the class before signing day (and succeeded with Griffis), FSU managed to avoid some headaches with these decommitments.

Norvell’s first full cycle yielded 17 prep signees in 2021. The attrition rate is close to 2020, as 8 of those signees are not currently on the roster. Remaining are Omarion Cooper, Patrick Payton, Byron Turner Jr., Josh Burrell, Bryson Estes, Kevin Knowles, Jackson West, Josh Farmer, and Shyheim Brown. Payton is on the verge of becoming an absolute monster, while Cooper, Knowles, Farmer, and Brown have all logged significant snaps. Turner and Burrell have been waylaid with injuries, Estes has been developing and seeing mop-up duty, and West simply hasn’t panned out yet. I could see additional spring or summer attrition of 1-2 names from this group.

Rumors persist about whether Destyn Hill will eventually join the roster this summer, but even if he does, he will likely be out of shape and need a year or two before becoming a meaningful contributor. Does that timeline fit in with a WR room that has been injected with significant talent and experience in the past two cycles? We can casually hope for the best but don’t hold your collective breath on him, ‘Nole fans.

2021 was the first cycle in which Norvell’s top-rated recruit ended up leaving the class. Let’s take a look at 2021’s decommitments:

LB Branden Jennings: Jennings finished ranked #108 in the 247Sports composite, 5 slots ahead of Hill. Shortly after decommitting from FSU Jennings committed to Michigan before flipping to Maryland in the December signing period. He then transferred to Kansas State in January 2022, only to enter the portal again 4 months later and eventually signing with UCF.

QB Luke Altmyer: FSU fought hard to keep Altmyer, but home ties eventually won out as he flipped to Ole Miss. Altmyer recently entered the transfer portal and chose Illinois as his next destination.

WR Malik McClain: recommitted to FSU and spent time in the WR rotation before transferring to Penn St this offseason.

OL Kimo Makaneole: He flipped to LSU and has done nothing there.

RB Keyshawn Spencer: Spencer did not choose a new school after leaving FSU’s class and to my knowledge is not playing college football.

OL Jake Slaughter: Slaughter flipped to the Florida Gators as a result of FSU accepting the commitment of Bryson Estes and is a backup.

LB Dequaveon Fuller: Fuller ended up at Tallahassee Community College.

Jennings’ recruitment took some shady twists with his father getting a job at Michigan around the same time they became a major player for him (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions there). Mike Lock$ley and Maryland then stepped in to secure Jennings and another top LB for a double flip (again, draw your own conclusions). Jennings has a lot of talent and potential, but the circus that has surrounded him thus far in his young career leads me to believe this was addition by subtraction regarding the ‘Nole legacy.

Losing Altmyer certainly hurt and added to the narrative that FSU struggled recruiting prep quarterbacks. Norvell and his staff learned a hard lesson about putting your eggs in one basket regarding kids from Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, where the home state pull is so strong. Makaneole, Spencer, and Fuller have done nothing at the college level and Slaughter would likely still be a backup at FSU as he is in Gainesville.

2022 again saw FSU sign 17 high school players. The blue-chip ratio for 2022 dropped to 35%, with 6 signees ranked as 4-stars. Only one of last year’s signees has left the program and I would argue it’s addition by subtraction there. While it’s still too early to fairly judge most of the 2022 signees, we’ve already seen DB Azareyeh Thomas, OL Julian Armella, DT Daniel Lyons, and RB Rodney Hill earn some game-time reps. We’ve also seen promising signs from QB AJ Duffy, OL Jaylen Early, LB Omar Graham Jr., and TE/HB Brian Courtney. Transfer portal additions along the OL and DL will allow many of the 2022 linemen signees to continue developing without being pressed into action too soon, which is an excellent luxury to have.

2022’s list of decommitments hits harder than the previous two cycles. Let’s take a look at the names, starting with one that will live in infamy:

DB/WR Travis Hunter: (in)famously flipped to Jackson State and Deion Sanders. After dealing with some injuries early, Hunter had a strong end to his season and subsequently followed Sanders to Colorado this offseason, using the HBCU as a stepping stone to his next destination.

DE Nyjalik Kelly: FSU was unable to hold off the Miami (FL) Hurricanes, who kept Kelly at home after a significant investment. He was in the rotation for the Canes this season.

DL Trevion Williams: Another case of the home state having too strong a pull in the end, as Williams ended up signing with Mississippi State. He appeared in three games and should play a larger role this season.

QB Nicco Marchiol: Marchiol originally welcomed being one of two quarterbacks in this cycle when he believed MJ Morris would be the other. Once FSU made waves by landing Duffy and Morris pivoted to NC State, however, Marchiol changed his mind and signed with West Virginia. He’ll be fighting for the starting job this season.

WR Devaughn Mortimer: I didn’t care when he flipped to Louisville because I felt he was overrated and a poor character fit. The only remarkable ripple effect from this departure is that it meant FSU failed to sign a single prep WR in the class. Mortimer faced legal issues and I don’t know where he is now, nor do I care.

OL Aliou Bah: Bah flipped to the Georgia Bulldogs but with the strong OL class Alex Atkins assembled, FSU didn’t fight terribly hard to keep him. He was raw coming out of high school and will likely be a backup this season.

WR Quincey McAdoo: An odd commitment to begin with, McAdoo quickly (and expectedly) flipped to the in-state Arkansas Razorbacks. Interestingly, Arkansas used him as a defensive back instead, and McAdoo saw action in 9 games and totaled 30 tackles and 2 interceptions. He’ll now be learning under former FSU secondary coach Marcus Woodson. Godspeed, Quincey.

LB Melvin Jordan IV: A Taggart-era commitment, Jordan was encouraged to look elsewhere. After some musical chairs, he signed with Oregon State Beavers, appearing in 3 games last year.

QB Chad Mascoe: The other Taggart-era commitment, Mascoe hit a developmental plateau in high school and was encouraged to look elsewhere. He ended up at Campbell, appearing in 4 games in his freshman campaign. Campbell coach Mike Minter is putting together a nice little roster for the 2023 campaign.

There’s no sugarcoating the pain of losing the #1 player in the nation to a lower-division school on signing day, especially when the culprit is a superstar alumnus from your football program. The media had a field day and continues to mention the event in articles about Hunter and/or Sanders. At the time, Hunter and Sanders spoke about making history and the importance of shining a light on HBCUs. Those sentiments were short-lived, as Sanders is now in Boulder and raided the Jackson State roster on his way out. It’s never been more clear that this came down to resources, as Hunter also had a 7-digit deal under the table from Georgia. When the decommitment happened, I wrote about my thoughts. While I’d still love to have Hunter’s generational talent in garnet and gold, time has shown that perhaps FSU is better off without his presence in the locker room. This isn’t meant to sound like sour grapes. It honestly makes me sad to type those words.

Though Kelly stayed committed to FSU longer than I thought he would, his decision to stay at home in South Florida was not a surprise. That doesn’t make it hurt any less, as Kelly would certainly be in the rotation at FSU, but the allure of staying home and the green and orange bags were just too strong for FSU to overcome. He’ll be a pain for FSU to deal with the next couple seasons. Similar sentiments for Williams, who ultimately stayed closer to home to play football. I can’t blame these kids in the end.

I believe the narrative of Norvell struggling to recruit high school players really caught fire during this cycle. 77% of the decommitments were blue-chip recruits. FSU actually had more blue-chip decommitments (7) than blue-chip signees (6) in the class and regardless of the circumstances, that isn’t easy to explain away (and very easy for rival coaches to use as negative recruiting). Mike Norvell and his staff had also been in Tallahassee long enough for some Seminole fans to start lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks.

Finally, let’s analyze the 2023 class, Norvell’s best yet in Tallahassee (on paper). The newly-signed prep class of 2023 ranked 19th nationally, included Norvell’s first composite 5-star signee, and finally hit the desired 50% (or higher) blue-chip ratio (9 of 18 signees are blue-chips). It’s also the first class he’s been able to sign with true proof of concept regarding on-field improvement.

Yet again, though, significant losses in the class overshadowed the achievements of the cycle for many Seminole fans. Let’s take a look at the 2023 decommitments:

RB Cedric Baxter Jr.: Baxter committed to FSU very early and ultimately decided to back off that pledge to see other options. Norvell’s staff gave it one hell of an effort to try and win him back, but Texas managed to hold on to Baxter Jr. Had the decision solely been up to Baxter Jr., I believe that FSU may have won out. His father played a dominant role, however, and Texas managed to pacify him by promising Baxter that he would be a star back instead of one in a crowd. Draw your own conclusions.

DE Gabe Harris: Harris was another early commitment who decided to pounce on a more prestigious offer from UGA. There were whispers that he may have ultimately been the odd man out in the Bulldogs’ awesome 2023 haul, but he was retained in lieu of a different lineman being pushed out of the class. Hard to blame Harris for wanting to play for the champs.

DL Keldric Faulk: The sick feeling of “here we go again” hit the stomachs of Seminole faithful when Keldric Faulk flipped to the hometown Auburn Tigers on signing day. He’d been telling FSU media what they wanted to hear, using statements like “something catastrophic would have to happen for me to flip”, only to break garnet and gold hearts in the end. Staying closer to home and the resources at new coach Hugh Freeze’s disposal certainly contributed.

OL Rod Kearney: Kearney’s heart was seemingly always with Florida, which was why his surprise commitment to FSU caught so many of us off-guard, especially while he was returning from a UF campus visit. Rumblings soon intensified about Kearney’s circle chirping louder in his ear, and ultimately he decided to follow his (and his family’s) heart to Gainesville. Again, can’t blame a guy for following his heart.

QB Chris Parson: The perfect example of a prospect saying all the right things when circumstances are to his liking, then completely changing when adversity hits. Parson was perfectly content while he was the only QB commit for the Seminoles, but when it became clear that FSU needed to upgrade its 2023 QB class, Parson and his family became combative. FSU ultimately landed their top choice in Brock Glenn, and Parson sought to find a home where he could be the only QB in the class. He found that place in Mississippi State... until the Bulldogs added another QB from the portal. Good luck, Chris.

DL Tavion Gadson: Gadson was encouraged to look elsewhere late in the process when it became clear that he was in danger of academic ineligibility. FSU helped facilitate new interest and Gadson found a home with the Kentucky Wildcats. I was sad to see this play out as I really like Gadson as a prospect. May he have success every time he plays the Gators.

TE Randy Pittman: Pittman and FSU mutually parted ways after the Seminoles became too concerned about Pittman’s development and character concerns and Pittman desired to “upgrade” his destination. Pittman later signed with UCF.

5 of the 7 decommitments were ranked as blue-chip players, though most happened early enough in the cycle to mitigate disaster at their respective positions. FSU is totally fine at RB and OL, making the decommitments of Baxter and Kearney easier to absorb. Harris certainly would’ve been a great addition but upgraded to Georgia, while Parson, Gadson, and Pittman were planned subtractions by FSU.

The late loss of Faulk stings the most, as he was FSU’s highest-rated defensive commitment. Faulk’s decommitment brought more grumbling about the staff’s inability to recruit the prep ranks for top prospects. That said, I truly believe FSU did everything it could to retain him, ultimately losing out to the home school and greater resources.

There you have it: a breakdown of both signees and decommitments from each of Norvell’s classes. Of the 33 total decommitments Mike Norvell and his staff have weathered in the past 4 classes, FSU managed to get 2 to recommit (though both players have since moved on). 21 of the 33 have been blue-chips, including a couple of 5 star prospects. In terms of positional attrition, the leaders are 7 defensive linemen, 5 quarterbacks, 5 offensive linemen, 4 defensive backs, 4 wide receivers, and 4 linebackers.

However, I would argue that of the decommitments, only Travis Hunter and Nyjalik Kelly (and possibly Quincey McAdoo) are on their way to becoming star players. Altmyer and Sims have garnered significant game experience but have not looked like program-elevating quarterbacks. Some of the names certainly have good talent but have been waylaid by injuries, excessive transferring, or legal issues. In my opinion (and this is just my opinion, following along with how their respective journeys have gone thus far), I believe that only Morven Joseph (2020), Travis Hunter (2022), and Nyjalik Kelly (2022) would be significant contributors right now for FSU from the classes who have at least one year of experience. I am not sure if McAdoo would have been moved to DB in Tallahassee, so I don’t feel right including him.

Part 3 will conclude this series by comparing FSU with a few other programs, taking an in-depth look at the 2024 class thus far, analyzing recruiting strategy over the past 4 cycles, and ultimately answering the question of whether Mike Norvell and his staff struggle to recruit high school players.