The Florida State Seminoles football program has had an eventful last month, starting with what can best be described as an emotional rollercoaster during the first day of the Early Signing Period and culminating in a fantastic transfer portal class as another spring semester begins in Tallahassee. I’ve been asked for my thoughts more times than I can remember, but have been hesitant to respond in threads because this is such a complex chain of events. After some reflection, though, I’ll try to make sense of everything as best I can. I want to be clear that these thoughts are mine, and mine alone.
First, Travis Hunter.
I’m sure you know the story by now, that Hunter stunned the country by choosing Jackson State over Florida State. A lot of Seminole fans took the news hard, myself included, because Hunter’s a generational talent and would’ve been an enormous addition to the program. When he took his visit to Jackson State, many of us felt he was just taking an opportunity to spend time with one of his idols in Deion Sanders. That’s our fault for underestimating the situation and the amount of resources ultimately deployed in securing his signature.
I’ll say this: I believe Travis Hunter when he says he has genuine love for FSU and its coaching staff. I don’t believe he was lying for two years while he was committed, and I think he had every intention of playing for the Noles until that Jackson State visit happened. He was the pied piper of #Tribe22 and helped FSU land or get into serious contention for many talented players. For that, I’m thankful to him. He waited to shock the world until the ESP, and for that, I’m also thankful. Had he flipped sooner, FSU’s class could’ve taken a major downward turn. I believe his decision was two-fold: he wanted to send shock waves throughout the nation (which he accomplished), and he also wanted FSU’s class to be stable (which it was). I think his love for FSU helped influence his actions in that regard.
Hunter made a decision that carries immense societal pressure. He has chosen to pursue his NFL dream via the HBCU route, and he hopes his decision will be culturally significant and influence other young black athletes to sign with HBCUs. Having never been a young black male, I cannot and will not pretend to understand the cultural significance of this firsthand, but I know that representation matters, and I have an immense amount of respect for Travis blazing his own trail. To him, and to many others, this is a decision that goes well beyond the football field. However, Hunter is now locked into his word on multiple levels. He must stay at JSU long enough to get into the League—if he decides to transfer elsewhere, not only would he be going back on his word—he’ll be letting down a multitude of people.
He knows the challenge ahead: JSU’s facilities, nutrition program, level of competition (in practice and gamedays), and fan-base support pale in comparison to the major programs. He’ll be at a disadvantage to his peers who chose those colleges and their facilities and programs. Hunter will hear the narratives around choosing to be a big fish in a small pond, being afraid to compete at the highest level, selling out for the highest bidder, etc. He’s betting on himself, and I sincerely hope he wins that bet. I’m still a Travis Hunter fan.
That said, I have one major problem with how he conducted himself. In a recent interview with 247’s Andrew Ivins, Hunter had this to say about Mike Norvell: “He found out like just like everybody found out — on TV.”
If that is true, it’s incredibly disappointing. Don’t come at me with the “he’s only 18” narrative. When someone invests years of time and resources into you, you don’t let them find out on TV like everyone else. I fully understand how immature kids can be—I work at a university—but this is on another level. And trust me, I’ve long been critical of kids who pull these kinds of stunts in recruiting, whether FSU benefits or not. I think back to Patrick Robinson flipping from UF to FSU on Signing Day. When he was interviewed about how he informed the Gators, he replied “They just saw it, so now they know” or something like that. It just isn’t the right thing to do, and I hope Hunter learns from that mistake and grows because of it. Major kudos to Norvell and his staff for how they reacted so gracefully.
I’m not going to waste much space on “Prime Time.” He was hired to do a job, and he’s doing it. Whether or not his intentions are true will be determined in time, and he’ll have to live with whatever adulation or criticism his actions bring.
Second, Tribe 22.
I’m excited about this high school class, y’all. The offensive line recruiting is the highlight for me, as FSU not only held together its current commitments, but added an incredibly important piece in Julian Armella during the ESP. Armella, Jaylen Early, Qae’shon Sapp, Kanaya Charlton, and Daughtry Richardson represent 1,556 pounds of humanity (an average of 311 pounds). FSU welcomes the best prep QB prospect it’s landed in years in A.J. Duffy, who was considered a top performer during his all-star game week of practice. Underrated RB prospect Rodney Hill joins two intriguing developmental TEs in Jerrale Powers and Brian Courtney to round out the offense. Yes, FSU lost Devaughn Mortimer to Louisville, but he can be easily replaced. More later as to why I didn’t really bat an eye regarding him not coming to Tallahassee.
The coaches also pulled a rabbit out of the hat by winning the Azareyeh Thomas sweepstakes. Thomas has long been one of my favorites, and FSU landing him is a huge deal. Meanwhile, hanging on to Sam McCall ensures the Noles will have two top-notch athletes working in the defensive backfield (and who knows, maybe getting a bit of run on offense, as well). LB Omar Graham, Jr. had an incredible senior season, and FSU netted four defensive linemen in DTs Bishop Thomas and Daniel Lyons and DEs Aaron Hester and Dante Anderson (the latter as a preferred walk-on, no less).
What you don’t see amongst the stats and highlight reels are how many of these guys have leadership potential and should be great for the locker room. Considering the amount of adversity FSU and its coaching staff faced throughout the season, pulling this high school class is nothing short of outstanding. This class is good for 14th in the nation and 2nd in the ACC. FSU still has a commitment from versatile lineman Antavious “Tae” Woody, and as long as he takes care of business in the classroom, FSU remains in great shape to gain his signature in February. Speaking of...
Third, National Signing Day.
FSU will likely have a quiet National Signing Day on February 2. Assuming Woody gets his academics in order, FSU will send him paperwork to sign, and he’ll likely stick with his FSU pledge. Whether he plays on the offensive or defensive line will be a fun storyline to watch. We hear he’s become more interested in playing along the defensive line, which is where I personally would love to see him.
The ‘Noles will continue to evaluate prep prospects over the coming weeks. We know they’ve been in communication with several players like former Georgia DL commit Christen Miller and former Minnesota DE commit Jack Pyburn, but neither is likely moving forward. Several prospects FSU previously recruited are still out there, like LB E.J. Lightsey and RB Terrance Gibbs, but FSU will be extremely selective with any remaining prep targets. This is due to...
Finally, Transfer Portal Success.
I’ll take a deeper dive later this week into the coaches’ transfer portal philosophy and strategy (as I see it), but NO ONE can deny that FSU has won the portal over the past several weeks. I’ve spoken at length about how the transfer portal has changed recruiting forever, and it’s very clear Norvell & Co. have targeted the portal this offseason to help flip a roster that was in worse shape than even the most connected of us realized. The Seminoles welcome nine new transfers this spring.
FSU and WR coach Ron Dugans infamously failed to bring in a single prep wide receiver during the Early Signing Period. Mike Norvell has remedied that by taking four- yes, four- wide receivers from the transfer portal. Each has a different skill set that fills a need and all have multiple years of eligibility remaining.
FSU brought in two offensive linemen in OT Bless Harris and C Kayden Lyles to add to a tremendous prep OL haul. Lyles will be expected to take over a starting role, while Harris will provide much-needed depth at tackle and vie for a starting spot. FSU also landed CB Greedy Vance, bringing in a bona fide contender for the starting nickel role.
Oh, and the Seminoles also landed instant starters at two crucial positions of need in LB Tatum Bethune and DE Jared Verse, perhaps the hottest name on defense thus far. Bethune is a starter the minute he sets foot on campus, and Verse will be a big part of the defensive end rotation.
Florida State is not done in the portal, either. During and after spring ball, another wave of transfers will inevitably hit the portal, and FSU will continue to evaluate and determine best fits throughout the summer. We aren’t completely sure how the numbers will shake out, but there’ll be more attrition in the spring, count on it. I expect up to four more transfers to join the Tribe, from some combination of a true OT, another LB, a QB, another defensive lineman, a running back, and perhaps even a tight end to round out FSU’s transfer haul heading into September.
I understand negatives can outshine positives for many people. Travis Hunter was certainly a tough loss for this class, but I don’t believe it’s worth dwelling on. Instead, I’d encourage Seminoles fans to focus on the guys who decided to join the Tribe and help Mike Norvell in the CLIMB moving forward, because there are a lot of great players and storylines among this group.