With a hot streak of blue-chip prospects under his belt recently, Florida State offensive coordinator Alex Atkins has continued his run of success on the recruiting trail, one that dates back to his first day on the job.
Something has been on my mind for the past few months, and coming on the heels of his most recent recruiting victory (blue-chip offensive tackle Lucas Simmons), now’s the time to put it out into the universe.
How does Atkins stack up as a recruiter against other coordinators and assistants from current and past Seminole coaching staffs in the post-Bowden Era of Florida State football?
A couple of clarifications for this article prior to diving in:
- First, I’m not including head coaches in this discussion, as Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher were/are outstanding recruiters in their own right. Bowden’s recruitment of Ron Simmons is among the biggest recruiting wins in college football history and served as a foundation for decades of success. Fisher, when completely dialed-in, is one of college football’s most tenacious and consistent recruiters. This exercise specifically focuses on assistant coaches since the 2010 season, Fisher’s first in charge.
- Second, it’s important to remember that recruiting is divvied up differently among various staffs. Some staffs focus on region, where every assistant has assigned areas of a state/region. Other staffs focus on positional, where the assistant serves as primary recruiter for each prospect at his position. Many staffs use a hybrid model, where assistants can blend recruitments based on region and position. FSU’s an example of the latter.
- Finally, a very important thing to remember is something I’m going to put as plainly as possible. A recruiter’s reputation can be built in numerous ways, including resources and the on-field product. Someone identified as an ace recruiter in the SEC or Big 10 may not be as effective in a different conference (with fewer resources or success to sell) — in the same vein, someone who grinds their way up with relentless effort and relationship-building skills can become even more effective when given more resources. That needs to be kept in mind.
Before we get into those, here are several names who missed the cut:
Mark Stoops/DJ Eliot: I put Stoops and Eliot together because they were tied at the hip at FSU and in the early stages of Stoops’ Kentucky Wildcats tenure. They often tag-teamed recruitments because their philosophies were so lock-step, based on the enormously-important reciprocity that high-achieving defensive lines and secondaries have on a defense. With Stoops working on defensive backs and Eliot on defensive linemen, this duo laid the groundwork for FSU’s dominant 2013-2014 stretch. Among the prospects they reeled in were Mario Edwards, Jr., Ronald Darby, Tank Carradine, PJ Williams, Nick Waisome, and Roberto Aguayo. Neither makes my top five because they worked as a tandem so often and had Fisher as a closer.
Jeremy Pruitt: Pruitt reaped the benefits of the work put in by Stoops, Eliot, and Eddie Gran, overseeing the defense on FSU’s 2013 National Champion squad. Pruitt wasn’t in Tallahassee long enough to merit top five status from me. However, he made a significant impact in his short stint at FSU. Pruitt led the charge for Jalen Ramsey, Demarcus Walker, Kain Daub, Trey Marshall, and Marquez White. He even managed to win the Matthew Thomas recruitment (with a big assist from Lawrence Dawsey in the end).
Jay Graham: The man responsible for pulling the major upset when Cam Akers ultimately decided to play in Tallahassee (with obvious help from Fisher). Graham also found success as the primary recruiter for Hamsah Nasirildeen, Leonard Warner, Lorenzo Featherston, Josh Brown, and everyone’s favorite neighbor, Gabe Nabors. Graham is also credited for assisting on Khalan Laborn and more importantly, laying the initial groundwork for Jashaun Corbin’s love for FSU that eventually brought him home as a transfer. However, Graham had many notable misses, and didn’t make as much of an impact in the Carolinas as expected.
Dameyune Craig: Craig is the man behind the commitments of Jameis Winston, Chris Casher, Ukeme Eligwe, and Justin Shanks. While the final three didn’t do much during their FSU careers, landing Winston was a coup for Craig and established him as a force on the trail. Although Winston won a Heisman and led FSU to a national championship, it isn’t enough to vault Craig into my top five. He also had plenty of, ahem, resources to work with, negating him from staying at the same school for too long.
Charles Kelly: Kelly is a significantly underrated recruiter, something many ‘Nole fans overlooked while criticizing him as a defensive coordinator. Later trusted to be a recruiting coordinator for Nick Saban in his post-FSU years, Kelly was the primary on Josh Sweat, Tavares McFadden, Amari Gainer, Stanford Samuels, Jr., Levonta Taylor, Janarius Robinson, Cyrus Fagan, Jacob Pugh, and also played a major role in discovering (and subsequently hiding) Tamorrion Terry and Ontaria Wilson. The players Kelly landed had a mixed-bag of results, but Fisher trusted him with numerous high-profile recruitments for a reason. Kelly was able to sell significant on-field success, though, which just keeps him out of the top five.
Eddie Gran: A veteran of the SEC recruiting game prior to joining Florida State, Gran was extremely successful as FSU’s recruiting coordinator under Fisher. He lands here after essentially playing a major role in just about every member of the 2011 recruiting class that many considered the nation’s best. He was particularly clutch in Rashad Greene’s recruitment. I also believe Gran’s relentless effort was a model for younger assistants and paved the way for the attitude Fisher hoped to instill. Gran barely misses my top five, but it’s more a statement about the successes of those above him than any of his shortcomings.
My top five FSU assistant coach recruiters since 2010:
Dawsey was a primary reason for FSU’s success in Jacksonville during the early-to-mid 2010s, also winning some key Tampa-area battles, while UF was struggling. Dawsey reeled in many highly-ranked receivers during his long stint, including Kelvin Benjamin, Travis Rudolph, DJ Matthews, Kenny Shaw, Jarmon Fortson, and Christian Green. He also played a huge role in landing James Wilder, Jr., Demonte McAllister, Moses McCray, Ryan Green, and Reggie Northrup.
Argument for: Longevity. Dawsey wasn’t a flash in the pan during one or two recruiting cycles. He was a consistent player for blue-chip prospects during the majority of his FSU tenure, and he established strong ties in Jacksonville. He was also a whiz with the mamas during final visits, letting his integrity shine.
Argument against: Dawsey benefitted from a stout on-field product and an excellent closer at head coach. He also closed on his biggest targets when the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes were down. While he landed a few Tampa studs, he was unable to set up a consistent regional presence.
Brewster makes the top five due to star power. He managed to pull a major upset over Florida and the Clemson Tigers by reeling in Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane, creating an enormous shift of momentum for the Seminoles in 2014. He also nabbed Rod Johnson, Dontavius Jackson, Emmett Rice, Ryan Izzo, and Malik Henry, among others. Brew also gave major assists with Marvin Wilson and Abdul Bello and was instrumental behind the scenes in FSU’s in-state and national recruiting successes during his stint with the Seminoles.
Argument for: Brewster was a heavy-hitter, often establishing strong foundations in his relationships and coming in clutch down the stretch, while possessing a willingness to assist with any recruitment necessary. Brewster was a true force in Florida, but also deserves credit for taking FSU recruiting to a national level, stealing some studs from Texas and Missouri in particular.
Argument against: Brewster’s success came during FSU’s period of dominance. Having that type of success to sell can often inflate a recruiter’s reputation.
If we were counting pre-2010 recruiting performance, it’d be hard to argue against Odell Haggins as FSU’s all-time top recruiting assistant. Haggins also deserves major credit for twice transitioning FSU into new head coaches as an interim. With a success list of Derwin James, Eddie Goldman, and Timmy Jernigan (with major help from Fisher), Marvin Wilson, Derrick Nnadi, Robert Cooper, Demarcus Christmas, Levonta Taylor, Khalan Laborn, Cam Erving, Vince and Karlos Williams, Keith Bryant, and Dennis Briggs, Haggins has established himself as a heavyweight since 2010. Haggins also assisted on Sam McCall and is the primary recruiter for a pair of #Tribe23 defensive linemen, Keith Sampson and Lamont Green, Jr (“Boots”).
Argument for: Haggins has an excellent reputation among high school coaches throughout the southeast. His development speaks for itself and “Uncle Odell” is a Seminole to the core, a trait he uses with success. He’s also responsible for being the primary recruiter on many of FSU’s highest-ranked signees in numerous cycles.
Argument against: While Haggins has scored plenty of major recruiting victories, he’s also had numerous whiffs. Haggins is the definition of boom-or-bust — some of his victories on the trail are legendary, while some of his losses cut deep — directly resulting in defensive line depth issues at times.
Coley, the dynamic South Florida ace fueled by Cuban coffee, did outstanding work on the trail during his FSU tenure, notably as the primary recruiter for Lamarcus Joyner and Jeff Luc. Landing that pair was a significant turning point for the program with Fisher ultimately sealing the deal for both. Bjoern Werner, Nick O’Leary, Josue Matias, Dustin Hopkins, Rodney Smith, Lonnie Pryor (World), Greg Dent, Bryan Stork, Sean Maguire, and Mike Harris, among others, also became Seminoles thanks to Coley’s efforts.
Argument for: The importance of Joyner and Luc cannot be understated, as their announcements paved the way for a major influx of talent in future recruiting cycles. Coley was perhaps the first ace recruiter to incorporate social media into his exploits, igniting a massive following among recruiting cycles to see where that Cuban coffee took him next. He owned South Florida for a few years, while everyone else just paid rent.
Argument against: Coley also benefitted from Florida and Miami’s struggles. The difference between him and Dawsey, however, is that Coley rarely lost his recruiting battles against in-state foes.
Here’s the list of signees Alex Atkins has reeled in since 2020, all of whom he served as the primary recruiter for: Julian Armella, Antavious Woody (“Tae”), Jaylen Early, Rod Orr, Qae’shon Sapp, Daughtry Richardson, Robert Scott, Jr., Bryson Estes, and Kanaya Charlton.
This cycle, he’s landed Rod Kearney and Lucas Simmons as a primary, and is the secondary recruiter for Darren Lawrence (“Goldie”).
For those keeping count, that’s six composite 4-stars and six 3-stars, although that should read seven and five, respectively, because Woody was absurdly dropped due to academics...but I digress. In the current recruiting landscape, where tradition and history beyond five years ago mean less than ever, Atkins is selling a product that has fallen on its hardest times since the mid-1970s. In his short time in Tallahassee, Atkins is making his case as the best recruiter of offensive linemen since the 1990s Dynasty Era.
Argument for: Atkins is, quite frankly, carrying this staff on the recruiting trail. Consider this: Atkins is facing long odds with the current state of FSU football. He has landed the aforementioned names with WAY less to sell regarding on-field performance and has done so against programs with more resources. He’s also found major success while adapting to significant changes in recruiting (NIL, transfer portal) that others in my top five didn’t have to face. Recruits rave about his authenticity and genuine approach.
Argument against: His list doesn’t have the star power of some of the other coaches, and he’s lost a few high-profile battles. He also hasn’t recruited top talent at numerous positions unlike others in my top five.
There you have it, Nole Nation! I’ve made my arguments, but now I want to hear from you.
Who’s your choice for the best of the best? Feel free to vote in the poll and/or make your case in the comment section!
The best FSU recruiter among the post-Bowden assistant coaches is...
This poll is closed
Other (tell us in the comments)