April 17, 2007

FSU starting fast

Florida State has been known for many things. Gorgeous co-eds, tremendous graduate programs and a frenzied following of the football program. In recruiting circles, FSU has long been considered the Rolaids Relief Man of college football for their amazing ability to close late on prospects. However, Bobby Bowden and his new staff are starting a new trend in Tallahassee.

Over the last decade, a Florida State commitment before the month of May was as rare as a "no comment" from Deion Sanders. The 'Noles weren't comfortable with early offers and the prestige and winning tradition of the program, not to mention Bowden himself, always led to a strong recruiting finish. Until this past recruiting year anyhow.

Coming off two sub-par years on the field, at least by FSU standards, and with a string of 3, 4 and 5 loss seasons unheard of in Tallahassee, the Seminoles didn't finish as strongly as usual down the stretch this past recruiting season. For the second year in a row, the 'Noles failed to land a five-star prospect during the final few weeks leading up to Signing Day. In fact, FSU didn't sign a five-star prospect at all last year. That simply doesn't happen.

Bobby Bowden made some difficult decisions in an effort to right the ship. He fired his son, Jeff Bowden, as offensive coordinator and has brought in five new coaches, four of them on offense. The result of these changes won't be seen on the football field until Sept. 3 when FSU battles Clemson. But the results on the recruiting trail are already quite evident.

Jimbo Fischer, Rick Trickett, Lawrence Dawsey and Dexter Carter are the new additions on offense while former NC State head coach (and former FSU defensive coordinator) Chuck Amato has been added to the defense. And instantly, the perception of FSU amongst recruits has changed as well.

Florida State already has four commitments for the class of 2008, signaling a more aggressive approach to recruiting and the recruiting ability of the new coaches. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews has been involved with Pensacola, Fla. defensive tackle Anthony Hill and Crawfordville (Fla.) Wakulla safety C.J. Horton and defensive line coach Odell Haggins was the primary recruiter for Hill, but the two biggest commitments for FSU were reeled in by new additions.

Nigel Carr, a 6-foot-3, 220 linebacker from Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast, committed to recruiting coach Lawrence Dawsey and is excited about playing for Amato, who will coach his position. Carr had offers from Florida, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia Tech and many others but no one had a chance against the Seminoles. FSU brought him in for an unofficial in March and closed the deal with Nigel and his mom this past weekend.

But the biggest commitment so far is clearly Crawfordville (Fla.) Wakulla linebacker Nigel Bradham, arguably the top player in Florida. Bradham is a 6-foot-2, 230-pounder who will likely play middle linebacker in FSU's scheme. Bradham mentioned a special bond he formed with Amato early in the process and how he's excited to continue the great linebacker tradition at FSU under the legendary defensive coach.

While Bradham has said he will likely take other official visits, he's pretty much a lock for the 'Noles. Playing his football just 20 miles south of Tallahassee, Bradham has been a big FSU lean for quite some time.

Florida State has been kicked around a bit recently when it comes to landing top in-state players, especially last year when the Florida Gators reeled in the top recruiting class in the country. However, early indications look very, very good for the Seminoles in 2008.

In addition to their four in-state commitments, led by Bradham who is an early five-star, FSU is in great shape for some other top talent. Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln cornerback T.J. Bryant will likely wait until the end of the process to make his decision, but there's little doubt that FSU will be one of his finalists. Bryant is another early five-star prospect. His teammate, offensive guard Steven Robinson, has also been offered by FSU and has to be considered a lean.

In addition to Bryant, FSU is in great shape for Davenport (Fla.) Ridge linebacker Vincent Williams, Gainesville, Fla. defensive end Earl Okine, Seffner (Fla.) Armwood running back Eric Smith, Madison, Fla. safety Travis Arnold and Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast teammates Jermaine Thomas and Avis Commack (not yet offered).

Last year's finish behind North Carolina and Miami in the ACC and third place finish amongst the Big Three in Florida clearly didn't sit well with fans and coaches. Early in the class of 2008, it's certainly looking like an anomaly rather than a trend.

Mike Farrell is the National Recruiting Analyst for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mike@rivals.com

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