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61 posts from October 2013

October 31, 2013

FSU Men's Basketball Preview


Because of space considerations (as a result of the Dolphins game) the FSU men's and women's basketball previews were cut down in Friday's paper. Here is the full-length version:

The Florida State Seminoles are a year older and a year wiser.

Last season saw Florida State end its streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances as the Seminoles went just 18-16 and finished 6th in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Last year we took a real step back and I think a lot of it was because of the high inexperience and just guys not fully understanding our defensive principles,” said head coach Leonard Hamilton. “It seems like we’ve made some progress in that area.”

“There’s no doubt that the year of experience that they got last year taught an awful lot, if you go talk to each man they’ll tell you there were just certain things they didn’t quite understand. It’s not that they were resistant to learning I just think that’s the process that you go through and last year was the first time that we’d had to rely on that many first-year players.”

With a year of experience under their belt -- and a mid-Summer team trip to Greece to scrimmage and practice with the Greek national team -- the five sophomores that had to take their lumps on the court last season should be light years ahead of where they were this time last year.

But so is the ACC. The additions of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse have put the Seminoles even further down the proverbial conference ladder.

The Seminoles will also be without Michael Snaer -- of buzzer-beating infamy -- after he graduated last Spring. Taking up his slack as the leaders of the Seminoles basketball team are seniors Okaro White and Ian Miller.

White has gotten better every year that he’s been a Seminole, scoring a career high 12.4 ppg last season and averaging 5.9 rebounds.

Miller, who has been one of the Seminoles’ most dynamic scorers the past few seasons -- when he’s on the court -- worked harder this past Summer than at any point in his career.

“I dedicated myself to basketball for once. I’ve never had a Summer working out, lifting weights and training,” said Miller. “Everything I’ve been doing here at Florida State has been natural and God’s gifts, now that I’ve put together the little details and [have been] training at the highest rate than I can train and picking up all the things that I can pick up, I think this will be a breakout season for me.”

Florida State needs it to be. The star recruit from their most recent class, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, is academically ineligible after a snafu over his high school transcripts cost him his first year on campus.

Newcomer, F Jarquez Smith (6-9 225), looks to have plenty of potential -- scoring 15 points and picking up six rebounds despite playing largely out of position in FSU’s exhibition opener -- but may take time to adjust to Hamilton’s complicated defensive system.

That was a problem for Florida State’s newcomers last season too. FSU’s defense -- known affectionately around Tallahassee as the Junkyard D -- fell off some last year as FSU struggled at points in the season.

This year, with a lot more experience under their belts, the Seminoles hope to see the return of the junkyard D.

“I do feel that our guys understand the shortcomings that they had last year and I think they’re working very hard to improve it a little bit,” said Hamilton.

Added Senior F Okaro White: “I think everyone will see that this year, you won’t see them looking lost on the court.”


For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...

FSU Women's Basketball Preview


Because of space considerations (as a result of the Dolphins game) the FSU men's and women's basketball previews were cut down in Friday's paper. Here is the full-length version:

Coming off a season in which they went 23-10 and returned to the NCAA tournament, Florida State’s women’s basketball team enters the 2013-14 with a slightly different look.

Four of the team’s five starters are gone -- and gone with them are 46.9 ppg and 17.3 rebounds. In their place is the nation’s 7th ranked recruiting class, which is loaded with potential but light on experience.

“It will all depend on how quickly our youth picks it up,” said head coach Sue Semrau. “But ‘Tasha obviously has been well schooled in the ACC and she’s been doing a tremendous job.”

Natasha Howard, the team’s senior captain, has a very good shot to be an All-American come the end of the season. The 6-3 forward averaged 12.7 points and 7.5 rebounds last year and was named Blue Ribbon First Team All-ACC.

This season Howard finds herself in a new position though, as the unquestioned leader of her team.

“Her style is more to demonstrate and to do the right thing than it is to do a lot of talking,” said Semrau. “So it doesn’t really come naturally to her to lead through communication and she has to this year.”

Added Howard: “It’s been very hard, lonely, stressful [at times] but that’s how it is if you want to be the leader and the captain of the team.”

In addition to Howard, senior Yashira “Cheetah” Delgado -- a junior college transfer that averaged 4.7 points and a team-leading 4.5 assists per game off the bench last season -- should help shoulder the leadership duties.

If they can get Florida State’s talented group of newcomers to follow their lead, FSU has the potential to go places this season. Lead by 6-5 freshman center Kai James, there are three girls over 6’2 and Morgan Jones -- who averaged 13.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 3.3 assists at Wisconsin in 2011-12 -- is eligible after sitting out last year.

“I’ve seen a lot of potential, a lot of hard work, a lot of energy coming from this class, “ said Howard. “They’re going to help us on the floor.”

The rest of the ACC seems skeptical though, at ACC Media day the ‘Noles were picked to finish 5th by the panel and 6th by the coaches.

“We take that as motivation -- a chip on our shoulders -- when our teammates are like ’Tash, we’re number five in the ACC,’ I’m like that’s always going to happen, no matter what, when that comes out just don’t worry about it,” said Howard. “Just play our game and just prove the people wrong.”

Added Semrau: “We don’t really care what anybody else says, we want to go out and get better every day and take it one game at a time.”


For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...

October 30, 2013

FSU Wins Exhibition 112-74 Over Southeastern University


Okaro White and Montay Brandon each had 23 points as Florida State University opened its basketball season with a 112-74 exhibition win over Southeastern University. 

While Florida State doesn't start its season in earnest until November 8th, the Seminoles got plenty of opportunities to get in some good work against a scrappy Southeastern team on Wednesday night. 

"I think the guys showed they're capable of sticking and being consistent with our defense in the first half," said Leonard Hamilton after the game.

FSU lead 51-18 at the half and didn't let the Fire get a basket through the first five minutes of action. As the teams headed to the locker-rooms Southeastern was shooting just 23.3%.

Things changed in the second half though as Southeastern began to drive the ball with a bit more success and also pressured the Seminole offense with a full-court press. 

"I thought the second half we didn't get to the dead front which we never let the ball get inside, I think we'll correct that," said Hamilton. "We didn't really shrink the gaps as well, their whole system was dribble-drive and I thought we just didn't contain the dribble on the defensive end but I think we showed we still have a ways to go there, but I don't think it's from lack of talent."

Newcomer Jarquez Smith had 15 points and six rebounds despite -- according to Leonard Hamilton -- regularly playing out of position. Brandon Allen also contributed 11 points on 4/5 shooting and made both of his attempts from beyong the arc.

Seminoles fans will be disappointed to know that Ian Miller and Aaron Thomas sat out tonight for what Hamilton called, "housekeeping" reasons. As per usual, Hamilton didn't specify how long either would be missing.

In their absence Devin Bookert, White and Brandon all played 30+ minutes. White said after the game he had expected to play just 15-16.

Florida State plays next on November 4th against Flagler.


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The Tao of Jaboo (Miami Week Edition)


Every Wednesday Jameis Winston speaks and every Wednesday we'll provide you the highlights of his interview in a weekly feature called, "The Tao of Jaboo."

Jameis Winston stopped by on Wednesday afternoon in what was actually a fairly crowded press conference. Long gone are the days of Winston sitting at a table surrounded by just six or seven reporters. Yesterday Jameis' presser was shown live on ESPN and cut up and played in small segments on newscasts and sports shows around the country.

One reporter asked him, how do you stay yourself in the face of all this?

“It’s never hard to be yourself man, I was born myself," said Winston as the room erupted in laughter. "I’m not expecting to be nobody else, even down the road. That’s how I was born and raised, people seem to lose track of where they came from, I don’t think that I’ll ever lose that.”

With a lot of other players that might be lip service, but so far Winston seems to have remained the same easy-going guy that he came off as last Spring before his name was on Heisman lists and NFL scouts were drooling over him.

“I don’t get that serious," Winston added. "The only time I am really serious is probably when I am doing bad because I need the guys to see that it’s not just a joke. I want them to see that this is serious.

"But we are still going to have fun with it. I am going to be serious, I’m going to look them in the eye and it’s all about the eyes. When you look at your men’s eyes and they see you have that look in your eyes, you can have a smile on your face or you can have a frown on your face. But if they see it in your eyes they know it’s on.”

Moving on to Miami, Winston expects a battle -- if just for the simple reason that it's a rivalry week.

“They have a lot of great players," said Winston. "When you have a great team and with Miami being a rivalry, those great players are going to turn into amazing players. It’s going to be a battle. We are expecting it to be a good game. There is a lot of pride on this game just because of what they have to lose and what we have to lose.”

But as FSU players have also said all week, it's not the same kind of hatred that this team has reserved for Florida.

“It’s more like a brotherly game. It’s a big rivalry but it’s going to be like we are in the back yard," said Winston. "We are just going to be playing against each other and we want to beat our brother. It’s going to be a battle.”

As for how FSU will play, Winston said that this is the sort of game that's easy to get up for. Then, depending on how you look at it, he may have taken a little bit of a shot at NC State.

“When you play on a big stage, that’s when everyone tries to perform at their best," said Winston. "It’s when you’re playing against the teams that people expect you to just go out there and have a showtime game -- that’s when you really have to buckle down and stay focused.

"When we’re playing against Miami, playing against Clemson, everybody’s saying, ‘we’re on the big stage, this is my opportunity to get seen.’ So everybody’s going to be going out there playing good. The games like the NC State’s, the Bethune-Cookman’s, the games where we’re not going to get that many fans, most people are not going to watch the game, those are the games that really show your characteristics as a player.”

More from Jaboo:

##- On his offensive line:

“If you look at us, what’s different than other teams, our linemen are running full speed down the field no matter how long the play is, no matter how short, they’re going to meet whoever scored that touchdown in the endzone. I just think that’s so special, I just think that’s so special and a blessing to have guys like that who are unselfish, they’re blocking hard every play and I know they want to get the ball too. Sometimes I just want to throw a tackle screen to Bobby Hart and let him run wild on the field. I mean I want to do that just for them.”

##- On what's he learned from going to Miami with Devonta Freeman this Summer:

“We probably have a similar family in terms of how we grew up childhood wise. To see guys like that, I mean that is what makes you smile as a quarterback, to have unselfish guys around you. Because that is how you win games, when you got guys that want to put it all on the line no matter how many carries, how many receptions, how much playing time you’re getting. They just love the game and they want to win. When you want to win and you want to have success, more than you want to breathe, when you want to do that it just shows the maturity as a team.”

##- On Rashad Greene:

“When you put the ball in this man’s hands, he is more likely to make somebody miss and take it to the house at any time. He is a highlight reel; you give him the ball he might take it to the house. Rashad’s role (in the offense) is key to our success.”

##- And finally here's some great insight on Ronald Darby and the FSU secondary:

“My two best friends are cornerbacks -- PJ Williams and Ronald Darby -- we hang out the most. That’s one thing they always used to make fun of me because when I first got here I hung out with the defensive players and not the offensive players. I mess with them all the time, especially Darby. Me and Darby have a little three finger thing that we do before every game… Darby’s a goofy guy too and we always compete just because we’ve been great friends. They always try to pick me off I always try to -- I mean we try to make each other better -- but our defense just our defense as a whole with Timmy J, Telvin, Christian Jones, everybody just playing together and the way they’ve been gelling, I mean people don’t recognize this is their first year in this defense and the way they’ve been playing is outstanding.”

“What people don’t understand about Darby, he still doesn’t have the speed that he had last year and he’s developed better to his game. Now he’s coming downhill knocking people’s heads off. He’s such an amazing player, this one time me and Marcuss Eligwe about it just last night, we was like Darby doesn’t even know how good he really is because he hasn’t even gotten everything back from last year, but he’s still stepping up to a new game.”


For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...

Seminoles Receivers Take Pride in Their Blocking


If you were looking for one element of the 2013 Florida State Seminoles that best embodies the unselfishness of this team -- you'd be hard pressed to find a better example than the job FSU's wide receivers do blocking down the field. 

"A lot of runs that we get, you guys say ‘oh the back is shifty and he explodes from the line of scrimmage,’ but the big runs down the field happen because the receivers are blocking their tails off," said RB Karlos Williams.

It's an element of the game that largely goes unnoticed. 

Unless of couse a guy gets a kill-shot -- as happened with Kelvin Benjamin last Saturday -- then it's kind of hard to miss.

“I think he was like a linebacker, I knew Karlos was going to get get the pitch and if he would have shot down I would’ve just had to like scrape paint on him," said Benjamin on Tuesday. "But he basically set himself up, because they teach him not to bite on the fake like that and he bit down -- so he really set it up himself.”

"When I saw him come in I was like ‘this should be perfect.’”

Benjamin de-cleated his man and then proceeded to walk directly to the sideline, never checking to make sure Williams scored on the play.

“We knew Karlos was going, we go through that in practice, as long as we take care of our man we know he should get in the endzone,” said Benjamin.

“Coach was laughing with me, he liked that intensity.”

Added Williams: “I think that he knew once I got around the corner and he made that block, he knew it was going to be a touchdown, I don’t fault him for that, I appreciate that.”

That block, however, is not an isolated incident. That's fairly common on this Florida State offense -- if you look for it. 

"Those guys really take pride in blocking," said Williams. "You know Kenny [Shaw] takes pride in blocking, being Kenny’s size you would say ‘Oh he’s not a great blocker.’ Kenny’s a great blocker. He’ll block anybody for anybody."

Shaw is arguably the best blocking receiver on the team. Take for instance this run -- made last season by Chris Thompson -- in which Shaw essentially turns a long run into a touchdown blocking about 50 yards down the field.

“When you're a little guy you’ve got to show you’ve got toughness too," said Shaw.

Florida State's run game has been solid all year and the backs and offensive line deserve a lot of credit. But fans would be remiss not to acknowledge the contributions the receivers have made this year blocking down the field and on the edges. 

"Even our young guys go out there and throw their bodies into blocks," said Williams. "Our quarterbacks do it, you’ve seen [Jacob] Coker throw a block on a reverse for Kermit [Whitfield]. I think it’s the pride that these guys take in it."

For the receivers, a big part of that mentality comes from their coach. Lawrence Dawsey was an exceptional blocker in his time at FSU.

“That’s just something he preaches, 'if you want the ball you’ve got to be a blocker first,'" said Benjamin. "And right after I made that great block I had a great touchdown, so. That’s just how stuff goes around."

Who knew blocking could be so karmic?


For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...

October 29, 2013

FSU Practice Notebook: It's Business Time


"Good Tuesday, came out here very business-like and got our work done, we need to have a couple more good days so we can be prepared to play well,” said Jimbo Fisher as his team left the practice field. 

"[It was a] good cool Tuesday, really good environment to practice in -- like [it will be at] game-time. I thought we got a lot of work in, thought the defense really did some great things that I liked," added Fisher. "Offense was good and solid today. Good solid day."

So, in review, Tuesday's practice was both good and also solid.

As for the energy level at practice -- especially given that it's Miami week -- Fisher said he hadn't noticed any difference from his players. Asked if some of the south Florida guys were a little more amped this week, Fisher responded: “No, I really don’t [think so] at all I just feel like we’re going about our business.”

In other news, James Wilder was back at practice yesterday after missing a week due to the effects of a concussion suffered against Clemson. 

“He’s fine, he’s rolling now, going full speed," said Fisher. "He’s doing great.”

Giorgio Newberry also returned to practice after being held out on Monday. 

“[He's] good, he practiced today, he got to practice today," said Fisher. "We did what we had to do and he did a nice job rehabbing.”

Overall the Seminoles are extremely healthy heading into this weekend's tilt with the rival Hurricanes.

“Yeah we feel very good, we’ve been blessed," said Fisher. "Knock on wood.”

More from Practice: 

##- Fisher on Stephen Morris' injured ankle and whether FSU would do more to put pressure on him:

“I mean we’re going to try to affect the quarterback no matter what, that’s one of our main goals on defense whether he can move, he can’t move, you’ve got to affect the quarterback. It looked like he was moving pretty good to me the way he moving around and making some throws.”

##- On Miami having two quality backs:

“You always get a fresh guy, that’s what I say, you’re always getting fresh legs and he’s a big, strong, fast guy. I think the game that Duke got hurt he came in and had 100-something yards I believe, played extremely well. So they have some very capable backs.”

##- On Jameis Winston staying loose and whether it trickles down to his teammates:

“I think it does and guys who usually do that have confidence in themselves and confidence allows you to be relaxed, I think that’s why when he prepares and does a great job during the week he feels that way. But it does, it trickles down to his teammates.”

##- On first down efficiency:

“First down is a big key, when first down is successful third down is usually a lot easier and that’s one our main goals going into every game is how we play on first down offense and defense.”

##- On ESPN being at FSU again today:

“Good, I mean it was good, you don’t even realize they’re here. They do such a great job of getting in and out and getting their interviews and things they do, it’s not very disruptive to your day at all.”


For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...

A Look Back: Uncle Luke and Devonta


An excerpt of this story appeared in the Miami Herald on November 2, 2012, here it is -- a year later-- in its entirety...

It’s 6 PM and from the halls of the Moore Athletic Center you can hear the echoes of a football team reverberating off the tiles.

Young men in their late teens to early 20’s, all recently off the Florida State practice field, fresh from the showers are migrating slowly to the meal hall, chattering amongst themselves about classes and a new semester, college friends, assignments, girls and anything else a college kid might concern himself with.

Devonta Freeman is 20 years old, a sophomore, but his concerns make most others' -- regardless of age -- seem trivial.

“I just bought with some of my financial aid money, I just bought for my deceased auntie, her two boys a whole bunch of school clothes. I just spent like 300 dollars on their school clothes and I’m not done,” says Freeman as his teammates chatter in the adjacent dining hall.

Freeman pauses to gather his thoughts.

“It’s not a thing that I’m doing because I want a blessing or something like that, it’s just I’m doing it because I know what it’s like to go to school without anything new. I don’t want them to go through that, they’re too young to understand, I was too young to understand.”

Like an Uncle

Saying Devonta Freeman has faced more than his share of adversity in his young life wouldn’t do it justice. He’s seen deaths in his family, been close to death in his community, he’s faced poverty, lived for several years in a project and been asked to give up something no child should ever be asked to give up.

But he’s also had an unlikely guardian watching over him along the way.

“I was playing baseball for this little park called Moore Park,” said Freeman, recounting his first meeting with Luther Campbell. “I think that my first year playing I was about nine years old and we came to Liberty City and I hit a home run, ever since that day he wanted me to come play for him.”

Luther Campbell is famous for many things. A simple internet search yields results about supreme court battles, raunchy hip-hop lyrics and even a football scandal at the University of Miami. What’s harder to find is the work the former 2 Live Crew star is doing with troubled young men in south Florida via athletic programs.

Young men like Devonta Freeman and the University of Miami's Duke Johnson.

“He used to take us on trips as the whole team, we used to go to fun parks in Orlando because we always went to the Pop Warner little league [championships]. I was the starting QB, we won two national championships,” recalled Freeman. “We all used to go over, he’d invite the whole team to his house. We used to mess up his house, we were bad playing around.”

In Campbell, or Coach Luke as he’s known to his kids, Freeman found a constant presence to push him in the right direction. He found an escape from his everyday life filled with football trips and pool parties. But most importantly he found someone to set him straight when he needed it most.

“He was always in my corner, even right now it’s the same way and I know if I was ever to like make it to the NFL or whatever he won’t ever ask me for anything– and there’s other people out there that have helped me too– but I’d do whatever for him,” said Freeman.

“Like his child, his child would be good if God forbid something were to happen to him, his family would be good. I’d be there for them.”

Spoken From Experience

Those are not hollow words. Devonta Freeman knows what it means to take care of a family because it’s something he stepped into at a far younger age than anyone should have to.

After the theme park trips and all the days at Uncle Luke’s, Freeman would inevitably have to settle back into his own reality.

“You know when you’re taking a kid home every day and you’re taking him to a neighborhood where he has to walk the red tape, the yellow tape, where people get murdered right at his doorstep and him being in a single parent household situation in the Pork’n’Beans projects, I had to tell him one of the hardest things I ever had to say to him as a coach, mentor, dad or person,” said Campbell.

“I had to give him the harsh reality talk.”

Freeman was living in a project in Liberty City, his younger brothers and sisters and mother were living in a small space along with his aunt and her children. Money was extremely tight.

“There used to always be killing and shooting,” Freeman said solemnly. “But Luther always used to tell me ‘you’re going to it make it out of these projects, so just keep grinding and keep doing what you’re doing.’”

Finally a day came when Campbell had to spell out a harsh, unfortunate reality.


“I was the oldest at the time, I was 12, but I was the oldest,” Freeman remembered. “He helped me out the best way he could, when we were talking and stuff he just told me that I’ve got to be the man of the house. I’ve got to take over, I’ve got to do things that nobody else, no other man could for my family. I had to get out there and grind.”

There are guys well into their 30’s who still haven’t mastered adulthood but at just 12 years of age Freeman was being asked to become the man of the house.

On that fateful day as Campbell dropped Freeman off the two shared a conversation that would end Devonta’s childhood and thrust him, necessarily, into manhood.

“I [told] him he to be a man, be a man for his little brothers and sisters and his mom as well,” said Campbell. “He had to be the man of the house because of the situation that they’re in. You know, he looked up as a little kid and started crying but I told him look you’re going to have to start being the man of the house, because you’ve got to protect your brothers and sisters and unfortunately you’re not going to be able to have a child’s life like other kids.”

“You’re going to have to carry yourself in a way that your little brothers and sisters look at you as an example so that they can become successful people and get out of the situation that they’re in too.”

Never Look Back

Devonta Freeman took that talk to heart.

“From that point forward, the kid said, ‘I’m going to do that’ and he always did from that period of time on,” remembered Campbell.

“When he was talking to me, I had to grow up,” admitted Freeman. “Like, ‘ok, I’ve got to sacrifice this to get that.’ Or like, start getting my own school clothes to help my little brothers and sisters, like everything I got, I got on my own, schools clothes, shoes, everything.”

He became completely self sufficient, capable of looking after himself financially -- and in a greater sense.

As a 13 year old Devonta was working three jobs. He worked at a car wash and at a funeral home and then on weekends he would make whatever money he could doing yard-work for neighbors.

“I was going around asking people ‘can I cut grass?’ just so I could help feed the family,” said Freeman. “There was just a lot of stuff I had to do.”

He even told his mother to focus on her younger children because he would be OK.

“I told her to stop, like, let me do it. Let me get it all on my own, I chose to go that route,” said Freeman. “I wanted to live that grown man life because I’d rather my mother focus on my younger brothers and sisters than me.”

All the while Campbell and Freeman continued their relationship, continued to have their ‘grown man’ talks where Campbell would help guide the teenager through some of life’s most challenging moments.

“He’s actually been like a real uncle or a father figure in my life because we’ve just been through a lot together,” said Freeman. “I learned so much stuff. Just a lot of life lessons, school first, he always taught me school first, that I need to make good grades in order to succeed. He was straightforward with me -- he told me if I needed to get better at something -- I got chewed out by him sometimes. He’d get mad at me, he used to have long talks with me about life lessons and stuff. A lot of stuff like that.”

Focused, But Not Unscathed

One thing is for sure, his history of ordeal -- of forced self-sufficiency and hard work -- has given Freeman a maturity well beyond his years and an appreciation for where he is.

Devonta Freeman is not taking anything for granted, not in college and not in life.

“Most kids are jumping into college in the first year and they lose their mind. And then they ask me, ‘how did Devonta play so early,'” said Campbell.  "Because Devonta carries himself like a man."

Freeman lead the Seminoles in rushing as a true freshman. He averaged nearly five yards a carry and scored 8 touchdowns as one of the lone bright spots in the 2011 season’s beleaguered rushing attack.

That ability to contribute instantly, the maturity to handle the situation at such a young age came easier than it does for most, because to Freeman, that’s not pressure.

“From that day when he was 12, when we had the conversation, he’s been a man the whole time,” said Campbell. “Coaches whether it’s Jimbo or Eddie Gran they [used to] say ‘man this kid is so mature,’ And I tell them look he’s been the head of the household from the age of 13.

“And a lot of people don’t know that, but that’s why he has his disposition.”

Freeman isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to open up. He’s not aloof, he’s actually quite engaging, but there’s a wall there that separates everyone else from parts of the life he’s experienced and the family he holds close to his heart.

There was a seminal moment back in Freeman’s development that cemented his disposition and still lingers with him to this day. A moment that taught him a lesson that Luther Campbell’s words never could.

“There was one time in the park when he broke his leg,” said Campbell. “When he was the starter in the park before he broke his leg he was getting rides all over, people all wanted to take him out to eat, have Devonta come over to their house.

“When he broke his leg and it looked like he wasn’t going to be the star of the park that year he couldn’t get a ride home.”

Freeman was 14 when he hurt himself on the diving board at a local pool. He shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

“[Luther] was disappointed because I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing,” said Freeman. “I broke my leg sneaking in the city community pool, off a diving board, I stuck and broke my ankle.”

Campbell told Freeman he had to make better decisions, that he could have ended up in jail.

And where Campbell’s words missed their mark the obvious karmic consequence of Freeman’s childish decision filled in the blanks.

“I was only 14 at the time, he was giving me a life lesson. A lot of that stuff carries over now, like everything I do I think before I do it," said Freeman. "That’s why I don’t have a lot of friends. I mean I’ve got friends but there’s nobody like my family.”

Loyalty Is Key

That experience also bore considerable weight in Freeman’s decision to choose Florida State over Miami.


After getting lukewarm responses from coaches during camps at Miami, Florida and Georgia, Freeman drew an immediate offer from Florida State during a summer camp after his junior year. Head coach Jimbo Fisher told Freeman that regardless of how his senior season played out, the Seminoles wanted him.

“So when Florida State offered him, and then he had this great year of high school football the Florida’s start calling him, the Miami’s start calling him, the Georgia’s and everybody started calling him and he stayed true,” remembered Campbell.

Freeman wowed scouts during a historic senior season at Miami Central High School that climaxed with a 500+ yard performance in the state championship game. He had his pick of the college football world. He signed with the Seminoles.

“He stayed true to the team that was there for him when nobody else was,” said Campbell.

That attitude is still with him even today. Freeman isn’t a typical college kid, he blends in well in the dining hall and in meeting rooms. He looks the part on campus but at the end of the day his concerns weigh a bit heavier than those of the average college student. He isn’t focused on friends or parties, he’s worried about life.

And for now that wall is still up. Those blinders are still on.

“‘It’s what’s up, how you doing?’ I’m going to respect you like I want to be respected but it’s nothing like ‘you’re my best friend,’ like I don’t got that, I’m not interested,” said Freeman.

“I’m just focused right now. I’m trying to get my family out of their situation because my mama’s still struggling right now so I’m just trying to get her out of that.”


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Florida State's Defense Starting to Mix Things Up


Florida State's defense finally seems to be rounding into form. Over the past month -- through their last three games -- the Seminoles' first team defense has been stifling. 

They shut out then-no. 25 Maryland, held then-no.3 Clemson to just a touchdown and shut out NC State in the first half. While FSU's defense has given up a total of 31 points in the month of October -- 24 of them came after they had pulled their starters. 

So in effect, through three games in October -- two against ranked opponents -- FSU's first team defense has given up just seven points.

That can largely be attributed to two things. First of all, this defense is much better suited to defend against a spread offense -- as they've seen their past few games -- than a traditional one. 

Breaking that down more, facing the spread gives FSU a definitive advantage by virtue of the speed they possess in the back-end of their defense and their ability to create pressure up front.

“Thanks to Timmy [Jernigan] and all those guys down there, they’re able to just really create pressure and really get those quarterbacks flustered and when they do that, our linebackers are able to roam and we’re able to just cover all day so that right there just speaks for itself," said safety Terrence Brooks. "I love it, it’s really working together, we’re all playing for each other and it’s going good.”

Florida State's defensive front has been good enough lately to get pressure without FSU having to blitz. Without the offense having extra blockers, the Seminoles' line has been able to win most of their matchups. That frees up guys like Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner to go out and make plays, specifically force turnovers. At this point in the season (just half-way through) Florida State is already one interception short of their total from all of last season.

"You create a lot more opportunities for yourself and it definitely is crazy -- our coach actually said that today -- that we don’t even have to send a rush because those three guys are down there just creating havoc on the quarterback," said Brooks. "I feel like that’s just everybody doing their job and doing a little bit more with effort. and I mean it’s a matter of want-to with those guys, we go out there and play for each other and that’s what’s getting us by to tell the truth."

In addition to being better-suited to defend the spread, the Seminoles are also benefiting from their level of acclimation to Pruitt's new system. This is a complex defense, much more so than the one these same players ran under Stoops. That's not a knock on Stoops' scheme either, it's just worth noting that Pruitt's scheme is calculus to Stoops' algebra.

“Instead of just having one defense like we did last year, we have a multiple defense so a lot of different guys can have different opportunities," said LB/DE Christian Jones.

Now that FSU's defense has really started to pick the concepts up, it's opened the door for them to disguise more and become more exotic in the looks they show opposing offenses.

“We have a lot of different stuff," said Jones. "When the offense checks and we give a call we usually have another check in there so that when we see them change, we change right into another defense and we usually stuff them then.

"And I feel like we can disguise more [now] -- Jalen [Ramsey], he’s played corner too and he’s our safety -- he knows what the corners are doing and he knows what he’s doing so they complement each other. He can disguise more and he knows the corner has a third or something so he can disguise it and come up and they can just switch off. He understands that and we’ve been doing a good job of that so far."

Added Brooks: "He’s really learned the defense, he’s applied himself very well to it. He’s just been playing with a lot of confidence, that’s what I like about him, he’s still being aggressive. I make sure he knows his calls, knows where to line up and now what we do -- now that he knows the plays and what to do -- we try to disguise a lot more and just have some personality about the defense."

Ramsey is not the only player that's true for. As everyone has gotten more comfortable and confident in the Seminoles' new defensive scheme the entire unit has gained more flexibility -- become more versatile.

“We’re having a little bit more personality, you know coach Pruitt loves personality, he doesn’t want you out there looking like a stiff guy," said safety Lamarcus Joyner. "If you’re outside leverage, just flirting with coverage and everything, it’s been pretty fun.”

For a bit of different perspective I also asked Florida State Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Jones Sr. (Christian's father) about the progress this defense was making last week. He has had a unique perspective -- both from talking to his son and from his experience playing and coaching college football -- and offered this assessment:

"What we’re seeing now is just a glimmer of what we’re going to see as far as the greatness in that system," said Jones Sr. "There is a learning curve and I’ve seen Christian -- and I’ve seen some of the other guys -- struggle early on to pick it up. But they’re good enough athletes to make some mistakes and still come off pretty good.

FSU currently ranks 4th overall in scoring defense, 8th in total defense and have the top-ranked passing defense in the entire country. 

"But as time goes on I saw -- starting with the Maryland game -- a big turnaround there. And I saw glimmer of greatness in the Clemson game. But still, they’re under construction -- put it like that -- that defense is still under construction.

“[They're] always trying to adjust and match what the [opposing] offense does and that’s the beauty of the Pruitt system, they match up defensive personnel with offensive personnel so as we evolve and move forward from this point on I think they’re going to get better and you’re going to see more guys make bigger plays and greater plays. That’s going to translate on into overall team success."


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October 28, 2013

Mondays With Jimbo: Miami Week Edition


Every Monday Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher holds his weekly press conference to discuss the week's opponent, the previous weekend's film and whatever else he feels like talking about that afternoon. We cover it in a weekly piece called, "Mondays with Jimbo."

It's Miami week here in Tallahassee (and FSU week down in Coral Gables) and Jimbo Fisher spoke about all things UM today at his weekly press conference. Stephen Morris, James Coley, Duke Johnson and the significance of the rivalry itself -- Fisher hit them all. 

"We have a great game and great opportunity in front of us in Miami," said Fisher in his opening statement. "This is one of the great traditions in college football. One of the reasons why you come to Florida State, to be able to play in this game and then of course -- both teams being in the top 10 -- [it's] like the old days.

"They have a great team, they’re very well-coached. Al (Golden) has done a tremendous job, he and his staff and his players and we have tremendous respect for their program, tremendous respect for their players and know they’ll be ready for us on Saturday."

One of the major storylines heading into Saturday night will be the relationship of Miami offensive coordinator James Coley and Fisher. Coley served as the offensive coordinator for Florida State for the past three seasons before taking the job -- and play-calling duties -- at Miami last Winter. Coley never called plays at FSU, but he knows the offense and the players.

While the terminology has changed, some of the concepts will be the same and you can be sure the Hurricanes will look for ways to exploit Coley's intimate knowledge of FSU's program in any way they can.

"I’m very happy for him and his family. James is a great guy, he was a very good friend of mine -- he still is -- does a great job," said Fisher when asked about his former coordinator. "I’m very happy for him and his family to progress. We all want to progress in the business and do well. He’s done a great job. Very smart guy."

Fisher said he hasn't watched much of the Hurricanes' offense on film as he's focused more on their defense (he is an offensive guy after all) but he did have this to offer as an assessment of Coley's performance as a playcaller so far:

"We knew [Miami] had a great group going in -- as far as player-wise -- and he’s added to what they’ve done. They’re well coached all around the board… Coley’s done a great job. I always say Coley’s a great offensive mind, I think he’s a very good coach, a great recruiter and he’s got a very good future in this business."

As for Duke Johnson, Fisher told reporters it would be a shorter discussion to just list what the talented sophomore running back doesn't do well -- rather than get into all of his strengths.

As for Stephen Morris, Fisher doesn't see any lingering effects from the ankle injury Miami's quarterback suffered a little over a month ago. 

“I don’t think [it's bothering him]. I think Stephen’s a great player, I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong, I mean that’s part of playing quarterback -- sometimes you make a mistake or so -- but he’s responded well from it and played very well," said Fisher. "I think he’s a heck of a player.”

More from Jimbo:

##- On Tim Jernigan and the guys in the middle of the defensive line:

“Defensive tackles and nose guards are the most unselfish people in the world. You talk about offensive linemen which are also, but defensive tackles and nose guards are too –they’re taking on double-teams, freeing up backers to make plays, not letting guys get second level. Those guys are very unselfish football players if you’re playing great football. They have to be very disciplined because you want to go make a play, but as soon as you do that you run out of your gap there goes a gash up inside. Those guys are doing a great job of keeping leverage on the ball and being disciplined in what they do. The guys that understand football when you watch him play you really respect what he’s doing.”

##- On what he told his players after getting jumped in the BCS:

“Don’t worry about it. Control what you can control and keep playing and don’t worry about it. Polls don’t concern us. We’ll worry about that when the year is over. We’ve got to control what we can control and that’s playing well, setting goals each week, setting a standard to which we want to play to and try to that standard and above and try to grow. Those things take care of themselves in time and you’ve just got to keep playing.”

##- Here's the obligatory Jameis Winston question on how he's handling all the hype asked weekly by an out-of-town reporter:

“What he’s doing because how he’s gotten there is the thing that he’s got to remember. He is doing a great job of that. He understands. Who was I before everyone knew me? I’m the same guy and I think he knows that and our team respects that from him. He’s one of the guys that doesn’t put himself above him at the same time they have tremendous respect for him for how he does handle that. How he differs things to them and he seems like the same guy to me. He continues to grow and work and play hard every week and he’s fun to coach. Like I say, he’s his own worst critic at times. Sometimes I’ve got to be easy on him because he demands so much from himself at times. He’s handled it tremendously in my opinion.”

##- On this weekend's recruiting impact:

“I think it always helps, but I don’t know if it matters as much as it used to because recruiting has changed so much. But at the same time, it doesn’t hurt you to be able to win that game. There’s a lot of other reasons other than recruiting to win that game. That’s your rival, it’s a conference game, it’s a national implication game and all those things, I don’t think it hurts it for sure.”


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FSU's Fisher: 'Let's Not Even Make a Preseason Poll'


Another year, another BCS headache for Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles.

This time though, instead of being disrespected by computers, Fisher's Seminoles are contending with preseason polls and the perceptions of voters nationwide that have so far been unwilling to consider Florida State ahead of Oregon.

“Let’s don’t even make a poll -- you wouldn’t sell any preseason magazines though --  and wait until about week six or seven so you can really judge in your opinion where [teams] are," said Fisher on Monday.

“The argument is more ‘should they jump them?’ Well why were they ever ahead of them? You know what I mean, and I’m not saying that for us, there could be teams behind us that think they’re ahead of us, I mean I think you’re probably better off to wait until week six or seven and see who’s playing well and what’s going on."

In that regard Fisher is probably right.

If you had to pick two groups of individuals that would probably rather fight you than ever admit they got something wrong, football coaches and reporters are definitely at the top of that list.

While the Associated Press poll doesn't factor into the BCS itself, it does factor into perception and the AP does award a national championship every year.

And if Oregon and Alabama win out, they will finish 1-2 in both polls for the simple fact that jumping another team over them would be a fairly blatant admission that the voters were wrong in the first place.

Should that matter? Probably not.

Does it? Yes.

Despite beating Clemson convincingly and dominating NC State so completely that their starters didn't have to play during the second half, FSU fell behind Oregon in the latest BCS standings due largely in part to Oregon being ahead of Florida State in the human polls.

And that's why a lot of folks around Florida State are just resigned to their BCS fate.

"That’s something I really can’t control so I just leave it up to God," said Devonta Freeman after FSU's 49-17 win on Saturday. "God sees everything and whoever was looking -- whoever saw the game -- they saw what happened. I don’t really too much care what the media or whoever say about that."

Added WR Kelvin Benjamin: "We only can control what we can control. You know you can always throw your comments out there about it, but you know at the end of the day you’ve got to put your faith in God -- just put your faith in however they do it -- and just trust that we’re probably going to get a spot."

Unfortunately for Florida State, God doesn't get a vote. But Jimbo Fisher does.

Surely, Florida State's head coach is doing everything he can to make sure his team ends up where it wants to get -- barring a loss, of course?

“We didn’t have a first place vote did we?” asked Fisher, rhetorically, when answering a question about whether he had given FSU a first place vote in his coaches poll ballot.

“I don’t look at it that way," added Fisher. "That’s a job I have, I don’t look at it through our team, you can’t let emotion get into it. And I think that’s one of the things you have to do as a coach, you have to understand what your job is.

"Emotion can’t be into it, you have to do what you think from your study, your evaluation, your opinion and your expertise over years of doing it where you should fit into that poll and look at it. It really isn’t [difficult] because I just don’t look at it that way.”

So what does Jimbo Fisher's top five look like?

He's not telling. Nor does he have any suggestions for a better way to do things.

"There’s not an answer because whatever you come up with somebody’s going to argue and say there’s a different way," said Fisher. "That’s why college football is such a great game because some of this skepticism brings about popularity to the sport and keeps every week and every game so important.”


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