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Florida State lands special class, positions program for special run

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A staffer poked his head into Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher's office Wednesday afternoon.

"The papers are in," the staffer said.

Fisher smiled. The Seminoles had just received the National Letter of Intent from their final signee, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound offensive lineman from Jessup, Ga., named Tre Jackson. Fisher was especially proud of that particular fax. An injury suffered his junior year caused Jackson to fall through the recruiting-service cracks. Though the star (ranking) makers didn't adjust after Jackson's stellar senior season, a few notable programs did. In a late rush to secure Jackson's signature, FSU beat out Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Miami.

"We're going to be really glad about that one in three or four years," Fisher said.

Fisher seemed as pleased about landing Jackson as he was about landing the nation's top defensive tackle prospect (Tim Jernigan of Lake City, Fla.), the nation's top safety prospect (Karlos Williams of Davenport, Fla.) or the nation's top tight end prospect (Nick O'Leary of Palm Beach, Fla.). That reaction makes it much easier to believe this Florida State class will live up to its lofty ranking. Fisher didn't chase star rankings. He chased football players.

This was the first class at FSU that Fisher could truly call his own. He was named head coach before the class of 2010 signed, but most of those players committed when Bobby Bowden intended to coach at least one more year. All the players who signed Wednesday committed to Jimbo Fisher's program.

And Jimbo Fisher's program is on the brink of something special.

It would be easy to dismiss Wednesday's largesse as a product of the Recruiting Industrial Complex. Let's be honest. Florida State fans buy a lot of fan site subscriptions, and that almost always equates to higher recruiting rankings. Even those who bleed garnet and gold would admit Florida State's high-ranked classes of a few years ago underachieved -- though the lack of achievement seems even worse because it is juxtaposed with an unrepeatable 14-season stretch (1987-2000) in which the Seminoles finished in the top four in the final AP poll.

This group is different from those groups, though.

Why? Because Fisher and his staff took advantage of a confluence of events that -- if handled correctly -- would allow them to rule the nation's most talent-rich state. While Miami was busy firing Randy Shannon and Florida was busy dealing with Urban Meyer's second resignation in as many years, Fisher and his lieutenants strengthened their relationships with the state's best players.

Fisher knows how it feels to be in the shoes of first-year Miami coach Al Golden and first-year Florida coach Will Muschamp. Fisher was there in January 2007, when he came to Tallahassee as offensive coordinator and essentially took over the Seminoles' recruiting operation. Less than a year earlier, Meyer had signed the nation's best recruiting class. On the day Fisher was hired at Florida State, Meyer's Gators won the national title.

Fisher said he needed 12-18 months to build relationships to the point where he could recruit effectively. "Relationships aren't built in short periods of time," he said. "They're built in long periods of time. You have to put in the time. There's no substitute." So Fisher has 10-16 months before Golden and Muschamp reach that point, which means he probably can squeeze in another mega-class before the Hurricanes and Gators find level footing on the recruiting trail.

"Right now is the time to make that stretch," Fisher said. "It's never better than right now to put our stamp on it."

Like Meyer's 2006 class at Florida that included quarterback Tim Tebow, receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes, this could be the class that goes down in history as the one that launched FSU back into national prominence. Of course, to hear Fisher tell it, the members of this class could drive to Arlington, Texas, swipe the Packers' uniforms and whip the Steelers on Sunday.

Unlike mentor Nick Saban, Fisher has a gift for hyperbole. Want proof? Peruse this collection of comments about select members of the class.

On defensive end Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, transfer from a Kansas junior college: "Tank's the most athletic d-end I've ever been around."

On Jernigan, whose announcement was celebrated Wednesday by a popcorn-munching Fisher: "Timmy's one of those unique guys. He has burst. He has power. He has instincts. He has a passion for the game. ... And we list him at 275. He's not. He's 300."

On 6-foot-5 receiver Kelvin Benjamin: "Benjamin is 242. Not 215. Two-forty-two. And he's got ball skills that are phenomenal, and he runs routes like he's 5-10, 180. When he wants to compete, you can do whatever you want to do. He's going to do what he wants to do."

On Williams, a 6-2, 218-pounder who has run the 100-meter dash in 10.7 electronically timed seconds: "Karlos is one of those unique guys that comes around every 10 or 15 years."

Will all these players become stars? Most likely, they won't. But Fisher and his staff managed to upgrade FSU's talent even when they weren't the hottest thing on the recruiting trail. Starting cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid didn't just show up in Tallahassee one day. E.J. Manuel, the heir apparent to outgoing quarterback Christian Ponder, didn't sit in Virginia Beach and dream of becoming a Seminole until Fisher went to work on him. Linebacker Telvin Smith didn't make anyone's national top 250 list in the class of 2010, but he is one of the most promising young players on a defense that got better in Mark Stoops' first year as coordinator.

"It's been a little different since Jimbo took over," said Mark Nugent, the father of Karlos Williams and his brother, current FSU linebacker Vince Williams. "Bobby was great, and everyone is grateful for what he did. But Jimbo has modernized things a bit."

Need another reason to believe in Fisher? He isn't afraid to buck conventional wisdom. A lot of people -- coaches included -- believe James Wilder Jr. of Tampa, Fla., would make a better linebacker than tailback. The 6-2, 219-pound Wilder begs to differ. Fisher, who presumably has watched this play a few times, agrees with Wilder.

"I just kept looking during those last eight games of the NFL season," Fisher said Wednesday. "I couldn't find one of them 180-pound tailbacks. I can't find one. Now y'all love 'em. They fall off trees like acorns. They run around. They're fast. They're quick. All that. But eventually, they get hit. The guys that weigh 230 and run it up in there, you tackle them once or twice, but that ain't fun three, four or five times."

While FSU's class can't possibly be as good as Fisher described it, it still could be the best in the country. We won't know if it is for two or three years, but by then, FSU may have run roughshod over the state of Florida the way Wilder ran roughshod over hapless high-school tacklers.

"Make people catch you," Fisher said. "Don't let them catch up. Don't even look back."

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