Florida State survives uncertainty en route to top class
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State's Jimbo Fisher was able to breathe a sigh of relief when signing day came to an end on Wednesday.
The Seminoles coach was able to bolster his defense with a dozen commitments, including a highly rated linebacker from Miami and a top cornerback from Tennessee who had once committed to Southern Cal.
Fears that a coaching exodus at Florida State in recent months might damage the school's recruiting efforts appeared to vaporize when the 22-player class was completed.
"We got some big-time commitments at the end," Fisher said. "We hit a little bit of every position."
Jalen Ramsey, who played at Brentwood Academy just south of Nashville, signed his letter of intent to play for Fisher at Florida State. Ramsey, who was ranked as high as the 10th best player nationally by one recruiting service, had verbally committed to USC last summer. A Tennessee state champion in the decathlon and long jump, Ramsey also plans to run track for coach Bob Braman's perennial powerhouse track team.
"I feel like Florida State has everything that I'm looking for," the 6-foot, 189-pound Ramsey said Wednesday. "This is the most comfortable fit for me."
Although Ramsey called Fisher on Monday night to tell him he planned to attend Florida State, the coach didn't breathe easy until shortly before noon when the formal paperwork arrived.
"I sweat them until I get them," Fisher said.
The Seminoles signed 6-3, 205 pound Matthew Thomas from Booker T. Washington High School in Miami, who was regarded as a top 15 prospect nationally and ranked by some as the top linebacker in this year's class of high school players. He was one of five linebackers that signed Wednesday with Florida State.
"He's one of those guys that can change the game," Fisher said. "A tremendous, tremendous football player. And a competitor, he's a winner."
However, moments later after Thomas' announcement, his high school teammate, offensive tackle Denver Kirkland, chose Arkansas over the Seminoles.
Both decisions by the high school teammates were announced on ESPN. Thomas' drew a wild, jubilant cheer in the school's so-called "war room" while a disappointed groan followed Kirkland's decision. Florida State had also hoped to land highly regarded offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil from nearby Lake City, who said he would be heading to Ole Miss.
However, four other offensive line prospects did go with Florida State in a class that also included three defensive ends, three defensive backs and a trio of wide receivers.
Ryan Green from St. Petersburg Catholic was the lone running back signed and John Franklin III from Plantation the lone quarterback.
The Seminoles seemed to fare as well as they could in the wake of a half dozen assistant coaches leaving after the 2012 season.
"I actually think it opened up more doors with guys that we got on the back end," Fisher said. "It may have been a wash. We got in on some key guys that we never had had a chance."
Florida State lost several key players from one of the nation's top defenses last season. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive end Bjoern Werner both chose to leave school a year early to enter the NFL draft where both are projected as first-round picks. The Seminoles also lost several other starters from their defense along with quarterback EJ Manuel and wide receiver Rodney Smith from an otherwise young offense.
The Seminoles finished the 2012 campaign with a 12-2 record, the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a BCS bowl victory over Northern Illinois with help from a handful of first-year players from last year's class, primarily cornerback Ronald Darby, defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. and junior college offensive tackle Menelik Watson, who is leaving after one year to enter the NFL draft early along with Rhodes and Werner.
Fisher landed wideout Rashad Greene, running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., tackle Timmy Jernigan, guard Josue Matias, tight end Nick O'Leary and cornerback Nick Waisome in his 2011 class.
Although he was also influential in three Seminole recruiting classes prior to taking over the head coaching responsibilities, Fisher picked up Werner, safety Lamarcus Joyner, linebacker Christian Jones, defensive tackle Anthony McCloud and wide receiver Kenny Shaw in February 2010.