August 14, 1998
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State will begin the 1998 season with the same
goal as 1997 — to win the national title. That lofty goal
seems somewhat reachable when one considers the fact that the Seminoles return 14 starters and all of their primary special team players from last year’s squad that finished 11-1 and ranked third in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls. The finish extended a pair of incredible NCAA records as FSU continued to be the only program in the history of college football to finish among the Top Four in the AP poll for 11 straight years and kept alive a record of 11 consecutive seasons with 10 or more wins. To put the streak into perspective consider the current list of consecutive AP Top Four finishes: Florida State 11, Florida 3, Michigan 1, Nebraska 1.
To finish among the nation’s best again in 1998, FSU must once again replace talented players who will get a shot at the NFL this year, but there is one position opening that has had fans in the Sunshine State talking since the moment the Seminoles left the Superdome field with a win over Ohio State in last year’s Sugar Bowl. Florida State’s starting quarterback position is open and there is nothing like a good quarterback battle to fuel preseason practice.
More on the race for that position later as FSU offensive coaches have some other concerns before they are ready to travel to the Meadowlands for an August 31st, prime-time showdown with Texas A&M. The Tribe must find new starters at center, tight end and tight tackle along with a new signal caller. And while Thad Busby left big shoes to fill, the ‘Noles may actually have a tougher time replacing wide receiver E.G. Green whose 29 career touchdown receptions set a new school record.
The good news for the Seminoles on the offensive front is that a battery of outstanding young offensive linemen return along with a stable of exceptional talent at wide receiver, and a running back who might be as good as any in the country. “We are excited about the potential of our offense this year,” said Bobby Bowden. “We’ve got a whole lot of work to do, but we do have a lot of players who have the talent to get it done. Naturally, the quarterback battle will be the key in the fall. I was very confident with Dan Kendra’s ability last year and I would not have hesitated to play him in any situation. He had a fine spring and was our number one guy going into the fall. Whether he can get his knee rehabilitated in time for the season will be something we just will not know until August. I hate it (the injury) for him. He has worked so hard and been so patient. I liked what I saw out of all three of our quarterbacks in the spring. I think if Dan’s injury allows him to play he will be ready and he’ll play well, but he’s going to have to perform to stay ahead of Chris Weinke and Marcus Outzen. Weinke’s a proto-type, pro-style quarterback. He’s got a very strong arm and great size. He’s just got to learn the system and I think he showed during spring that he’s very close. Outzen’s got a lot of ability as well. I think he probably made the most progress in the spring and was challenging before his injury (separated shoulder) cut things short.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do along the offensive line this fall as well, but we’ve probably got better depth there than we have had in a long time. We really had problems at times last year running the football. We lost our power running game and that starts with the line. We’ll try and re-establish our ability to move the football on the ground early this fall. “Our skill positions on offense are going to be very young, but very good. Peter Warrick came on last year and he must anchor our passing game. Travis Minor played better than I ever hoped he would as a freshman at running back. Davy Ford was exceptional as well, but we’re not sure he will have recovered from knee surgery by the fall.”
Defensively, Mickey Andrews and his staff must once again replace All-Americans at several positions. History, however, would lead one to believe that the Seminoles are well equipped to field another outstanding defensive unit. Gone for 1998 are consensus All-Americans Andre Wadsworth and Sam Cowart. Also missing from the spring roster are familiar stars Greg Spires, Samari Rolle and Shevin Smith. But the man, and the quality, that Florida State is likely to have the most trouble replacing is two-time Academic All-American and four-year starter at middle linebacker Daryl Bush. What the 1998 squad may lack in experience they may make up in talent as 1998 will feature one of the Tribe’s most athletic defensive units. Leading the charge will be five returning starters — all of whom had fine seasons last year. Lamont Green has proven he can get the job done on the field as he started all of last year at strongside linebacker. He will move over to the weakside for his senior year and must shoulder the more difficult burden of being one of the team leaders. Tay Cody is just a sophomore but appears to be the next great Seminole cornerback and he teams with senior free safety Dexter Jackson on what should be an outstanding FSU secondary. Jerry Johnson and Larry Smith return in the middle of the defensive front and senior Tony Bryant and junior Roland Seymour step in at the defensive ends which have produced four straight All-Americans.
“Our defense carried us most of the time last year and with a new quarterback at the helm we will need them to step up and lead early this season,” Bowden said. “We lost great players who were great leaders, but we have some tremendous young talent coming up. I think the spring really helped our defense in terms of allowing our coaches to see where the talent might fit best. They played well over the spring and gave us confidence going into the fall drills. We have had so many terrific players on defense over the last several seasons that losing them has become less of a traumatic experience. We’ve got guys with the talent to step up, but the question is whether they can provide the leadership needed.”
Providing another measure of security for Bowden and his staff is the fact that every key member of the special teams’ units from last year will return, including punter Keith Cottrell and sensational place kicker Sebastian Janikowski.
“A great kicking game is like holding an extra ace in your hand,” said Bowden. “It allows you to take some chances on offense and defense that you might not take if you’re unsure of your special teams. Janikowski had a great freshman year and should get better. Cottrell was good on punts and should get stronger. I don’t know when I’ve had everybody return like this year. We’ve got snappers, returners, holders, the whole package is back. (Peter) Warrick was a game-breaker on punt returns where he had three returns for scores called back by penalties in 1997.
“Overall, we need to be a more productive rushing offense in 1998. We played great defense last year, but we can’t give up the big plays as against Florida. The schedule worked against us with all those big games on the road. We still play the great teams, but we’ve got Southern California at home, Clemson at home, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida at home. Since we open with Texas A&M in the Kickoff Classic, we’ve got to be awfully good right out of the blocks. Texas A&M is a heck of a football team and August 31st is right around the corner.
“Every year, you have to establish your own identity. You can’t live off of what last year’s team did. You’ve got new faces out there taking over the positions of the boys we lost and they will decide the destiny of this ball team.”
Junior Dan Kendra enters fall drills with an uncertain task. If he’s healthy, he will be the Seminoles starting signal caller when the Tribe begins camp. Whether he will be available for the start of the year is a very real question. He suffered a completely torn ACL in his right knee during the spring game and underwent arthroscopic surgery on April 9th. He is on a 20-week recovery plan and if any athlete could make it back he could, but team doctors, trainers and coaches agree that a healthy knee, no matter when, is the top priority. When he does make it back, Kendra brings phenomenal athletic ability to the position with the size of a fullback, the speed of a tailback, the mentality of a linebacker, and, most importantly, the passing ability of a quarterback. Coaches were not able to play him as much as they would have liked last year, but he did complete 20-of-37 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 73 yards on 18 carries. Kendra has starting experience as he won the Wake Forest game as a freshman in 1996 when Busby sat out with an injury.
Pushing Kendra all spring were a pair of sophomores. Chris Weinke has everyone excited with his big league passing abilities. The number one quarterback in the country as a high school senior in 1989, Weinke played pro baseball with Toronto for six years, but went through the entire 1997 season with the Seminoles. He’s big, strong and mature. He showed coaches during spring that he was ready to play “winning football” for the Seminoles.
Marcus Outzen has already proven he can handle pressure as the holder for field goals and extra points last year. He brings great size and athletic ability to the position. He played exceptionally well during the spring and, in fact, graded out the best of the quarterbacks over the first two scrimmages of spring before a separated shoulder sent him to the sidelines for the last two weeks.
FSU running backs coach Billy Sexton was actually without the Tribe’s top two running backs during spring and Davy Ford’s absence may include all of this season. Ford gained 258 yards on 61 carries as a true freshman last year, but underwent reconstructive knee surgery after missing the Sugar Bowl. He may undergo a medical redshirt to give the injury more time to heal.
With their top two guns missing in spring, FSU coaches looked for someone to step up and pair of players did. Sophomore Jeff Chaney moved from defensive back to tailback and had an excellent spring. He is 10 pounds lighter than last year and proved he was ready to play. The least known quantity heading in spring drills was West Los Angeles College transfer Raymont Skaggs. Skaggs, a junior, showed great open field running ability and elusive moves. He got a great opportunity during spring and made the best of it, earning playing time at tailback this fall.
The fullback numbers were also thin during spring but confidence in returning starter Lamarr Glenn allowed coaches to experiment with his backfield mates. Glenn has had a solid career and enters his senior season with great potential at the position.
Coaches used sophomore William McCray at tailback over the first half of spring drills which tells something of his ability as a runner. He has improved as a blocker and will enter his second year at FSU as the second team fullback.
Another successful experiment by the FSU coaches was the move of senior Billy Rhodes from defensive line, to offensive line, to fullback over the last four months. His terrific size and ability to clear a hole are what coaches are looking for in the red zone this year. He will be the “road-grader” for the running game in 1998.
Moving into a starting role at the opposite wide out will be junior Laveranues Coles who will be looking for a more consistent season in 1998. With E.G. Green gone, Coles will have more room to step up and make plays in the Seminole passing game.
Ron Dugans will likely emerge as the third starter when the Seminoles use their three-wide sets. Dugans appeared headed for a great junior season in 1997 until a hand injury suffered just prior to the first game forced him to miss virtually the entire year. Big, physical and competitive, Dugans makes the tough catch over the middle.
Listed behind Coles and Dugans at split end to start the fall will be true freshman Robert Morgan and sophomore Tres Walton. Morgan originally signed with the Seminoles last fall, but did not enroll until January. He joined the team after the fall semester was over and impressed coaches during Sugar Bowl practices with outstanding speed and precise routes. Walton has battled injuries since he arrived at FSU and needs a healthy preseason to get in the mix for playing time. Backing up Peter Warrick at flanker will be sophomore Marvin Minnis who may prove to be the emotional leader among the receivers. He made some big catches as a freshman last year and should use the preseason to establish more playing time this fall. Freshman Atrews Bell moved over from defensive back during spring and showed very good hands. With a little more experience, Bell will push for playing time in the receiving corps. Junior Germaine Stringer, whose blazing speed makes him a threat on every pattern, is likely to return kickoffs this fall.
Jerry Carmichael will begin the pre-season with a chance to unseat Whitaker at guard. He moves down from tackle where he backed up Ross Brannon most of last year with a pair of starts late in the season. Coaches are confident in Carmichael’s ability and if he does not emerge at split guard, his talent may earn him a place somewhere else on the line. Solid reserve Jeremy Brett returns at split guard for his junior season, but missed most of spring with a broken foot.
Pushing incumbent starter Donald Heaven at tight guard in August will be Justin Amman who used a good spring to put him in the mix on the two-deep. Nipping at the heels of Brannon at split tackle will be 310-pound sophomore Tarlos Thomas.
With those starters returning and solid reserves in place, Coach Jimmy Heggins’ attention will be focused on finding the replacements at center and tackle. Junior Eric Thomas and sophomore Jarad Moon emerged from a heated spring dead even. The battle between the two at center was so good that coaches feel that either could start and both will play a great deal.
The tight tackle position, which has produced back-to-back NFL first round draft picks in Walter Jones and Tra Thomas, was up for grabs this spring and the winner may be a surprise to some. Sophomore Char-ron Dorsey moved from defensive line just prior to spring and his natural skills and tenacious play moved him quickly up the depth chart. While he certainly lacks experience, the 325-pound Dorsey has coaches excited about his potential at the position. Slated for reserve duty at least when camp opens in August is sophomore Otis Duhart who also has all the physical tools to be a solid young player this year.
Myron Jackson is a senior who enters fall drills as the number one man at tight end. An excellent blocker, Jackson used the spring to establish himself as a reliable receiver. Behind him will be four talented but inexperienced players. Junior college transfer Nick Franklin brings an impressive resume’ into his first action at FSU and he begins the fall as the back-up. Sophomore Carver Donaldson played sparingly last year and freshman Stacy Davis redshirted during his rookie season, but both will be available at the position. Sophomore Ryan Sprague saw action on special teams as a freshman.
Pushing Bryant at right end will be sensational sophomore Jamal Reynolds who pushed for starting honors all spring and could win them in the fall with his combination of intensity and talent. Chris Walker should see time there as well in his junior year.
David Warren, the USA Today Defensive Player of the Year as a high school senior, begins his second year at FSU as the back-up to Seymour at left end. Warren had a sensational spring capped by a 4.46 clocking in the 40-yard dash in April. Ed Mitchell moved from linebacker to the left end to provide depth in the spring and showed he was ready for some playing time.
The best news for FSU at linebacker is that Lamont Green returns for his senior season after starting on the strongside last year, however he will play the weakside in 1998. An outstanding performer over the last two years, Green appears anxious to lead this young group and he is capable of earning a place on All-America squads this year. Backing up Green as the fall drills begin are a pair of talented players who are certain to earn playing time somewhere this fall. Theon Rackley is a junior from Tallahassee who will work at all three positions this spring. Junior Bobby Rhodes earned a scholarship last year and will line up this fall at several positions and add depth here and at strongside linebacker.
Sophomore sensation Brian Allen and senior Demetro Stephens will continue their heated battle for starting honors at middle linebacker into pre-season practice with Allen holding a slight edge. The cousin of former FSU All-America defensive end Reinard Wilson, Allen has the size and speed to be outstanding. Stephens has gained a lot of experience over his career but stills needs to be more consistent. If either of them lets up during August watch for freshman Bradley Jennings to come roaring through at middle linebacker.
The hottest name for the Seminoles during spring drills was a sophomore who may have earned starting honors at strongside linebacker. Tommy Polley lacks a lot of game experience but showed remarkable ability and natural instincts during the spring. He will be listed number one going into the fall. Right behind him is senior Deon Humphrey who, along with Jennings, was named the most improved linebacker during spring. He was timed at under 4.5 in the 40 and seems ready to dominate in FSU’s attacking style. Rhodes will back-up here as well.
Returning to a Seminole defensive backfield with the potential to be one of the best in years are senior free safety Dexter Jackson and standout sophomore cornerback Tay Cody. Jackson should emerge as one of the overall leaders of this FSU team and his ability to play the run and pass from safety makes him an All-American candidate. Cody, who earned a place on several freshman All-America teams, had as good a freshman season as any FSU cornerback of the Bowden era. Talented and physical, Cody is a superb defender with excellent speed.
Junior Todd Frier had a huge sack on a blitz in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State and will likely back-up Jackson at free safety. Shawn McCorkel has played very well on special teams, but needs to show coaches he has the discipline to play as a sophomore.
Behind Cody at the right corner will be sophomore Clevan Thomas. Thomas showed great potential last year and had a tremendous spring. He ran at first team left corner in the spring game and should see a lot of playing this fall.
Senior Troy Saunders has the edge at left cornerback after playing the nickel-back most of last season. He will be pushed by junior college transfer Reggie Durden, who proved over his first spring that he will be hard to keep out of the lineup. Also backing up at cornerback will be sophomore Abdual Howard who just needs more scrimmage experience.
Sophomore Derrick Gibson will take over for big-play specialist Smith at the rover position after an outstanding spring. He has the talent, but must prove to coaches he can make things happen from the position. Bolstering the entire secondary will be the return of Sean Key for his junior season at rover. The likely starter last year, Key was suspended for the 1997 season, but should push for playing time immediately in 1998. Walk-on Jean Jeune has worked his way up the depth chart and is in contention for a spot in the defensive backfield.