August 29, 2003 - by
Construction, optimism signs of the times

Construction, optimism signs of the times

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Aug. 29, 2003

By Jerry Kutz, courtesy of The Osceola

A young man stopped me in the parking lot outside Doak Campbell Stadium last week for directions to assistant football coach Jody Allen’s office. The junior college defensive back, who plans to walk on, could simply not navigate the maze of construction and puddles on the north side of the stadium. To that young man, the construction was not a deterrent but a symbol of the program’s strength and renewal, which frankly symbolizes the entire upcoming athletic year.

The 2003 athletic year should be characterized as a year of renovations in teams and facilities as the baseball, basketball, football and track teams have major construction projects under way.

Track has a new running surface and a new coach, as head coach Terry Long decided to retire. While Dick Howser Stadium will be ready for the upcoming 2004 season, Mike Martin is faced with one of the largest rebuilding tasks he’s had.

The final touches are being put on the new basketball practice facility and to the Seminoles’ chances for competing for an NCAA Tournament bid. According to former and current basketball players, who have been playing summer ball with Leonard Hamilton’s highly regarded incoming players, the ‘Noles will have a chance to finish in the top half of the ACC this year. The report is that while Von Wafer will have a few things to learn as an incoming freshman, he can simply rain threes. You can teach many things, but you can’t teach a shooter’s touch. We also have been told that the 6-foot-8 Alexander Johnson and 6-10 Diego Romero are simply dominating players.

When it comes to football there is always optimism, or at least wishful thinking, this time of year. And it is usually difficult to distinguish between them. What I’m hearing from coaches and players, even those who have been candidly critical in the past, sounds like genuine optimism. It breaks down like this: there is plenty of talent, the players worked hard this summer, like each other better than the players did last year, and are eager to reestablish the tradition of 10-win seasons and top-four finishes.

You know already that Bobby Bowden believes the defense will be improved. The other night I was talking to sophomore running back Leon Washington, who worked against last year’s defense, and he believes the defense will be one of the team’s strengths. Experience will be a key factor.

Better defensive end and linebacker play should be apparent from the start. There’s hope that a healthy Darnell Dockett, who has had a good off-season, will have an NFL first-round draft kind of season. There’s also hope that true sophomore Brodrick Bunkley and newcomer Chris Bradwell can hold down the fort inside until Jeff Womble, who has had a slow recovery from an Achilles’ tendon injury, can work his way into playing shape.

There’s a strong belief that the Seminoles will have much better safeties, and that will allow the ‘Noles’ corners to be more effective. There’s also talk that Kevin Steele, who has vast experience with FSU’s base defense, will bring more zone-blitz and two-deep coverage to the table, which should also help the secondary.

There’s no question that the Seminoles are up to their armpits in NFL-quality running backs, and there’s a growing belief that the receivers have emerged. I am one that believes this team has all the skill players it needs to compete for a title if the other pieces – quarterback and offensive line – fall into place. The vast majority of the players, coaches and staff members I have talked to honestly believe that Chris Rix is ready to go this fall and that the offensive line will be better than anyone had imagined. The experience at both of those areas – quarterback and offensive line – are paper thin, however.

People believe that Rix, now a fourth-year junior, has a better grasp of the offense and of what is expected of the quarterback. As Bowden has said so many times, FSU has never had to start a redshirt freshman at quarterback. But after some growing pains, the coaches believe he is now ready to perform at a higher level.

While you are watching Rix this August, coaches also will be evaluating Fabian Walker very closely. Is he throwing at full strength? Is he capable of stepping up if Rix should be injured or regress? Does he still have the burning desire to be a starting quarterback?

While I believe Wyatt Sexton will be a very good quarterback in the future, you hate to throw another redshirt freshman to the wolves. The fact that he is the son of FSU’s running backs coach, and has grown up in Florida State offensive discussions, will make the mental part of the job easier than it would be for most. But it’s the emotional and physical stress that you’d like to avoid.

As for the offensive line, assistant coach Billy Sexton believes it could be one of FSU’s most-athletic lines if it can stay healthy. I heard those same comments last spring from defensive line coach Odell Haggins, whose players worked against them. Tackles Alex Barron and Ray Willis are likely NFL players and could become the best tandem FSU has seen. The guards have the mobility and athleticism to pull and trap, and center David Castillo, a pre-med student, is a quick study on blocking scheme calls against various fronts.

Strength coach Jon Jost said there were a host of players who worked hard this summer, which confirms many reports. All-America candidate Greg Jones was very noticeable in the rehab and strength room and established himself as a leader. He also interned in the sports information office to develop a better understanding of the media and better communication skills, which will certainly help him and the team.

There are a number of good people on this year’s squad who are willing and able to become leaders, and that’s a major reason for the optimistic outlook. A number of the players came to work in the Seminole Booster office this summer, guys like Paul Irons, Craphonso Thorpe, Leon Washington, Buster Davis and Pat Watkins. They spent two weeks calling donors who had not renewed. It was interesting, but not surprising, to hear the sincerity in their voices as they thanked donors for enabling them to go to school and to play college football at Florida State.

Touring the Moore Center

Last fall, I took a tour of North Carolina State’s $57 million football field house, which was in about the same phase of construction as the Moore Center is right now and was blown away by the scale of it. This past week, FSU facilities manager Bernie Waxman took me on a tour of the new Moore Athletic Center and while it is behind schedule, let me assure you that it too will be an awesome facility when complete in the spring of 2004.

While the structures are equally impressive, and frame one end zone of their football stadiums, there are major differences in both function and form. Since N.C. State’s stadium is nearly 10 miles from the heart of campus, it was built to serve only football. Florida State built a very good building for football in 1993 and a great new locker room in 2000. Enhancements – such as larger defensive and offensive staff meeting rooms and an indoor turf for inclement days – will be completed before the freshmen report for two-a-day practices.

The new Moore Center also includes a huge new weight room, which will be ready in time for this season. The dining room will be ready as well, but the kitchen will not, so all food will be catered in for this season. There’s a new football meeting room, large enough to house the whole team, and a stunning new training room, which is not yet ready.

Randy Oravetz’s training staff will continue to work out of their old facility until the new one is finished. Besides being as large as any I’ve seen, maybe seven times larger than the old, the new training room features all the high-tech goodies an athlete or trainer could hope for, including two pools, with treadmill floors, for hydro-training and rehab. This is space and money well-spent as training and rehab are among the most important services an athletic department can provide its student-athletes.

The rest of the new building will not be completely ready until next May.

When complete, visitors will be thrilled by the entrance hall, which features an impressive 60-foot glass ceiling. There’s a nice space to the right of the entrance hall that will be used as a museum. Just across the hall is a huge theater-style classroom, which will be used by academics from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. and will be used by athletics after 3 p.m. The auditorium can be used for press conferences or to address large groups of student-athletes at one time, which will help academic advising, compliance, life skills and the coaches. The dining room and kitchen are right down the hall from the theater, museum and entrance hall, which makes for a great layout for entertaining prospective student-athletes and for hosting Seminole Booster receptions.

Along with the huge training room, I was glad to see that FSU invested a large amount of space for academic advising and for student development, which also are vital services. The compliance staff, ticket office, business office, and the senior athletic staff will also have nice office spaces.

Future needs were also considered in the plan. Several offices have been set aside for a yet-to-be decided new sport, along with some extra space for growth. The building was also designed with stadium expansion in mind. Huge pillars, which were sunk in 1993 when the football building was constructed, will support an upper deck of around 7,500 people if demand for seats ever warrants expansion. If an upper deck was considered, the scoreboard would have to be raised or moved to the south end zone above the University Center Club. Several large rooms will be used by the College of Communications as classrooms by day and by athletic tutors at night. Seminole Productions, which is a department of the College of Communications and manages all video production for the athletic department, also has space in the facility for production and for faculty.

Construction crews are working feverishly to complete six new skyboxes for donors and a second deck to the Florida State Varsity Club in time for the first game. They assure us the facilities will be ready.

Florida State, Seminole Boosters and the athletics department should be commended for developing a plan to integrate the needs of athletics with those of academics in the design of this building, just as they demonstrated with University Center buildings to the south, east and west of Doak Campbell Stadium.

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