May 15, 2000
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden begins his 25th season at FSU with a tall order – duplicate last season. The Seminoles will be hard pressed to improve on the 1999 season that saw the Tribe go undefeated, win the national championship and spend the entire season ranked No. 1 for the first time in the history of the Associated Press poll. With eyes always set on the next goal, Bowden quickly points out that the season-opener against BYU in the Pigskin Classic will give the Seminoles the chance at 13 games in 2000 and, “we’ve never gone 13-0.”
Optimism and expectations run as high as is now normal in Tallahassee with Seminole fans pointing to the return of 13 starters from last season’s national championship team including seven starters on defense and six on offense. Florida State may have already gotten it’s biggest break of the 2000 season when quarterback Chris Weinke decided to return for his senior season and “a chance to do it all one more time.” Weinke’s decision put him in great company as Florida State has earned a reputation as a place where players want to enjoy their entire career. Weinke’s choice to stay in school means he will join former Seminoles Corey Simon, Peter Warrick, Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks and all the way back to Deion Sanders as potential high draft picks who stayed for their senior seasons.
FSU’s biggest obstacle in addition to the 12 opponents that lye in front of a potential bowl game is the fact that they must replace four consensus All-Americans. Gone are wide receiver Peter Warrick, defensive tackle Corey Simon, offensive guard Jason Whitaker and kicker Sebastian Janikowski.
The 2000 schedule features eight games which will be played within the state of Florida, but that includes an always treacherous visit to the Orange Bowl for the annual game against the Hurricanes. In addition, FSU must travel to Georgia Tech, Maryland, NC State and Wake Forest. The Seminoles will open in Jacksonville against BYU on August 26th and will host North Carolina, Louisville, Duke, Virginia and Florida.
“We are very excited about the potential of the 2000 season,” admitted Bobby Bowden. “We had an excellent spring and we were very fortunate for the most part with injuries. Because we had guys healthy most of the spring we were able to get a lot done.
“The biggest thing I looked for in the spring was any sign of complacency. That’s the thing that could hold us back quickest. We still must find out if this team is hungry enough to live up to the potential. So far, I’ve liked most of what I’ve seen. They don’t look like they expect wins to just be handed to them.
“Offensively, the key will be a veteran offensive line. We’ve got a chance to have a much improved running game, because I think we can be more physical up front. We’ve got the runners and we have experience in front of them. Chris’ (Weinke) decision to play his senior season makes a big difference. Now we go into the fall with two guys with starting experience at quarterback and that may give us a chance to hold some other guys out.
“We told our receivers in spring that we must find out who can make the plays that Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans did last year. While the consistency isn’t there yet, the whole group made some big plays in spring. We’ve got some real talent there.
“Defensively, we entered the spring with the need to establish some players along the defensive front. You can’t replace the experience and talent of veterans like Corey Simon and Jerry Johnson, but you can find players who want to play bad enough to pay the price. There was some improvement there, but preseason practice will be crucial up front.
“Overall, we won’t shy away from the fact that we want to be playing for the national championship again. People have asked me if the second one was more satisfying than the first and I think it was, because we went undefeated. But just as I suspected, it just makes me want to get a third and a fourth. However, the key is how much do those players want to be national champions. If we can get a little lucky, stay away from injuries, and this team works hard enough to reach their potential, we’ve got a chance to be as good as last year.”
Returning at quarterback is Chris Weinke who could re-write most of the Florida State record book. The statistic that most impresses FSU fans is the bottom line – his win loss record. Weinke is one of the most successful quarterbacks in the history college football with a stunning 21-1 record as the starting quarterback for the Seminoles, which includes his current string of 20 straight wins. Weinke threw for 3,103 yards and 25 touchdowns over the regular season last year, then burned Virginia Tech’s top-ranked defense for 329 yards and four touchdowns in the national championship game. He led the ACC in passing yards per game last year with an average of 282.1 and ranked seventh nationally in passing efficiency (145.1). Weinke already ranks fifth in FSU history with 5,672 passing yards and is just 707 yards away from becoming the Seminoles all-time passing leader.
Working an equal number of snaps with the first team at quarterback during spring drills was proven starter Marcus Outzen. Pressed into the starting role over the last four games of 1998, Outzen brought FSU from behind to defeat Virginia then won his next two starts against Wake Forest and Florida before falling short in the 1998 national championship game against Tennessee. Coaches used his athleticism all last year primarily in running situations, but they are confident in his ability to win for Florida State.
Jared Jones enters a pivotal season as a junior, but coaches may choose to redshirt the talented prospect this season. Jones was pressed into action over the next to last game of his true freshman season after Weinke went out with an injury.
True freshman Fabian Walker already has FSU followers buzzing with his mobility and strong arm. He orginially signed with the Seminoles last year, but enrolled at FSU in January and progressed nicely during spring drills. California phenom Chris Rix will see his first action this fall, but brings a reputation as one of the west coast’s finest athletes to the FSU campus.
Coaches emphasized the power running game during the spring with the return of all six of their scholarship tailbacks. Travis Minor is back for his senior season after rushing for 815 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Minor is a proven tailback with 2,295 career yards which ranks him among the nation’s top five returning rushers. Nagging injuries slowed Minor some over the last two seasons, but rarely sidelined the tough competitor. He had an excellent spring that included a 75-yard touchdown run in the spring game which put an exclamation point on his dedication to having a great senior year. While it would be difficult for Minor to catch Warrick Dunn and Greg Allen at the very top of FSU’s career rushing charts, he is just 659 yards away from becoming one of FSU’s three all-time leading rushers.
Jeff Chaney also returns after an excellent junior season including terrific games against Florida and Virginia Tech. Chaney, who changed his jersey number from 24 to 1 this year, gives the Tribe a bigger back who can play fullback as well. Davy Ford continues an amazing recovery from knee injuries in 1997 and 1998. He ran the fastest 40 of all Seminoles in the spring when he was clocked at 4.2. Sophomore Nick Maddox was the Tribe’s third leading rusher as a rookie last year with 111 yards on 29 carries. Lemar Parrish adds to the depth at tailback, but must recover from a knee injury suffered during spring drills. FSU’s abundance of talent at tailback in 2000 has shifted the coaches plans on special teams where they will rely more on the running backs as kick returners instead of the receivers and defensive backs they have used in the past.
The fullback position should be strong in 2000 as well with the return of William McCray. McCray was running first team at fullback last season before he injured an ankle after the first game of the season that required immediate season-ending surgery. McCray had an excellent spring and coaches are very confident in his ability.
Former walk-on Chad Maeder played well in a reserve role last year although limited by a broken hand midway through the year. Freshman Randy Golightly redshirted last year, but got in a lot of reps in the spring and improved dramatically.
Much of the optimism surrounding the offense centers around the returning veterans on the all important offensive line. The Seminoles welcome back three starters from last year and perhaps even more importantly there will be competition at virtually every position in preseason drills.
Senior Tarlos Thomas returns for his third season as the starter at tight tackle. He earned All-ACC honors in 1999 and played extremely well particularly late in the season. An excellent pass blocker and veteran of two straight national title games, Thomas is listed just ahead of another talented athlete Char-ron Dorsey. Dorsey’s potential is so great that coaches may look at the possibility of redshirting the big senior in 2000 if he does not break into the starting lineup.
Returning at split guard is a player selected most improved on offense last year and Justin Amman’s continued success will make him tough to beat out. He started every game last year and is counted on to anchor the position as a senior. Sophomore Todd Williams has great potential and will begin the season behind Amman. Williams got some much needed scrimmage time during spring drills and proved to coaches that he has the physical tools to be an exceptional player.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of last season was how quickly Brett Williams worked himself into an outstanding split tackle. An injury to Ross Brannon, who was a two-year starter and All-ACC performer, forced coaches to move Williams, then a freshman, into the starting lineup midway through the season and he simply never let anyone take the position away. By the end of the year, he had shut down hightly touted defensive ends Alex Brown of Florida and Corey Moore of Virginia Tech. Brannon’s future remains in questions as he rehabilitates from extensive knee surgery. One of the Tribe’s top offensive linemen, his return would make FSU’s offensive front as deep as it has been in the Bowden era. Backing up Williams to start the 2000 season will be veteran Donald Heaven. A senior who can play either guard position as well, Heaven had an excellent spring and will see considerable playing time.
Despite the loss of starter Eric Thomas, the center position also looks promising with a proven player in Jarad Moon leading the way. Moon platooned as the starter at center in 1998 and saw considerable time behind Eric Thomas last year. He had a fine spring at the position which is among the most demanding in football. In addition to snapping in both conventional and shotgun sets, FSU centers must call the blocking assignments once they reach the line of scrimmage. Sophomore Antoine Mirambeau seems to have found a home at center and needs only experience to become a solid contributor. Also seeing playing time at center in 2000 with be Josh Baggs.
The biggest question mark coming into preseason drills for FSU offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins will be at tight guard. Jerry Carmichael was well on his way to winning the position and giving the Seminole yet another veteran starter, but he suffered a knee injury during spring that will leave the early part of 2000 cloudy for him. Montrae Holland is only a sophomore, but coaches are anxious to see more of him on the football field. He played a tremendous game against Clemson last year, but missed the rest of the year with an ankle injury. Coaches had hoped he would have a big spring and enter 2000 as a potential starter, but he missed the second half of drills with another injury. He will enter the fall as the likely starter, but will need a strong preseason to hold the position. Sophomore Otis Duhart redshirted last season and is pushing to be the starter at tight guard. Junior Ronald Boldin used a solid spring to prove to coaches that he’s ready to play at the tight guard position as well.
All the tight ends return as well with senior starter Ryan Sprague leading the way. Sprague was voted co-most improved player on offense last year after moving into the starting role in preseason and finishing with five catches and a touchdown against Miami. Also returning for 2000 is senior Nick Franklin who would have seen a lot of playing time last year had a preseason knee injury not taken him out for the year. Patrick Hughes and Carver Donaldson both saw action last year and will be trying to use preseason drills to move up the depth chart.
The bad news for receivers coach Jeff Bowden is that Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans have graduated. The good news for the Seminoles is that they return a stable of talented players including emerging stars Marvin Minnis, Anquan Boldin, Robert Morgan and Atrews Bell. Minnis is the Seminole’s top returning receiver with 19 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns last year. Boldin is already proving to be a leader and his talent has everyone excited. He caught 12 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 1999. Morgan made big catches all last year and has great hands and the toughness to go over the middle. Morgan’s 16 receptions for 245 yards ranks him as FSU’s second leading returning receiver. Bell made every catch count last year finishing second on the squad with four touchdowns on just 14 receptions.
Sophomore Talman Gardner could not seem to stay healthy this spring, but made the most of his chances with a big spring game which included three catches for a game-high 96 yards. Classmate Greg Moore suffered a knee injury in spring and will be questionable entering fall drills. FSU coaches did get a chance to see junior college transfer Javon Walker during spring and he proved that he will see immediate playing time in the fall. Big and fast, Walker made the big plays all spring including hauling in a 51-yard bomb in the Garnet and Gold game.
The strength of last year’s national championship team on defense was the pair of senior interior lineman. The graduation of Corey Simon and Jerry Johson leaves a void there and filling it was a top priority this spring for Mickey Andrews and his staff. As fall begins, the Tribe will trade seniors for a freshman and sophomore as Kevin Emanuel and Chris Woods are listed at first team defensive tackle and noseguard, respectively.
Woods played impressively down the stretch last year especially in relief at the Sugar Bowl. His 27 tackles last year ranks him fourth among the returning down lineman this year. However, he must fight off the charge of freshman Jeff Womble and sophomore Rian Cason in the important position.
Coaches searching for answers this spring moved rookie Kevin Emanuel to defensive tackle and they found that he had the intensity and work ethic to develop into the starter there. Emanual needs to gain weight and lower body strength, but coaches are very incouraged by his performance in just 15 practices at the position. Listed behind Emanuel at defensive tackle is Woods again who can play either interior position. Senior Randy Wilkins hopes to use a strong preseason to earn playing time at tackle as does sophomore Tony Benford.
Jamal Reynolds returns to his starting right defensive end position and is ranked by some publications as the top overall prospect in the 2001 NFL draft. Reynolds led FSU with seven sacks last year and will lead the defensive ends who will be asked to step up their performance with the lack of experience on the interior. Backing up Reynolds will be sophomore Alonzo Jackson who used a good spring to move into the role. Also competing for playing time here is O.J. Jackson whose versatility has coaches considering playing him at either middle linebacker at defensive end.
FSU reached a comfortable three-man rotation among their defensive ends last year that allowed them to maximize the impact of an injury-limited Roland Seymour. However, coaches did not have that luxury in the spring as Seymour missed all the workouts and is questionable at the start of fall after undergoing surgery to repair a knee injury suffered in the Sugar Bowl win. With Seymour a question mark early, senior
David Warren will enter preseason drills listed as the starter at left end. The position is not unfamaliar to Warren who started five games last season including the national title game. Warren has always been one of the most productive players on the field finishing tied for first place last year with three fumbles caused and leading the entire defensive front with four passes broken up. Freshman Darnell Dockett is itching to get playing time and used a fine spring to move into the backup role at left defensive end. Walk-on Kendrill White is listed at third team at both defensive end positions.
The starting linebacking corps returns in tact, but will be coached by a new face for the first time in four years. Joe Kines replaced Chuck Amato, who left to become head coach at NC State and he welcomes back starters Tommy Polley, Bradley Jennings and Brian Allen.
Coaches will have a nervous preseason waiting to see when Polley will be full speed after undergoing surgery on his knee following the Sugar Bowl. Polley was the Tribe’s top tackler last year with 109 stops (67 solo). Making coaches feel a little better about the rehabilitation of Polley was the play of true freshman Kendyll Pope in the spring. Pope enrolled in January after sitting out last season and showed that he had the potential to be a tremendous playmaker at the position. He got a lot of scrimmage time in spring and will be slated for immediate playing time in the fall.
Brian Allen returns at strongside linebacker for what should be a spectacular senior season. One of the leaders of the entire FSU team, Allen had a tremendous junior year finishing second on the team with 101 tackles. Behind Allen in the spring will be a familiar name in a different place. FSU’s lack of depth at linebacker in spring forced coaches to try some new players at the position and former rover Jean Jeune‘ seems to have found a place to play there. While he came on strong in the spring, Jeune’ must develop the instincts that make a top notch linebacker. Also providing depth behind Allen will be walk-on Lee Weaver who played on special teams last year.
Solid middle linebacker Bradley Jennings also returns and he is a proven run-stopper. He finished third on the team with 92 total tackles during the national championship campaign. Lining up behind the veteran this spring was Jerel Hudson, who has moved from linebacker to down linemen and now back to linebacker. He had a strong spring game and looks like he will stick as the back-up in the middle. Also playing middle linebacker in the fall will be walk-on Billy Crellin and O.J. Jackson, who may play defensive end as well.
While the secondary lost a pair of frequent starters in cornerback Mario Edwards and safety Sean Key, FSU’s practice of playing a lot of players eases the transition each year. In fact, the Seminoles return all four of the defensive backs who started the last two games of last season against Florida and Virginia Tech.
Derrick Gibson returns for his senior season at rover where he has already made a number of preseason All-America teams. A fierce hitter and experienced player, Gibson and Chris Hope led the Seminoles with four interceptions a year ago and he will be counted on to make the big plays again in 2000. Junior Abdual Howard moved to second team during the spring and should be a solid reserve behind Gibson. He also should see considerable playing time in FSU’s nickel package.
Tay Cody comes off another solid year at cornerback and should emerge as one of the country’s best as a senior in 2000. A three-year starter, Cody’s coverage skills had teams looking the other way over the last half of last year and he has turned himself into a punishing tackler as well. Behind Cody at right corner will be redshirt freshman Rufus Brown. Brown improved as spring drills progressed and had an interception in the spring game. Also seeing time at cornerbacker will be Stanford Samuels who missed last year with a knee injury. He was impressive in spring drills before the injury, but will have to make up for lost time in the fall.
Returning at left cornerback will be senior Clevan Thomas who emerged as the starter during his junior season and may have been the best cover man in the secondary last year. Sophomore Malcolm Tatum saw cosiderable action at corner as a freshman last season and he used the spring to prove to coaches that he is ready to take a spot in the rotation. Stanford Samuels will also see playing time at this corner.
Stepping in as the full-time starter at free safety is the veteran Chris Hope, who has already proven to coaches that he is ready to go. Good size and speed combine with intelligence and instinct to make Hope an ideal free safety. Starting his first regular season in a reserve role here is talented B.J. Ward who enrolled in January and showed coaches he has the talent to play right away in spring drills. Pushing Ward for backup honors will be converted wide receiver Gennaro Jackson.
The biggest hole in the Seminole lineup may prove to be the one left by two-time Lou Groza Award winner Sebastian Janikowski. Not only was he deadly accurate from about 60 yards in, Janikowski gave FSU a tremendous boost by toeing kickoffs that were unreturnable over 70 percent of the time. Walk-on Chance Gwaltney has practiced behind the consensus All-American for two years, but was inconsistent in the spring. Coaches think he has the ability, but if he does not answer in the fall it will be true freshman Brett Cimmorelli or another non-scholarship player.
In contrast to the uncertainity at placekicker is the confidence coaches have in three-year starting punter Keith Cottrell. The senior averaged 42.8 yards per punt last year and should contend for the both All-ACC and All-America honors this season.