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Head Coach Bobby Bowden has stressed Leadership all season
Dec. 1, 2003
By Rob Wilson, Assistant Athletics Director
Perhaps this is going to sound extremely simple, but Homecoming is all about coming home. With the holidays right around the corner, most people have home on their minds. To most, home is a place with an overwhelming number of good memories, but tucked away somewhere are also the reminders of mistakes and disappointments.
Doak S. Campbell will be packed today with over 80,000 people, most of who are coming home to a campus they love, to cheer for a school about which they are passionate. ABC will bring the game into the homes of millions of viewers and a significant number of those will be wearing their lucky FSU apparel. They will almost certainly hang on every word about their alma mater. The fans in the stands, those watching at home, and the former players in the Varsity Club and on the sidelines, all have such fond memories of Florida State – of home. The 18 players who make up the senior class on this football team have continued the tradition of making home a very special place.
One cannot deny that this senior class had an awful lot of responsibility laid in its lap. The past two seasons were not up to recent Florida State standards and the walk from the field to the locker room following last year’s Sugar Bowl represented a real landmark for the program. A third season of perceived underachieving could represent a trend, some would suggest a downward spiral, in the once great Seminole program. One could almost hear the pleas of Seminole fans that have become so accustomed to the limelight that comes with playing for a national title.
The key for Florida State and its tremendously quick run back to the top has been that no matter how anxious fans, alumni and boosters have been to top the 10-win seasons again, the most important people, the coaches and players, were even more determined.
Bobby Bowden was quick to point to what would get the Seminoles back into a national title hunt even in the press conference following the Sugar Bowl loss. “Leadership,” he said. “Leadership is what will take a team to the top, and a lack of it will destroy it. We’ve got to have good leadership. We’ll start there.”
While the suggestion was a familiar one from Bowden, it certainly laid the fate of the 2003 season, and perhaps the future of the program, at the feet of the 18 seniors you will see honored in the annual pre-game ceremonies today.
One could see hints that this group would answer the challenge. Spring practice was crisp and uneventful. Meetings were quiet and focused. The off-season program was attacked aggressively and rumors that 60 and 70 players were showing up at afternoon workouts suggested they were on the right track.
A big win right out of the gate at North Carolina allowed all the FSU faithful to let out a deep breath – long held for some. A win over Maryland in the second game got everyone healthy again. The heart-stopping win over Georgia Tech became for some a sign that this team could be special. Miami rained on the parade of a perfect season after five straight wins and piled yet another responsibility on the laps of these seniors. Leadership was strong that next week and manifested itself in a gutsy defensive effort at Virginia and a 12-play, clock-killing drive that iced the game and proved to coaches that this team had heart.
Injuries always pull at the unity of a team and this squad had to overcome the loss of both running backs Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker over the first half of the season. Starting offensive guard Bobby Meeks has missed much of the action this season. Senior starting cornerback Stanford Samuels was out some along with classmates and fellow starters Kendyll Pope and Jeff Womble. And before the season ever began, Anquan Boldin decided to go pro. But the team hardly seemed to miss a beat.
Our opponent today has a chance to force a lot of missed beats for the Seminoles and the Wolfpack can, of course, ruin Homecoming. In fact, they did just that two years ago and whipped the Seminoles in Raleigh last year. It is ironic, that it is a Homecoming for NC State head coach Chuck Amato and assistants Chris Demarest, Manny Diaz and Todd Stroud, all of whom spent time with the FSU program.
This senior class has provided the leadership that allowed the team to make home a very special place to be. The fireplace was always there but could have been growing dimmer. They restocked the woodpile, stoked up the coals, and with a win today, could come just short of providing a warm blanket and a good book.
This warm pull of home has tugged at Seminoles all season. A second deck on the Varsity Club opened prior to the season was tangible evidence that our former student-athletes are coming home. Derrick Brooks flied in on his only off day to speak to the Golden Torch banquet. Green Bay Packers’ Jamal Reynolds and Javon Walker beamed on the sidelines during the Wake Forest game. All-Pro Samari Rolle spent his only weekend off glad-handing on the Seminole sidelines. And a remarkable number of players from the 1993 national championship team returned for the 10-year reunion when FSU played Colorado for the first time in school history. That game also featured a pair of Heisman Trophy winners on the field at the same time when Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke had a ball out there waiving to the fans and ribbing each other. All the two needed was some hot chocolate.
So congratulations to the Seminole senior class of 2003. As you continue your journey in life, remember that Florida State will always be a place to call home.