TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There is palpable excitement throughout the McIntosh Building, which houses the Florida State track & field program.
Coach Bob Braman and the Seminoles’ staff had reason to celebrate Wednesday’s close of the early signing period, as FSU finished off a 12-athlete haul highlighted by the nation’s top-ranked high school athletes in the boy’s 110-meter hurdles and 200-meter dash, as well as the girl’s 100-meter dash.
Mix in a trio of international standouts in the women’s high jump and 1500 and men’s 800, the top Florida high school short sprinter and cross country runner and two rising talents on the girls distance side and you have a talented, balanced group capable of sustaining the success synonymous with the program.
“It’s just an incredible recruiting class,” said Braman, who begins his 14th season at the helm of the men’s and women’s program. “All of our coaches participated; everybody had a hand in it… We worked together on this and it made a big, big difference.
“It’s an unbelievable class that ranks up with one of the best ones we’ve had.”
There is no shortage of high-end talent across both genders.
Ka’tia Seymour, a senior at Palatka (Fla.) High School, catapulted onto the national scene last season in both the 100- and 200-mter dash. Seymour’s 11.26 in a victory at the Great Southwest Classic is the fastest 100-meter time in the country among returnees, and her 23.26 personal-best in the 200 ranks fourth nationally.
Seymour has company among national-leaders signing with the Noles.
Trey Cunningham, who already owns 15 individual state titles while representing Winfield (Ala.) High, enters his final prep season as the nation’s fastest hurdler at both 60 meters (7.71) and 110 meters (13.35).
Then there’s Shamon Ehiemau from Texas sprint powerhouse Fort Bend Marshall High, just outside Houston. Already a two-time UIL 5A Champion at 200 meters, he has also anchored back-to-back championship 4×200 relays. Ehiemau’s 20.56 in victory at the Great Southwest Classic leads the nation entering the 2017 season, and his personal-best 10.29 in the 100 ranks second.
Complementing Cunningham and Ehiemua, graduate transfer Jaap Vellinga arrives in January from The Netherlands as a legitimate ACC title contender and NCAA qualifier in the 800, where he boasts a personal-best 1:47.69.
Two Florida high school standouts – Lincoln Park Academy’s Caleb Pottorff and Auburndale’s Chauncy Smart – will have an opportunity to contribute immediately. Pottorff just won the 2A State Cross Country title in the fastest time of the year among Floridians to go along with a 3200-meter state title in 2016. Smart, whose junior season was highlighted by third-place finish at the Brooks PR Invitational, owns the fourth-fastest 100 nationally among current seniors.
Wednesday’s final official announcement came from Birmingham, Ala. girls sprint star Jayla Kirkland, who is the most decorated signee on the world, national and high school stage. An IAAF World Youth Championships bronze medalist in the 100 (2015), Kirkland won 100 gold at the 2016 USATF Junior Nationals and silver in the 200, to go along with her second consecutive New Balance Outdoor Nationals title in the 200. The 13-time Alabama high school state champion ranks third nationally in the 200 (23.15) and tied for fifth in the 100 (11.41).
Cortney Jones won’t have to wait around to make an impact like most in the signing class. Graduating early from Rockdale High in Georgia, Jones will enroll at FSU in January, and instead of attempting to improve on her No. 3 national ranking in the 100-meter hurdles (13.40) she will be training alongside the Seminoles’ stacked hurdle corps.
Two international athletes – Italian high jumper Eleonora Omoregie and British middle distance runner Jodie Judd – bring impressive credentials to the fold.
Omoregie, the runner-up at Italy’s Senior National Championships, owns a lifetime-best leap of 1.86 meters (6-1.25) which is equal to FSU’s long-standing school record. Ranked No. 4 in the World indoors a year ago, the January enrollee should contend for All-American honors immediately.
Judd, from Canvey Island in Great Britain, finished fourth in the 1500 (4:26.90) at the 2016 England Athletics U20 Championships and also owns personal-bests of 2:11.09 (800) and 9:39.96 (3000). Not only does she extend the Seminoles’ long history, but has a chance to follow in the footsteps of some of the programs’ bests.
Rounding out the early signees are Kayla Easterly from North Fort Myers, Fla., whose breakthrough senior season already includes a third-place finish at the 3A State Cross Country Championships, and Elizabeth Jenkins. Jenkins from powerhouse Winter Park High, has been part of two state championship cross country teams and led off back-to-back 4A state title 4×800 relays.
“When you look at returning [high school] seniors, you’re 1-4 with Ka’tia, 3-5 with Jayla – in two different events – and Cortney ranks third, and she’s here with us in January,” Braman said. “Eleonora [Omoregie], the only person that would have been better than her was Vashti Cunningham, who went pro. [Judd] would be in the top 10 or so in the US.”
Collectively it’s a group that could help the Seminole women contend for NCAA podium finishes well into the future.
“On the guys’ side, Trey is a No. 1 and Shamon is a No. 1 returner, then you look at the best distance runner in the state and the best short sprinter in the state who we signed, which is always important,” Braman said. “Jaap is a national qualifying guy.”
Those pieces can help the Noles reclaim their once perennial perch among the nation’s elite on the men’s side.
“One of the things that really excited me about the whole group was almost all of the top level kids we had in – the ones we got and the ones we didn’t get – their parents came on the visits,” Braman said. “The message was given and received about graduating. These are kids who are going to make Olympic teams and keep that tradition going down the road, but not one of these kids was talking about pro contracts and all of the distracting things…The message was about graduating and life, so the character is very strong in this class. That excites me because it leads to continued success.”