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Aug. 29, 2003
By Jerry Kutz, courtesy of The Osceola
Each August, I am invited to speak to Seminole Club kickoff banquets around the country. The normal format is to talk about the relative strengths and weaknesses of Florida State and its opponents and then open it up to questions.
Since the majority of questions are about the positions of concern, the talks become more of a critical analysis than a pep rally. This year, I am trying to introduce the thought that while Florida State has some positions of concern, so does every team on the Seminoles’ schedule.
While the 2003 Seminoles appear loaded at most positions, we know they also must avoid injury on the offensive line, find a punter and add consistency at quarterback and defensive back.
The ‘Noles are, however, not the only team with questions. Miami, who I believe is the best team on the Seminole schedule, must replace the signature position on offense (a four-year starter at quarterback) and the signature position on defense (all four defensive ends).
Maryland, Virginia, N.C. State, Notre Dame, and all the rest of ’em, have some knitting of their own to do, too.
After the Brevard County meeting, which still focused more on FSU’s needs, a cadre of my high school buddies and longtime Seminole friends convened at a local laboratory of sports to further dissect the subject. If you can have an epiphany while sipping frosty cold beverages, I had one, and it was this: Not only do FSU’s opponents have a serious list of needs but even some of the great FSU teams have had them, too. Take the 1993 National Championship team, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this season, for example. We tend to forget that the offensive line had to replace two starters, the defense lost Marvin Jones and the entire defensive front, the defensive secondary was paper thin and the ‘Noles had to depend on a freshman kicker and punter.
On the drive to the Broward Club the next day, I thought about that 1993 preseason. The secondary lost fifth-year senior safety Steve Gilmer and starting cornerback Corey Fuller with season-ending knee injuries. One of the key replacements on the defensive front – John Nance — was recovering from surgery to remove a large tumor from his chest. Starting tailback Tiger McMillon went down with a season-ending knee injury and when Marquette Smith was injured, former high school quarterback Warrick Dunn emerged.
While FSU coaches are worried this year about freshmen backups on the offensive line, that 1993 team had to start three sophomores and several inexperienced players – including true freshman Chad Bates — at various times during the season. Ironically, one of those starters – Juan Laureano — was sitting in the Broward County meeting. Laureano, who is now an attorney, played an important role on a line where there were questions about whether fourth-year offensive line coach Brad Scott, who had replaced the legendary Wayne McDuffie, could keep the unit pieced together.
I dusted off the 1993 preseason Osceola issues and began to read. There were many similarities between that preseason of unprecedented hope and this one of cautious optimism, beginning with the expansion of Doak Campbell Stadium and the construction of the football coaches’ office building. The only people sweating more than the players back then were the construction workers who were in a race against time to complete stadium expansion. I had forgotten about that construction project until recently. While checking out the progress on new skyboxes for the Varsity Club and Seminole Boosters, I asked the contractor if they would be ready for the Maryland game.
“That depends,” he said, pausing for comedic effect. “Will it be a day game or a night game?”
It was a race against time in 1993 just as it is in 2003.
Three sophomore offensive linemen would start the first game of 1993, including center Clay Shiver who, like this year’s starting center David Castillo, had started only a few games in his career. The bigger questions in 1993 were on defense. “I don’t remember a defense being this inexperienced,” defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said.
After being manhandled in the spring of 1993, the defensive coaches were sweating the opening game. How were they to replace Marvin Jones and a starting defensive front that included NFL draft picks Dan Footman, Carl Simpson, Sterling Palmer and Reggie Freeman?
Veteran safeties Leon Fowler and John Davis had graduated so when Gilmer sustained a career-ending knee injury, former walkon Richard Coes had to step in for him. After Fuller went down, the cornerback position listed Corey Sawyer and Clifton Abraham as the starters, with freshmen Harold Battles, Byron Capers, James Colzie and Sean Hamlet in reserve. Four freshmen? Yikes!
While every Seminole fan will remember Dunn taking a Charlie Ward pass 79 yards for the winning touchdown at Florida Field, few remember that true freshman James Colzie started that game when Sawyer could not and came up with a key interception that led to a late touchdown. Or, that quarterback Danny Kannell, a second-year rookie, completed 28 of 38 passes for 341 yards and five touchdowns at Maryland when Ward could not play. Or, that Coes, the former walk-on safety, made a game saving tackle against Nebraska. Or, that a true freshman kicked the winning field goal to win that national championship game.
In spite of the lack of depth on defense or on the offensive line, and in spite of the fact the 1993 team was facing the toughest schedule in the nation, the media still picked FSU preseason No. 1.
A fifth-year senior, Ward had established himself as the Heisman frontrunner and a leader that everyone believed in. As a result, we were able to overlook what was a considerable list of concerns.
But it still took true freshmen, and redshirt freshmen, and seldom-used backups and injured veterans stepping up when they were called upon for that team to win the national title.
While speaking to the clubs, I had recalled what was a defining moment of that season. It came in the final scrimmage before the opener against Kansas when the offense had totally embarrassed Mickey Andrews’ defense in a goal line drill, scoring like eight out of ten times. It was an affirmation of all the fears. When the practice ended, Andrews called the defense together around him in what he called “his end zone.” As I recall, he pushed them out one by one, challenging them that none of them were tough enough to re-enter. Apparently, his message was heard because a few days later that same defense put together a 12-play goal line stand to shut out Kansas.
Heart … Pride … Unselfishness … Togetherness … were words frequently used to describe that goal line stand.
The coaches and players talked frequently during the 1993 preseason about replacing the experience and talent lost with intangibles missing from prior teams who came up short of a championship. As I re-read those points of emphasis, it reminded me of the emphasis coaches are placing are placing on those same intangibles this season.
Ten years later, the list of concerns has changed, but not the list of intangibles.