TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As the cliche goes, there’s only one ball to go around.
And yet, Florida State on Wednesday still managed to sign a deep class of running backs that’s almost undoubtedly the best in the nation.
That includes five-star prospect Cam Akers, fellow five-star Khalan Laborn and four-star recruit Zaquandre White.
The trio combined for nearly 5,000 rushing yards and 64 touchdowns as seniors at their respective high schools in 2016, and FSU running backs coach Jay Graham said he expects each to bring something different to the Seminoles’ offense.
Not a bad way to dull the sting of Dalvin Cook’s departure.
“All three of these guys bring a unique skill set, but they also complement each other really well,” Graham said. “They can catch the ball, they can run very well, they all can create explosive plays. And that’s the thing that we look for.”
FSU will of course miss Cook, the All-American who rewrote the single-season and career record books throughout his career.
But with seven scholarship running backs set to be on the roster in 2017, Graham and head coach Jimbo Fisher should have no shortage of options for ball carriers.
In addition to their three newcomers, the Seminoles also have junior Jacques Patrick, fifth-year senior Ryan Green, junior Johnathan Vickers and sophomore Amir Rasul at their disposal.
With the exception of Cook, Fisher has usually featured multiple running backs during his tenure as head coach. Future NFL standouts Chris Thompson, Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams all shared carries during their college careers.
And, sometimes, they would share the same backfield.
“Backs realize that there’s different roles,” Fisher said. “You can play two backs at a time. And when those guys are in a split-back formation, you can have a true fullback or two tailbacks, which is a very dynamic thing to do.
“Guys can split out and be receivers and catch bubble screens and run routes and do those kinds of things. All those (new) guys have those qualities.”
Fisher also downplayed any concerns about a logjam on the depth chart and said that the competition for playing time should only make the running backs even better.
“Great players don’t care,” he said. “I’ve never been around a great player, that I’ve ever recruited, that worried about the depth chart. Because they know they’re great players and they know they’re going to play.
“They’re going to take care of their business and they’re going to play, so they don’t worry about it.”
Legacy players ready to forge their own paths
Even casual recruiting fans might have done a double-take when they saw a few of the last names in FSU’s signing class.
Linebacker DeCalon Brooks, cornerback Stanford Samuels III and defensive tackle Ja’len Parks are all following in their fathers’ footsteps to Tallahassee. And, in some cases, stepping in to some pretty big shoes.
That’s especially true for Brooks, a linebacker from Tampa whose father, Derrick Brooks, is among the most beloved and decorated players in FSU history.
But Samuels III, a cornerback whose father, Stanford Samuels Jr., played at FSU from 1999-2003 and is famous for one of the most devastating hits ever delivered at Doak Campbell Stadium, isn’t too far removed from his dad’s playing days.
And Parks’ father John played at FSU in the mid-1980s and recorded 20 tackles and a blocked kick in 1986.
Fisher said that recruiting a legacy player is far more involved than just showing up and expecting them to automatically commit.
“It’s disrespectful,” he said. “I would never expect that and those kids see through it. Just because of what their dad has done here (doesn’t mean they want to come here).”
On the other side, though, Fisher was quick to point out that no one is recruited because of their last name. If he didn’t believe that they have what it takes to succeed, he wouldn’t have asked them to be at Florida State.
“I think it’s disrespectful that way, too,” Fisher said. “Because if we don’t think that is a guy that can help our program, you only hurt that young man. These guys, on their own accord, are guys we think can help us win football games and have great futures here.”
Fisher ‘relieved’ as another cycle ends
Much like the lines between the season and offseason seem to blur more and more every year, there’s no real end to recruiting, either.
Fisher and his assistants have already started work on FSU’s 2018 class, and even have turned an occasional eye to 2019.
Still, with the ink finally dry on the 2017 class, Fisher said he could take a breath and appreciate all the miles and hours put in to help bring in the newest Seminoles.
“It’s rewarding and relieving,” he said. “It’s over with and you can start again. But it is (rewarding). It’s the culmination of, sometimes, three, four, five years of work.”