February 3, 2016 - by
Fisher, Noles Enjoy Big Finish On National Signing Day

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the last few years, National Signing Day has been something of a formality at Florida State, with coach Jimbo Fisher and staff often piling up top prospects throughout the year before cruising to the finish line come February.

But Fisher flipped the script for 2016.

From the moment Fisher and Co. arrived at the Moore Athletics Center on Wednesday – about 6:30 a.m. – there was a noticeable energy buzzing throughout the football offices.

Coaches worked the phones all morning, compliance officers watched like hawks for incoming letters of intent and Fisher was in-demand for live, national interview segments on ESPNU.

And, most importantly, the Seminoles added six high-profile pledges to an 18-man signing class that ranked among the best in the nation.

By the time Fisher took the podium for a 3:30 p.m. press conference, FSU had compiled the No. 1 signing class according to ESPN, and the No. 2 per recruiting services Rivals and 247Sports.

“It wasn’t intentional, it just fell out that way,” Fisher said. “… Everybody says, ‘You close at the end,’ – you don’t close at the end. What you’re doing is building toward that closing. That happens in November, December and January.”

It made for a parade of smiles and fist bumps in the coaches’ “war room,” as several prospects announced their decisions either on live television or through online video.

Among them:

  • Carlos Becker, a four-star cornerback from Kissimmee who picked FSU over Miami, LSU and Alabama
  • Brian Burns, a five-star defensive end from Fort Lauderdale who played in the U.S. Army All-American Game while racking up a host of South Florida high school football honors.
  • Shavar Manuel, a four-star defensive tackle from Tampa who spurned rival Florida to sign with the Seminoles.
  • Landon Dickerson, a five-star offensive lineman who turned down SEC schools Auburn and Tennessee in favor of FSU.
  • Dontavious Jackson, a four-star linebacker from Houston who the Seminoles lured away from Jackson’s home-state team, the Texas Longhorns.
  • Jauan Williams, a four-star offensive lineman from Washington, D.C., who showed off his athleticism by wrapping his leg behind his neck before flashing a Seminole chop. Not bad for 6-foot-7, 303-pound tackle.

Williams in particular is part of a six-man offensive line class that’s loaded with both star power and size. That group includes early-enrollee Andrew Boselli (6-4, 313 pounds), top prep-school prospect Mike Arnold (6-4, 349) and incoming freshmen Baveon Johnson (6-3, 346), Josh Ball (6-8, 311) Dickerson (6-5, 315) and Williams (296).

Fisher believes that, on paper, it might be the best class of linemen he’s ever signed. To say nothing of the fact that it will provide the Seminoles a wealth of extra depth up front once fall camp arrives.

“I think it’s a tremendous haul,” he said. “I really do.”

Elsewhere, the Seminoles filled positions of need across the roster.

With top linebackers Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith lost to graduation, FSU filled their places with four-star prospects Jackson and Keion Joyner.

And defensive backs Levonta Taylor and Becker should help fill the void left in the secondary by the departures of Jalen Ramsey and Lamarcus Brutus.

Even the special teams got a lift by signing kickers Ricky Aguayo (an early-enrollee) and Logan Tyler to replace kicker Roberto Aguayo (Ricky’s older brother) and punter Cason Beatty.

“We needed things across the board,” Fisher said. “We needed depth across the offensive line, we needed depth at linebacker. We wanted some front guys. We wanted corners. Needed corners in this class for sure, got that. … I thought we met our needs.”

There were a few luxury items, as well.

With three scholarship quarterbacks already on the roster, Fisher didn’t need to sign a deep class of signal-callers this year. But the one he got, early-enrollee Malik Henry from California, is a top prospect who Fisher said has a “tremendous chance” to compete for the starting job this spring.

The same goes for receiver Keith Gavin, who Fisher believes can be a difference-maker in a crowded stable of receivers, and four-star tight end Naseir Upshur.

“You don’t ever get everybody you recruit, but I don’t worry about those,” Fisher said. “I worry about the ones we’ve gotten. We’ve gotten a great group of guys and great group of players.”

All of which came after a great day. After so many years in coaching, Fisher said he tries to go into signing day without expectations. It’s just too unpredictable.

But to see things shake out the way they did Wednesday, when top prospect after top prospect swung FSU’s way, he couldn’t help but feel some measure of satisfaction.

“Very fun,” he said. “You saw our program get better. You saw the guys that we wanted, we got. You saw a lot of assistant coaches’ blood, sweat and tears and a lot of hours pay off.

“And it’s very rewarding that way.”

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