TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Blending a talented arm with leadership skills uncommon for his age, quarterback James Blackman emerged as perhaps the most pleasant surprise of Florida State’s fall camp.
That Blackman would be FSU’s starting quarterback in Week 2 of the 2017 season, however, may rate as one of the biggest surprises of coach Jimbo Fisher’s tenure in Tallahassee.
That’s the reality for the Seminoles, who have turned to Blackman, a true freshman from Belle Glade, Fla., in the wake of a season-ending injury to starter Deondre Francois.
Blackman certainly not was not part of FSU’s original plan, but, after watching the way Blackman navigated August, the Seminoles say they’re plenty comfortable with their new quarterback.
Better yet, they’re confident.
“I’ve said it since the kid stepped on campus: He’s a special kid,” center Alec Eberle said. “There’s something about him – you just know. With football, sometimes people have the ‘it factor.’ The kid’s got it. Whatever ‘it’ is, he has it.”
Added guard Landon Dickerson: “He does a great job. As a freshman coming in, it can be challenging sometimes. He has confidence in what he says, and saying stuff with confidence affects the whole team.
“The way he talks can make everybody else go along with him.”
Asked if he’s ever coached a true freshman starter, Fisher recalled just one: Gabe Gross, who started at Auburn in 1998, with Fisher as his quarterbacks coach.
Fisher does, however, have a lengthy track record of preparing inexperienced quarterbacks for surprise starts.
He did it with redshirt freshman EJ Manuel in 2009, redshirt freshman Clint Trickett in 2011 and redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire in 2014.
All three arguably performed better than reasonable expectations: Manuel led FSU to a win at Wake Forest, Trickett performed admirably in a losing effort at Clemson, and Maguire guided the Seminoles to an overtime victory against Clemson at home.
The Seminoles host ULM of the Sun Belt Conference Saturday at 7 p.m., and Fisher said that he doesn’t plan to change much about his team’s offensive approach.
“(People) think there’s got to be drastic change. There doesn’t,” he said. “We just have to continue to do what we do, and do what we do, well.”
Based on his performances during fall camp, particularly during the team’s two scrimmages, Fisher believes that the Seminoles can do that with Blackman at the helm.
Despite arriving in Tallahassee this summer as the least experienced of four quarterbacks on the roster (J.J. Cosentino is a redshirt junior, and fellow freshman Bailey Hockman enrolled in January), Blackman quickly climbed his way to No. 2 on the depth chart.
Which meant that during a usual practice with the second-team offense, Blackman often lined up across from the likes of defensive stars Derwin James, Derrick Nnadi and Tarvarus McFadden.
The rookie fared pretty well, too.
“He went against that and produced and made a lot of good plays against a very good defense,” Fisher said. “Made a lot of throws, a lot of decisions and a lot of run-reads.”
Testing himself against that first-team defense can do plenty to accelerate Blackman’s development, too.
While there are a number of stout defenses ahead – including Miami’s in less than two weeks – Blackman might not face a better defensive unit all season than the one he’ll be seeing in practice.
“He’s going up against the best defense in the country,” James said. “So I feel like he’ll be ready for the game.”
If James is right, it would be a huge boost for an FSU team that, despite starting the season 0-1, maintains that its goals are the same as they were before the season: win the ACC and win the national championship.
Francois was thought to be one of the biggest pieces of a potential championship run. The Seminoles believe Blackman can be, too.
“The train is going to roll on,” Dickerson said. “One guy gets hurt, it can’t stop us. If it did, we’re not going to be very successful. Someone’s going to step up. We still have aspirations to win the ACC, go to the playoffs and win a national championship.
“I think Blackman is going to step up and, hopefully, lead this team.”