TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Never mind that it took eight weeks of “relentless” effort, that they worked on an accelerated timeline or that, in the minds of most recruiting pundits, they were at a heavy disadvantage related to their competition.
As far as Mike Norvell is concerned, he and his staff put together a signing class that’s a perfect fit for his budding foundation at Florida State.
“Even in the short period of time, this was a home-run-hitting class,” Norvell said Wednesday, just moments after putting the finishing touches on FSU’s class of 2020.
“This is one that addressed needs. This was one that I think, as it plays out over the years, I mean, the type of football players that these guys will become, it’s going to be exceptional.”
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It’s been nearly two months since Norvell was first introduced as Florida State’s head coach. Since then, he’s been tireless in his efforts to build a staff, learn about his team and, most importantly, make inroads in one of the nation’s fiercest recruiting regions.
Given the circumstances – taking over a team that went 6-7 a year ago, as well as a program in the midst of its second coaching change in three years, and having to first navigate the early signing period in December – it’s hard to call Norvell’s first recruiting run at Florida State as anything but a success.
Or, to borrow some of his favorite terminology, a home run.
By the time the day was over, FSU had added eight new signees to its previous group of 20 and finished with a group that ESPN ranked as the 19th-best in the nation.
Norvell, though, wasn’t interested in putting any qualifiers on the latest crop of Seminoles.
“Today is a great day,” he said. “We’re excited about the addition of young men that have come into the program, that we were able to identify early through the process and evaluate and focus on key positions and key needs.”
Indeed, the Seminoles needed to refresh their running back stable after losing Cam Akers to the NFL draft and Gabe Nabers to graduation. They added four, including Wednesday additions La’Damian Webb and Corey Wren.
They needed a tight end following Tre’ McKitty’s departure and got two, a group which includes Wednesday signee Markeston Douglas – who Norvell called one of the steals of the class.
And they needed offensive and defensive linemen, because what college football team ever doesn’t?
They landed five of the former and four of the latter, and, in big offensive tackle Robert Scott Jr., added a blindside protector that had previously been committed to a Southeastern Conference school.
Add in the quarterbacks and linebackers signed in December – as well as one more high-profile Wednesday addition in linebacker DJ Lundy – and it’s clear that Norvell crossed off just about every item on his checklist.
“I think that it all worked out really well for us,” he said. “… There is a tremendous amount of excitement about Florida State. Obviously, the brand, the expectation, but, as much as anything, the coaching staff. The group of men that I’ve been able to hire and the excitement, the detail, the passion, the relationships that they build, that’s what is going to really help set this class apart. And it’s also going to help build for what we’re going to go in the future.”
Eager as he was to replenish his roster, Norvell remained a picky shopper.
Several times on Wednesday, he emphasized the need to determine whether a prospect was a good fit for the culture at Florida State. And to not be afraid to forgo those who weren’t.
That meant asking the coaching staff to trust their own evaluations and instincts, and not get too hung up on hype.
And it meant laying out clear expectations for everyone who chose to sign at FSU.
He joked that he has “one of the worst recruiting speeches that can possibly be given,” because, when meeting with recruits, he doesn’t hide the fact that he will have high demands both on and off the field.
“I say, there are 129 other programs they can go to that will be a heck of a lot easier than this one,” he said. “This is going to be about work.”
“For us, it’s about getting an understanding of what drives the young man,” Norvell continued. “What are they looking for? I can tell you that if their singular approach is just to come out and play ball and that’s it – and maybe not approach the focus of the physical development, the mental development, the relationships that go into it … you know we’re looking for the best and brightest in every aspect.”
Norvell has been coaching for 13 years, including the last five as a head coach, and he still believes that discerning that fit is among the most challenging parts of the job.
And it’s even more so when that discernment is forced to take place over the span of a few weeks.
But Norvell’s track record suggests he’ll get it right. He recalled four years ago, when he first took over in a similar circumstance at Memphis in 2016 and put together a signing class on short notice.
That group would become the seniors who led Norvell’s Tigers to a 12 wins, an American Athletic Conference championship and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl last year.
It also aged really, really well. Originally ranked by recruiting analysts as outside the national top 60, a recent “re-ranking” by The Athletic, which factored in on-field success and the “hit rate” of each signee, moved Norvell’s 2016 group at Memphis up to No. 12.
That’s ahead of heavyweights such as Penn State, Oklahoma and, yes, Florida State.
Good news, then, that Norvell has the same feeling today as he did back then.
“I feel very similar about this class,” he said, “and what we’re going to be able to do with the talent that we have and the opportunity that’s in front of us.
“I think we put together one heck of a football class for this year, and what it’s going to mean to the foundation of our program moving forward.”