TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Replacing a unanimous All-American running back, a consensus All-American defensive end and an NFL-caliber cornerback is no small feat.
But Florida State got a pretty good jump on that process during the 2017 recruiting cycle.
With Dalvin Cook, DeMarcus Walker and Marquez White all set to ply their trades at the next level, the Seminoles softened the blow of their losses by signing five-star prospects at running back, defensive end and cornerback.
And the best news for FSU coach Jimbo Fisher is that all three – running back Cam Akers, defensive end Joshua Kaindoh and cornerback Stanford Samuels III – have all been on campus for nearly a month.
That all three players enrolled early – FSU signed a total of seven players in December to go along with the XX added on Wednesday – took a little bit of juice out of National Signing Day in Tallahassee. But it didn’t stop the Seminoles from landing one of the nation’s top classes for yet another year. Nor did it stop Fisher’s eyes from getting big when asked about his latest headliners.
“They fit right in,” Fisher said. “They look like guys that have been here already. These guys are all adjusted, going to classes. Workouts are starting. The player have adopted them in. Players all say they like them and they fit right in. They definitely belong here, that’s for sure.”
Any one of Akers, Kaindoh or Samuels would be the cornerstone of most classes across the country.
At Florida State, they make up a talented trio of players who could see the field sooner rather than later.
That’s thanks in part to some attrition across the FSU depth chart, but Fisher said it also speaks to the caliber of players hoping to be the next Cook, Walker or White.
“Whether they end up starting or not – which they could start – they’ve got a spring in, a summer in,” Fisher said. “So you’re talking about, they could be a quality backup and be ready to take 20 snaps a game and then grow into a role. To me, that’s really big.”
Akers, a 5-11, 213-pound running back from Clinton, Miss., ranks no lower than No. 9 overall in any of the major recruiting services, and his pledge to FSU was a major coup for Fisher and the Seminoles.
Akers’ hometown sits just 160 miles south of the University of Mississippi in Oxford, and analysts long thought that the pull to stay inside state borders might be too much for FSU to overcome.
But Fisher credited both running backs coach Jay Graham and ace recruiter Tim Brewster with convincing Akers to leave home.
He verbally committed to the Seminoles on Dec. 27, and was enrolled in classes a week later.
“When you (try to) get great players from out of state, you’re at the mercy of everything around,” Fisher said. “Because you’re the foreigner. You’re the stepchild coming into that scenario, because you don’t have the background. You don’t have the lay of the land. You don’t have all the things that go with it.
“But, again, a national brand name, consistency of program, success rate, graduation rates, personalities of your team and all of those things carry (weight). We were very fortunate, and Jay and ‘Brew’ and those guys did a great job.”
For their efforts, the Seminoles received a player who ran for 2,105 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior. Akers even earned All-USA Today honors – as a quarterback.
ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill compared Akers to Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott at this point of their careers.
“Very similar style of runner,” Luginbill said. “Thick, strong lower body. A powerful guy. Good ball skills – both players, coming out of high school, would take reps at quarterback, so you knew they could handle the football.”
But Akers is hardly the only new Seminole pegged to make a big impact.
Kaindoh, a 6-6, 250-pound defensive end from Bradenton, is set to join an FSU pass rush that racked up 51 sacks a year ago.
And although the catalyst for that group, Walker, is gone, Kaindoh should fit in nicely with a stable of ends that includes sophomore Brian Burns (9.5 sacks in 2016) and Josh Sweat (7.0).
And Samuels, the son of former Florida State defensive back Stanford Samuels (1999-03), is a consensus top-five player at his position who could have opportunities to play in an FSU secondary that must do without a two-year starter in White.
Freshman defensive backs at FSU typically play in five- or six-DB packages and also on special teams.
“Florida State’s depth at cornerback may hinder Samuels III’s bid to earn significant playing time right away,” Sports Illustrated’s Chris Johnson wrote in a profile. “But he could function as a top-tier reserve option for a loaded position group before earning a starting role.”
Also included In FSU’s early-enrollee haul is safety Cyrus Fagan, quarterback Bailey Hockman, tight end Tre’ McKitty and linebacker Adonis Thomas.
Fisher said Wednesday that all of the newest Noles have acclimated well to their first few weeks on campus, and he expects each to participate spring practice next month.
As always, he believes that gaining that extra bit of experience can pay off in a big way come fall.
“It sets the table for them,” Fisher said in a morning interview with ESPN’s Ryan McGee. “They get both summer workouts, and then when they go in to fall camp, it’s like a redshirt year. There’s not much difference between coming early and the guys who redshirt in the fall.
“And it allows them to contribute so much earlier.”
Size, athleticism, range, intelligence. We knew it was going to go down to the end, and we felt all along that we had one heck of a shot at getting him. I just knew he would be a guy that went through the process fo looking,s trategically, of everything he had to look at before he madw ea decision. But we’re ecstatic to have him.
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