TALLAHASSEE — A players-only meeting usually is the equivalent of a Hail Mary — a desperation call to salvage a season spiraling toward disappointment.
But Florida State didn't wait for problems to arise before getting together and airing out some things. Heck, they didn't even wait for the start of fall camp.
"Some things needed to be said before the season starts," fourth-year junior quarterback Christian Ponder said. "Last year, we had a lot of potential, and the things we did off the field and the small details we didn't focus on (on the field) really changed the season."
The Seminoles had players miss games for skipping too many classes. They had players miss a critical home game against Boston College for their involvement in a brawl with members of a fraternity. They had, at times, players missing that "want-to," an unbridled desire to do what it takes to win big games.
Not to knock the Champs Sports Bowl, but the Seminoles were aiming for a more prestigious postseason trip, one on or after New Year's Day. So Ponder and some of the other veterans, including senior linebacker Dekoda Watson, called everyone together early last week.
Nobody missed the lively, nearly hourlong meeting. That fact, like the timing, also was different from the late-in-the-game, players-only meetings of seasons past.
"It was definitely a plus and a sign we're heading in the right direction," Watson said. "For us to have a great team, we've got to have a close team."
As a group, they talked about the goals you would expect, beginning with winning the Atlantic Division and the ACC title game in Tampa (something the Seminoles had two shots to accomplish a year ago and squandered both, including a lackluster performance against Boston College) to earn a Bowl Championship Series berth for the first time since the 2005 season.
The conversation then turned to how they would do that.
"We've got to stay out of trouble and focus on the details," Ponder said. "We all really brought up a lot of good points.
"And it wasn't just the leaders throwing out ideas. Everyone brought out ideas. I think we're going to print out everything that was said so guys can put it in their locker and can see it every day."
"We know we've got something good, and we need everybody on this team," added redshirt sophomore receiver Bert Reed, who was suspended three times last year and who is adamant his actions this season will speak to how he has matured.
"We're going to hold each other accountable for the actions we take."
If a player is late for a team meeting or late for a class, for example, he will have to face his teammates and the leaders will mete out an appropriate punishment.
"It starts with the seniors," redshirt sophomore cornerback Dionte Allen said. "If the sophomores and juniors see that the seniors don't care, it's going to rub off in the sense, 'Okay, they can get away with this, so we're going to do that.' That's not what it's all about. It's about everybody doing things right."
Coach Bobby Bowden said the players just "might govern themselves better" knowing the discipline will come from their peers and not always the coaching staff. The key, of course, is the group that has asked to lead set the proper example on and off the field.
Watson is one of those players.
Although he was involved in the academic misconduct scandal that cost him the Music City Bowl in 2007 and the first three games last season, Watson didn't hide from it, as painful as it was, and took responsibility for his actions. He also has assumed responsibility for the actions of his teammates who were involved in the November brawl. (He wasn't at the student union that day.)
"As a leader, I could have prevented it," he said. "I could have been watching out for those boys. If I had heard something was about to go down, I could have been there. But the unity is a lot better than it used to be. It's definitely a great attitude this year.
"It's a new day. It's a new time."
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347. His blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/seminoles.