Sunday, June 24, 2018
Colleges

Coach Jimbo Fisher takes on old boss Nick Saban, lures football recruits from state of Alabama to Florida State Seminoles

Last summer, nationally coveted Hueytown (Ala.) High quarterback Jameis Winston sat at a desk in front of an ESPN camera, his shirt buttoned to the collar, and did the unthinkable.

"Well, you know, it's been tough, it's been tough the whole time, and I feel very confident with my decision," Winston said before reaching down and retrieving a garnet-and-gold cap. "And I think, uh, I think I want to be a Florida State Seminole."

Had Winston called for a statewide ban on houndstooth hats, it might have gone over better. The nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterback by Rivals.com, Winston had bypassed Tuscaloosa, less than an hour's drive from his high school, for Tallahassee.

"Alabama fans, they're probably going to hate me," he said.

These days, they may be starting to resent Jimbo Fisher just as much. The Seminoles coach and Nick Saban disciple is starting to swipe big-time talent from right under the nose of his old boss, now the coach of the Crimson Tide.

For now, Fisher's recruiting success in Alabama is raising eyebrows. If the trend continues, it might raise a ruckus.

"You think after Alabama and Auburn win the national championship that the state's going to be completely closed off," said Andrew Bone, a Birmingham-based recruiting analyst for Scout.com and Fox Sports.

"But FSU didn't back down. They came out swinging and were able to get some big commitments early on."

From 2007 to 2010, FSU signed three players from Alabama. This year alone, Fisher, an assistant under Saban at LSU (2000-04), is expected to sign at least three.

That number would've been four had 6-foot-6, 340-pound Mobile two-way lineman Alphonse Taylor, not flipped to Alabama before Christmas.

Perhaps not coincidentally, FSU's recruiting class is ranked No. 3 nationally by ESPN and seventh by Rivals. Oral commitments are not binding, and national signing day is Feb. 1.

Those who track recruiting for a living credit Fisher's success across the state line to a pair of prevailing factors: his extensive connections (he coached in Alabama more than a decade, including a half-dozen years at Auburn) and his hiring of former Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig as recruiting coordinator.

"It's definitely Dameyune Craig leading that charge, for sure," said D.C. Reeves, managing editor of Warchant, a website dedicated to FSU sports. "I think bringing Craig in sort of shows you, from Fisher's perspective, the emphasis on that state. There's a reason for that, because he knows how much talent is up there."

The Seminoles have been especially fruitful in Mobile, Craig's hometown. In February, Fisher signed 6-foot-5 QB Jacob Coker, a lifelong Tide fan who attended the same school as current Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron.

This year, Fisher has a commitment from 6-5 defensive end Chris Casher, ranked 13th in the ESPNU 150.

"I see it that because of Craig and his connections and being from the state, FSU is just capitalizing on that," ESPN recruiting analyst (and Boca Ciega alumnus) Jamie Newberg said.

"It's something every program does. You go where the recruits are and when you're connected there, that just helps matters."

Back to Winston, recently named MVP of the Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field. Also an electrifying pitcher-shortstop-outfielder, he projects as a high-round draft pick in baseball and has acknowledged he's weighing his options.

But even if Fisher can't pull him from baseball, the fact he pulled him from Alabama resonates.

"I think it probably fired Saban up … with FSU coming into the state of Alabama and getting some of the state's best recruits," Bone said. "And Saban came in and hit the state of Florida pretty good.

"I think we're going to see a pretty friendly rivalry between these schools for the same recruits for years to come."

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