Former Florida State star cornerback Mario Edwards Sr. was part of some of the school's best defenses, when the Seminoles were a perennial power in the late 1990s.
He saw up close the dynamic 1-2 punch of All-America defensive ends Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson, who terrorized quarterbacks before taking their talents to the NFL.
But when Edwards Sr. looks at this year's studded Seminole recruiting class, which includes his son Mario Jr., a 6-foot-4 290-pound defensive end rated the best in the country, along with five-star tackle Eddie Goldman and four-star end Chris Casher, he sees special potential.
"When I played, we had high-powered defensive linemen," said Edwards Sr., who played five NFL seasons including one for the Bucs. "But I would go on record and say that the d-linemen that they have right now, in this recruiting class, they can be just as good if not better."
The Seminoles already have a stout defensive front; FSU ranked sixth nationally in sacks last season and second against the run. The entire line rotation returns, with senior ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine, plus last year's recruiting coup, tackle Timmy Jernigan. But coach Jimbo Fisher believes you can never have too much size, and "those guys that put their hand in the dirt change the game." FSU also netted four-star tackle Justin Shanks and three-star tackle Dalvon Stuckey for the nation's No. 2 class.
"I keep telling you all, what separates Southern football from the rest of the country is defensive linemen," Fisher said. "Everyone's got them and they've got more than one, they don't have just two, they have three, four, five, six and they rotate. That's why you very rarely see the offenses from the South lead the country."
The Seminoles' biggest prize was Edwards Jr. (Denton, Texas), who grew up going to his father's NFL games and practices. Built like a defensive tackle, Edwards Jr.'s athleticism — his standing backflip is an Internet hit — make him a matchup nightmare. Fisher has said Edwards can dominate off the edge, comparing him to Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears.
"He's further along technique-wise than anyone else in the country," said recruiting analyst Josh Newberg, from Noles247.com. "Usually when you see kids of his size they just use brute strength to dominate in high school. You don't see someone that has perfected hand technique like Mario."
While Edwards Jr.'s path to FSU was clear, Goldman, the nation's top-rated defensive tackle, said his decision was very difficult. The 6-4, 310-pounder out of Washington chose the Seminoles over Alabama and Auburn, and Edwards Jr. helped with a recruiting pitch.
"I talked to Eddie and (four-star cornerback) Ronald Darby a lot, just telling them, 'We have a chance to get Florida State back to where we used to be,' " Edwards said.
"It'll be nice," Goldman said. "We can win a national title."
Whether the recruits make an impact as freshmen remains to be seen, but Fisher points out a lot of linemen are used in a rotation, and there are always injuries, or players leaving to the NFL. But if they have to wait, Casher knows a lot about that.
The Mobile (Ala.) senior, who is 6-5, 236 and runs 4.63 in the 40, did not play a down this season. While struggling academically, Casher and his family made the extreme decision to transfer from Faith Academy to Davidson High, where he could get help qualifying for college but he had to sit out because of transfer rules. Those who watched Casher at the Under Armour All-America Game and practices saw little rust.
"To not play your senior season, throw your pads on and compete against the best players in the country and be a top performer — that's pretty amazing," Newberg said.
For Edwards Jr., the Seminoles are also a sentimental choice, and he plans to wear the same No. 15 his father did. "It's definitely a big honor," Edwards Jr. said. "It's going to be big shoes for me to fill."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]
CHRIS CASHER ★★★★