Monday, December 11, 2017
Colleges

One QB crestfallen, another ready to lead at FSU

Florida State quarterbacks Deondre Francois and James Blackman had distinctly different conversations with significant figures in their lives on Sept. 3, the day after the Seminoles' loss to Alabama in the season opener.

Francois was dejected and disappointed upon learning he will be out for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his left knee.

"Hopefully, he's better now, but he was really down," said Barry White, Francois' first youth football coach with the Orlando Outlaws youth program. "He was more worried about this team than he was (about) his leg. He just kept saying, 'I let my team down. I let my whole team down.' "

As Francois was coming to terms with his new reality, Blackman was acclimating to his new opportunity.

Blackman has been thrust into the starting lineup, his first opportunity coming against North Carolina State at home on Sept. 23.

Blackman, who will become the first true freshman to start for the Seminoles since 1985, confided in Rick Casko, his high school coach for three seasons at Belle Glade Glades Central High from 2014-16.

"He's very excited about it. He's not nervous. He's not overconfident," Casko said. "He said, 'Coach, I really studied. I really paid attention. I'm trying to be a leader.' We talk about hard work pays off, and he said, 'I've been really working hard.'

"We just didn't know his opportunity would some so quickly, you know?"

Francois was among the crown jewels of FSU's 2015 recruiting class. His moment seemed to arrive after former four-star prospect De'Andre Johnson was dismissed from the team and five-star quarterback Malik Henry was suspended then transferred.

Now with Francois sidelined, coach Jimbo Fisher will turn to Blackman, his second true freshman to start since he coached Gabe Gross — a former major-league outfielder — in his final season as Auburn's quarterback coach in 1998.

Blackman was merely a three-star recruit with just 13 reported scholarship offers. But when college coaches like Fisher, Louisville's Bobby Petrino, Florida's Jim McElwain and former Miami coach Al Golden got the chance to see him sling the football in person, they recognized his potential.

"I've known Jimbo from years past, way back in the day. He said, 'This kid is special. We have to have him,' " Casko said of Fisher's desire to recruit Blackman. "The fit was so good with everything for James. They saw him in camp, and they fell in love with him."

Junior receiver Auden Tate remembers meeting Blackman during his official visit to the school last January.

"He was real cool dude, quiet. But he had that confidence in him, you could see it," Tate said. "I definitely think that will help."

Blackman, at 6 foot 5, 185 pounds, can see over FSU's offensive line, and his arm can deliver downfield shots to blazing receivers.

But his frail frame is a concern. Casko, whose offense has pro-style elements like Fisher's, believes as Blackman matures physically, "he's going to be a real special kid."

"Jimbo is a good QB guy, and he does a tremendous job. He's going to bring him along," Casko said. "He just can't throw him in the fire and call everything. He's got to package it up for him, and understand what he's capable of doing."

Star safety Derwin James is aiming to give Blackman similar defensive reads to what he will see in ACC play. James also believes FSU's game against N.C. State will help him get acclimated before a true road test.

"He's going against the best defense in the country (in practice), so I feel like he'll be ready for the game," James said. "He's just a guy that comes to work every day."

It's time for Fisher to get to work, too.

Fisher sent three straight FSU starters in Christian Ponder (2011), EJ Manuel (2013) and Jameis Winston (2015, Bucs) into the first round of the NFL draft. Maybe Francois and Blackman will be next.

But as Francois navigates his seven- to eight-month recovery, Blackman will be subdued in Fisher's tutelage.

"You've got to lose yourself in the process of getting ready and not worry about the results, and him trusting us," Fisher said. "That's what I'm telling him, and what our coaching staff and everyone is telling him: what our program does, it works."

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