TAMPA — Coming off an ACC championship and a 12-2 season, Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher spoke with optimism about the season ahead during a summer booster-tour appearance in town Sunday.
"The only thing we didn't win was the national championship. We're on the verge. It's going to happen," Fisher told about 125 fans. "We're going to get there. We have too many good players. You keep winning 12-13 games a year, you're going to get into that national championship deal."
Fisher took questions from radio voice Gene Deckerhoff and fans for about 20 minutes, making an appearance at a "Family Fun Day" gathering for Seminoles fans at the D1 Sports training center, which has former FSU and Bucs star Derrick Brooks as a co-owner.
Fisher, who will participate in a golf event at Old Memorial today and will appear May 31 at the St. Petersburg Coliseum, sat down with the Times to talk about some of the biggest story lines for the upcoming season.
You had a school-record 11 players drafted last month in the NFL, three in the first round. How good a barometer is that for the health of the team and its progress?
That's when you become a program again. As a staff, we still feel very good about the kids coming back, so you can replace them. Teams come and go. Programs sustain the test of time. I feel comfortable about the way we've recruited and how our players have developed to where they can be taking that next step.
You had EJ Manuel as the first quarterback taken, had key players drafted from your defense. Who are you looking to as the leaders on your team this fall?
I think Cam Erving does a great job. Bryan Stork does a tremendous job up front. All those linemen. I think Rashad Greene, Greg Dent, Scooter (Jared) Haggins is a natural leader. (James) Wilder's really jumped out and done it. Him and (Devonta) Freeman, they love to play football. I think all those quarterbacks have great leadership skills. On defense, Lamarcus Joyner's a tremendous leader, Telvin Smith's a tremendous leader, Christian Jones, Timmy Jernigan's really evolving into a leader. I like that group, and it's naturally happening without having to force it. You can't appoint them.
You have two new ACC rivals in Pittsburgh and Syracuse, with the Orange coming to Tallahassee late in the year. You open the year at Pitt — what do you expect there?
I think it's going to be a great venue. It's their first ACC game, so you know they're going to be sky-high. They'll have a great crowd. Their stadium, Heinz Field, is a great venue. It'll be an electric game, national TV. We'll get to test a lot of our young guys and a lot of guys stepping up in a leadership role and how they handle that.
You've been asked a lot about the Matthew Thomas situation, where a decorated recruit is asking to be released from his signed national letter of intent. There's a lot of talk about the precedent it sets if you allow someone to be released like that.
I'm not going to comment on that, because I think it's a private deal. Every situation is different. There's not a precedent for one way to do things. Every scenario and every situation has to be handled individually, just like every court case does. They all have different circumstances, so I think you have to handle them that way.
You mentioned Wilder, the running back from Plant — what is his role this fall and what do you expect from him as a junior?
I just think he's becoming so much more dependable and accountable in all phases. James runs the ball. He's not just a power runner, but reading his reads. He's a great blitz pickup guy, and people don't realize how good his hands are. He's very good out of the backfield with his hands. I think he'll have a tremendous year, and (defensive tackle and Alonso High graduate) Demonte McAllister is the same way. I'm looking for great things from them this season.