TAMPA — As usual, it's a busy spring for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who stopped at Raymond James Stadium on Friday night for "Noles Night at the Cove," one out of 15 booster gatherings he'll speak at in a five-week span.
Fisher took a few minutes between a plate of barbecue and pictures with fans to speak with the Times about the season ahead, local high school standouts emerging as Seminoles stars and FSU's return to Tampa Sept. 29 to face USF at Raymond James Stadium. Friday's event drew more than 500 fans, and Fisher took home a $25,000 check from the Tampa Bay Seminole Club toward an indoor practice facility.
Q: Since you're in Tampa, we'll ask about sophomore running back James Wilder, the Plant graduate who was arrested in February and suspended from the team, then reinstated midway through spring drills last month, scoring a touchdown in FSU's spring game. What did you see from Wilder this spring and where does he stand entering the fall?
A: "He's doing very well right now, very well in school. Really thought he had a good second half of spring when he came out. He really understands what he's doing, so he can use that big body and that athleticism. I was very pleased with the spring he had. He catches the ball out of the backfield, he blocks, he runs with power. He's much quicker and faster than people think. He can really add a different dimension to our team. Sometimes, a mistake like that … it made him realize how much he loves ball, how much his future meant to him. He's been outstanding since then."
Q: You have other local stars, like Tampa Catholic's Christian Green, who caught 26 passes as a redshirt freshman last fall. How does he fit in this season?
A: "Very athletic. Plays the slot very well, learning to play outside much better. Very good with the ball in his hands, great runner with the ball. Very strong, very physical. Still learning the receiver position. You know, he was a quarterback in high school. That's what everybody forgets. He's really understanding what he's doing and we expect him to have a very good year. We've got to get the ball in his hands. … (Alonso DT) Demonte McAllister had a very good spring, thought he emerged very big, very strong, a very good pass rusher and successful guy inside. (Hillsborough DT) Moses McCray got healthy this spring. We are excited to see him play. He's a heck of an athlete.
Q: You mentioned sweeping Florida and Miami two years in a row, but you'll also be back in this stadium in late September to face USF, which got a big win in Tallahassee back in 2009. How big is a game like that in the first month of your season?
A: "It's a big game. It's an in-state game. We always talk about a state championship and you add one more team to that. South Florida has a great program. Coach (Skip) Holtz is doing a very good job. It will be a very tough nonconference football game, especially being on the road down here. It'll be a very tough challenge, a lot harder than people think."
Q: This past weekend, Florida's college programs went without a first-round pick in the NFL draft for the first time since 1980. Is there anything you'd point to for the state's down year in the draft?
A: "You've obviously had a lot of coaching transition and, I think, recruiting prowess. There's still great players here. I think you've seen in the last couple of years, we've done a much better job of keeping those kids at home and getting some guys. Things go in cycles, and they'll recycle right back through."
Q: FSU's athletic department made headlines this week with news that the Seminoles had a $2 million shortfall in its athletic budget. Does it concern you that a program as successful as FSU would have such a problem?
A: "I know they'll get it worked out. I'm just coaching football. I've got enough problems on my own, and they'll work the budget issues out. We're the only (school) in NCAA history to have all 19 teams go to postseason play. That's never been done, and we've done it two years in a row. We'll keep having success and people will keep supporting us. I don't think it'll be a big issue."