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FSU has another shot at Miami's best players

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden didn't want to play Miami for a second time in less than three months, with good reason as folks saw on Jan. 1, but he didn't grouse about being in Miami.

"There's probably not a bowl game in the country we could have gotten into and been better (off) for public relations or better for recruiting," he said of the Orange Bowl. "You're visible. Your kids' pictures are in the paper in our state."

Most important, in that town.

With all deference to other hotbeds for prep talent in Florida, then-Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger insisted that the key to building a championship contender resided in his back yard or, as he called it, "the state of Miami."

Few would dispute that, given the large number of athletes in one city. Bowden hadn't enjoyed much success there lately and knew that had to change this year.

"We put two coaches (Odell Haggins and Kevin Steele) in there rather than one to try to pick it up," Bowden said. "I expect it to be positive."

So far, so good.

The Seminoles have oral commitments from Miami Northwestern defensive back Trevor Ford and Miami Edison offensive lineman Jacky Claude, both considered among the state's top 30 prospects. With national signing day Wednesday, they also remain in the chase for two of the nation's top stars, Miami Carol City linebacker Willie Williams and Miami Killian cornerback J.R. Bryant.

If FSU lands all four, it would be just one fewer than the number of Miami high school players it has signed in the past five years combined.

Only four Miamians were on the 2003 roster, and of those only senior linebacker Allen Augustin, a walk-on in 2000, played a prominent role.

"You can get great players from all over the state of Florida," said Steele, who recruited Miami while at Nebraska and Tennessee. "But there's enough great players in Miami that if you start stacking up the best in the state, they're going to be in the mix, and you need to get the best. So either you're going to get your share out of that or you're probably not going to be at the top of the heap."

Consider that in 1999, the Seminoles had a dozen players on the roster from Miami high schools, including starters Derrick Gibson (Killian), Bradley Jennings (Carol City), Sean Key (American) and Eric Thomas (Columbus) and key reserves Marvin Minnis (Northwestern) and Clevan Thomas (Miami Senior). The Seminoles capped an undefeated season and second national championship with a Sugar Bowl win against Virginia Tech.

"There's so much speed and talent," Haggins said. "I can go to about 10 schools in, say, Polk County and I may not find a prospect. I go to one Miami school and may find three or four prospects I offer scholarships to.

"You have to stay consistent and persistent trying to get in touch with them. You just have to find out what kids you have a chance to get and get on them hard."

Miami Northwestern coach Roland Smith said the Seminole coaches "always try to make a conscious effort down here." Still, he has noticed the doubling of FSU personnel.

The results speak to that, which makes all the trips to Miami well worth it.

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