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FSU needed a big win Wednesday. It lost the nation’s top recruit.

Mike Norvell’s Seminoles have lost to Jacksonville State on the field and Jackson State in recruiting in the last 95 days.
Florida State legend Deion Sanders, the coach at Jackson State, plucked the nation's top recruit from the Seminoles on Wednesday.
Florida State legend Deion Sanders, the coach at Jackson State, plucked the nation's top recruit from the Seminoles on Wednesday. [ MATTHEW HINTON | AP ]
Published Dec. 15, 2021

Travis Hunter had been committed to Florida State since the first few months of the Mike Norvell era.

The nation’s consensus No. 1 overall recruit stuck with the Seminoles through Norvell’s 3-6 first season, through the coronavirus pandemic, through the 0-4 start this fall and through the worst defeat of the program’s modern era.

Until the one day it mattered most — Wednesday’s early national signing day — when the five-star cornerback from Georgia tossed a Seminoles cap aside to sign with FSU legend Deion Sanders and Jackson State.

The development — which Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney called “the biggest flip in Rivals history” — will take months to unpack. Will this start a trend of top prospects choosing Historically Black Colleges/Universities? Will this propel Sanders to a big-time job in the next cycle? How much of a factor (if any) were name, image and likeness deals in Hunter’s decision?

Though we don’t yet have those answers, we do know the immediate impact this has for Norvell and FSU.

It’s devastating.

In a span of 95 days, Norvell and the ‘Noles have lost to Jacksonville State on the field and Jackson State on the recruiting trail. The sting of this Football Championship Subdivision defeat will last even longer than the first.

As FSU struggled through Norvell’s 5-7 second season, this recruiting class was a beacon of positivity. With few exceptions, it stuck together, even after the collapse to Jacksonville State and the failure to become bowl eligible. The Seminoles entered the early signing period with a realistic shot at landing a top-10 class — nearly unheard of coming off a losing season.

It was enough to justify the one-year contract extension Norvell and FSU agreed to Tuesday. Though Norvell’s 8-13 record is a game worse than the mark that got his predecessor, Willie Taggart, fired, Hunter and a strong class provided hope.

“One of the main reasons there’s so much optimism in a five-win team is because they know there’s Travis Hunter coming,” Noles 247 publisher Josh Newberg said two days before Hunter flipped. “There’s a feeling help is on the way.”

Except the help didn’t come.

FSU was a favorite to land top-150 prospect Tyre West — a four-star defensive lineman from Georgia. He instead signed with Tennessee.

Another top-150 prospect pegged for FSU, offensive tackle Julian Armella from Fort Lauderdale powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, chose not to sign Wednesday. Five-star edge rusher Marvin Jones Jr. — son of the former Seminoles star linebacker — picked Georgia.

The ‘Noles weren’t shut out, of course. They added top-100 athlete Azareyeh Thomas from Niceville; Norvell called him a “special talent.” Their 14 signees also included Lake Gibson five-star safety Sam McCall (one of the state’s top prospects) and four-star IMG Academy quarterback AJ Duffy. As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, 247Sports’ composite ratings ranked FSU’s class 17th in the country — not bad considering the program’s recent struggles.

But FSU lost Hunter, who would have been the program’s highest-rated recruit since landing Ernie Sims in 2003.

Hunter’s addition would have been a program-changer. Though he can’t fix FSU’s offensive line or linebacking corps, he’s a transcendent talent who would have contributed immediately to a secondary that needs help. If he played well early and helped the Seminoles improve, that would have been a positive signal for the elite recruits in the 2023 class. Newberg said Hunter would have been a “stepping stone” for future prospects.

Best-case scenario? Hunter could have been a foundational player in FSU’s transformation.

Instead, Hunter is another bad loss for a coach and program that desperately needed a big win.

Staff update

FSU lost one of its top assistants Wednesday when offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham took the same position at Oregon. Dillingham, who was also the quarterbacks coach, previously worked with Norvell at Memphis. Norvell declined to talk about coaching changes Wednesday, but Noles247 reported that FSU is expected to promote offensive line coach Alex Atkins to coordinator.

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