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Why Florida State’s top recruits chose Mike Norvell, ‘Noles after two rough years

FSU is set to begin spring practice this week with some promising pickups who liked what they saw last fall.
FSU football coach Mike Norvell and his Seminoles made progress last year. That progress led to a nice recruiting class and needs to result in more wins this fall.
FSU football coach Mike Norvell and his Seminoles made progress last year. That progress led to a nice recruiting class and needs to result in more wins this fall. [ MARK WALLHEISER | AP (2021) ]
Published Mar. 1

When Florida State was 0-4 and on the verge of freefall, Mike Norvell teed off on a question.

Though Norvell was admittedly ticked off about his program’s performance, he was fiery without ranting as he explained what he was looking for in the recruits he’ll need to turn his tenure around.

“It’s easy to point to (problems), but who wants to be a part of the solution?” Norvell said two days after the Louisville loss. “Those are the guys we’re going after.”

Related: Breaking down the state of Florida’s full 2022 college football schedule

The good news for FSU, which opens spring practice this weekend: the Seminoles found some, thanks to the players who fought through last season’s struggles.

“Florida State showed me how (when) everything’s going bad, how they’re still working the process,” said defensive back Sam McCall, FSU’s top signee and a top-50 national recruit.

Florida State's fierce game against Miami was a major sign of progress for the program.
Florida State's fierce game against Miami was a major sign of progress for the program. [ MARK WALLHEISER | Associated Press (2021) ]

The Seminoles had too many chances to show their resolve because they put themselves in too many situations where things were going wrong. Down 18 through three quarters against Notre Dame. Trailing Louisville by 24 points in the first half. Behind eight with 11 minutes to go against Miami.

The ‘Noles didn’t quit. They met Norvell’s minimum standard of playing with effort. That doesn’t sound like much, but FSU didn’t crater the way the Gators did during the final weeks of the Dan Mullen era. It was at least a fair question to wonder whether Florida quit on Mullen.

That wasn’t an issue in Tallahassee. McCall specifically pointed to FSU’s rally against Miami — a fourth-and-14 conversion that led to a 31-28 victory — as an encouraging sign.

Related: The one play that changed the trajectory of FSU, Miami

“Most teams, when they lose, they, like, crumble,” said defensive back Azareye’h Thomas, a top-100 signee. “When Florida State started going downhill, you saw them actually come together. Really just seeing that stood out to me. It was something that I really wanted to be a part of.”

That’s a good thing. If FSU is going to start competing for championships again, it needs to sign more blue-chip Floridians like Thomas (Niceville) and McCall (Lakeland’s Lake Gibson High) who understand the challenge ahead.

But Norvell and the ‘Noles can only sell progress and effort for so long. Eventually, they need to be able to sell success.

Florida State coach Mike Norvell needs to build on last year's effort.
Florida State coach Mike Norvell needs to build on last year's effort. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

Norvell deserved a pass for his 3-6 first season because of all the out-of-his-control complications from the pandemic. Missing a bowl in Year 2 was disappointing but not altogether surprising. Recruits understood the muted expectations and mediocre results.

“It wasn’t our time at that point,” said running back Rodney Hill, one of ESPN’s top 300 recruits in the 2022 class.

The ‘Noles will have to spend this spring showing that their time is coming soon — preferably this season. Norvell and his staff have had enough time to get over the 2020 recruiting restrictions and build relationships across the state and elsewhere.

Of the 109 players on FSU’s roster, Norvell signed 83 of them. There are some notable holdovers (starting with quarterback Jordan Travis), but this is Norvell’s team. His success or failure depends largely on the players he chose, not the ones he inherited.

Florida State running back Lawrance Toafili, from Pinellas Park High, is one of the promising Seminoles brought in by Mike Norvell.
Florida State running back Lawrance Toafili, from Pinellas Park High, is one of the promising Seminoles brought in by Mike Norvell. [ PHIL SEARS | AP (2021) ]

And that makes this spring critical for FSU’s development. Norvell addressed the gaping need at receiver by adding four transfers from other Power Five programs. He fortified the offensive line through the portal, too, and gave a jolt of talent to the secondary with McCall and Thomas. ESPN’s SP+ rankings project FSU to be a top-25 team, and 8-4 looks attainable.

Related: This ESPN stat should make USF, FSU football fans optimistic about 2022

Norvell assembled a top-20 class of newcomers (recruits and transfers) thanks to how his team fought through struggles last fall. This spring will give us the first look at whether Norvell and his ‘Noles are ready to turn vigor into victories.

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