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How Florida State became a top transfer portal destination

“I can tell this is a championship program,” the nation’s top defensive lineman transfer says.
Florida State's transfer class includes Jaheim Bell, a talented tight end from South Carolina.
Florida State's transfer class includes Jaheim Bell, a talented tight end from South Carolina. [ MATT STAMEY | AP (2022) ]
Published Jan. 31|Updated Jan. 31

After starting 22 games over four seasons at Auburn, Keiondre Jones didn’t want to be a part of another rebuilding job at his next school. He wanted to join a team with an established culture and a roster ready to win now.

He wanted a program like Florida State.

“We’ve got championship hopes and championship goals,” Jones said. “I don’t even want to say hope. That’s what we expect.”

Related: What’s next after Florida State’s 10-win season? How about an ACC title?

The Seminoles can reasonably embrace those championship expectations after a 10-win season thanks largely to transfers — both 2023 newcomers like Jones and previous additions that have made FSU one of the top portal destinations in the country.

Jones is a part of a transfer class that enters Wednesday’s traditional national signing day ranked No. 2 nationally by 247Sports, behind only LSU. Five of the nine acquisitions rank among the site’s top 50 transfers: Virginia cornerback Fentrell Cypress, South Carolina tight end Jaheim Bell, Western Michigan defensive lineman Braden Fiske, UTEP offensive lineman Jeremiah Byers and South Carolina edge rusher Gilber Edmond.

Fentrell Cypress was one of the top five transfer prospects this cycle after deciding to leave Virginia.
Fentrell Cypress was one of the top five transfer prospects this cycle after deciding to leave Virginia. [ CHARLES REX ARBOGAST | AP (2022) ]

So why FSU?

“Why not?” asked Jones, a 6-foot-3, 335-pound offensive lineman.

The more detailed explanation begins with Mike Norvell’s proven portal prowess. Three transfers from last season’s class earned first- or second-team all-ACC honors: defensive end Jared Verse, running back Trey Benson and receiver Johnny Wilson. That’s almost as many all-conference selections as last year’s top-five portal classes (USC, LSU, Oklahoma and Texas) had combined (four). The self-proclaimed portal king, Mississippi’s Lane Kiffin, had zero.

Related: Florida State 2023 football schedule released by ACC

In all, nine of the 15 Seminoles who received at least honorable mention all-ACC accolades last fall were Norvell transfers. A 10th, quarterback Jordan Travis, left Louisville for FSU under Willie Taggart but has flourished under Norvell.

In some cases, previous transfers helped lead directly to new ones.

Jared Verse became an all-ACC player after transferring to Florida State from Albany.
Jared Verse became an all-ACC player after transferring to Florida State from Albany. [ JOSHUA BESSEX | AP (2022) ]

Kyle Morlock became a blue-chip portal prospect after blossoming from an underweight tight end into a two-time Division II All-American at Shorter University. One of the Seminoles he met during his official visit was Verse, whom FSU turned from a small-school standout at Football Championship Subdivision’s Albany into one of the ACC’s top players.

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“That was definitely a huge part, knowing that they have experience with that, as far as transfer guys coming in, developing them and then getting them in this system and seeing them perform,” Morlock said.

Related: Why TCU’s playoff roster is a model for Florida State, USF and UCF

The connection was even more personal for Fiske, this cycle’s top defensive lineman. One of his Western Michigan roommates was Wyatt Rector, who transferred to the Seminoles in 2019 and provided unfiltered feedback on FSU.

“Very authentic, is the big word he used,” said Fiske, a second-team all-MAC performer last season. “I really appreciate that.”

Braden Fiske was the top defensive lineman in the transfer portal after deciding to leave Western Michigan.
Braden Fiske was the top defensive lineman in the transfer portal after deciding to leave Western Michigan. [ CARLOS OSORIO | AP (2021) ]

FSU’s transfers cited several other reasons for their decision, from getting closer to home to how the staff recruited them. At least three said Norvell was either the first or among the first head coaches to reach out.

“When you hit the portal, and you’re just sitting there waiting, and then your first phone call is Mike Norvell,” Byers said, “you’re like, ‘OK, now it’s real.’”

The biggest overarching reason isn’t individual. It’s collective. The established transfers helped create a foundation for success — which goes against the old idea that transfers are mercenaries focused on themselves, not the team.

The Seminoles can point to two clear counterexamples. When offensive lineman Jazston Turnetine hurt his leg in the bowl game, almost every teammate went to support him as he was carted off the field. Turnetine spent only one year at FSU after transferring from South Carolina.

Florida State players wish offensive lineman Jazston Turnetine well after the South Carolina transfer injured his leg against Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl.
Florida State players wish offensive lineman Jazston Turnetine well after the South Carolina transfer injured his leg against Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP (2022) ]

As offensive coordinator Alex Atkins recruited Jones, he said the offensive linemen all fist bump each other every play. Jones watched the film and, sure enough, saw a line — split between transfers and high school signees — showing their camaraderie through knuckle taps before every snap.

“To see that and to understand the symbolism behind that and what that means to everybody in that room, it’s special,” Jones said.

And, with everything else, it has made FSU a premier destination for top talent looking to win big before their college careers end.

“I can tell this is a championship program,” Fiske said. “I had never been a part of something like this — the way guys hold each other accountable, the way seniors and leaders on the team are outspoken…

“That’s how you build a championship culture. They’ve got it here.”

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