By BJ Bennett
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It's FSU, not recent national champions Alabama or Auburn or traditional leader Southern Cal, with the nation's top recruiting class.
When Jimbo Fisher was introduced as the head football coach at Florida State, replacing the legendary Bobby Bowden, his goal was to restore the program to where it was at the height of his predecessor's tenure. Fisher took the job with a full understanding of the expectation level in Tallahassee and the legacy that stood before him.
"There is such a great desire to be successful here. That feeling is shared by our family, our student body, our alumni, our players and the ex-coaches that have made it that way," he explained.
With the Seminoles having lost 11 regular season games the two years prior, Fisher's immediate plan was to make FSU, not Florida or Miami, the destination, the national program it long was once again. Step one was winning football games. His inaugural team did that, winning the ACC Atlantic Division and earning ten wins for the first time since 2003 with a 26-17 victory over SEC East champion South Carolina in the Chic-fil-A Bowl.
"This is just the beginning..." a jubilant Fisher exclaimed in the post-game celebration.
As we near the close of the month of January, his words have proved quite prophetic.
The storyline of the 2011 recruiting season to date has been the resurgence of the Seminoles.
It's FSU, not recent national champions Alabama or Auburn or traditional leader Southern Cal, with the nation's top class. The 'Noles have eleven of the top 150 players nationally currently committed per ESPN.com. With the recent addition of blue-chip, in-state tight end Nick O'Leary, Fisher has incredible momentum heading into National Signing Day.
Of the top seven Sunshine State prospects per Rivals.com, Florida State currently has three commitments and may soon get a fourth in St. Augustine linebacker Tony Steward. Florida has zero, Miami the same. The Seminoles have taken full advantage of the coaching transitions of their foes and are using a deft mix of circumstance and aggressiveness to be on par to sign their best class in recent memory.
"They just outwork everyone," ESPN.com recruiting analyst Corey Clark said on ESPN Radio Coastal Georgia earlier this week.
Five stars James Wilder, Jr. and Karlos Williams currently highlight the class at tailback and safety respectively. The Seminoles have found success, under Fisher, in areas where they have often been outrecruited by rivals. Wilder is from Tampa, O'Leary, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, lineman Bobby Hart and running back Devonta Freeman, among others, are from south Florida. Tackle Derrick Mitchell is from Jacksonville.
From Fisher to assistants James Coley, Dameyune Craig, Lawrence Dawsey, D.J. Eliot, Eddie Gran, Odell Haggins, Greg Hudson, Mark Stoops and Rick Trickett, the staff has put together a class that could help elevate this program right back into the national spotlight. Early pre-season polls for 2011 have Florida State as a regular in the top ten. Signing the nation's top class would certainly further that sentiment.
Under Bowden, FSU was known for signing top-notch recruiting classes. The flurry normally came on National Signing Day, however. Fisher has flipped the script, with the 'Noles taking the lead into the home stretch.
"I have stated before, there are many approaches to doing things. I will have my own philosophies on things," he explained when hired. "I will do things in many different ways, but as long as the core values and principles don't change, to me, then tradition doesn't change."
The approach may be different, but Fisher is hoping the end results will ultimately become the same.