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Quote:FSU Loads Up On Linebackers

Published: Feb 9, 2005
Tampa Tribune

TALLAHASSEE - If everything broke Florida State's way on National Signing Day last week, linebackers coach Kevin Steele was riding the crest of the wave.

Already in command of a group of linebackers he said is the most talented he has ever coached, including his time with the Carolina Panthers in the NFL, Steele wore the look on signing day of a wealthy man who'd just won the lottery.

At least four and probably closer to a half-dozen linebackers on the 2004 team appear destined to play in the NFL. On top of that, Steele brought in four prep seniors who could become impact players in college and possibly beyond.

``We've been very fortunate to go out and convince what I think is the nation's best high school linebackers to come here,'' Steele said.

If it's good fortune, plenty of it coincided with Steele's arrival.

Ask anybody why FSU struggled in the seasons following its last BCS title game appearance and the response usually will include the names Chris Rix and Jeff Bowden, or both.

But one of the forgotten issues that played a significant role in the downturn was difficulty, or misfortune, in recruiting linebackers.

Between 1997-2001, FSU signed 16 linebackers, none of whom has, or is likely, to play that position in the NFL. Devaughn Darling, who died following an early-morning workout at FSU, probably would have been the exception.

Michael Boulware, originally recruited to FSU as a receiver, plays strong safety for the Seattle Seahawks.

Of the 16 signees, the ones who started at linebacker for FSU included Boulware, Darling, Bradley Jennings, Jerel Hudson, Kendyll Pope and Ray Piquion.

Steele said he didn't have a number in mind when the Seminoles recruited the four who signed last week. But he said there's no such thing as having too many.

``When you recruit the talent we have at the position, what winds up happening is you start having people come out early [to the NFL],'' Steele said. ``You want 'em to graduate, but the truth of the matter is when you got that much talent coming out early - if they stay healthy - is going to certainly be an option.

``It looks like we got a lot, but let's say Ernie Sims comes out early, and you lose [Sam] McGrew [to the NFL], and you lose [senior Marcello] Church and you lose [senior A.J.] Nicholson all in one year. You just can't have enough of them.''

Which might explain why Steele, despite the impressive haul on signing day, still may have been lamenting the one that got away. Highly regarded Pensacola linebacker Jon Demps wavered on an FSU commitment before signing with Florida.

Whether Demps was one who asked, Steele said he heard from many who wondered how they would fit in FSU's crowded depth chart at linebacker.

"The answer to every single one of them, `If you want to be the best, you better go play with the best,' '' Steele said. ``Because if you're going to a place where they don't have any linebackers, you're not going to play in the Rose Bowl next January. That's just a fact. I just don't see that happening.''

And does he believe the defensive talent on the board on signing day, including his latest group of incoming linebackers, means the 'Noles could wind up in Pasadena?

"Every [recruiting] class at this level is pretty good,'' Steele said. ``But when you line this one up you can legitimately say this is a class that has a core group in it that, if things unfold right, and we add to it as we go, can be a potential two, three national championship-caliber class.''
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