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FSU lands one of nation's top classes

Photo by Jon M. Fletcher

Photo by Jon M. Fletcher

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State loaded up with instate talent Wednesday on a signing day, reminiscent of the Seminoles' 1985 class that kick-started their unprecedented 14-year run of top five rankings and two national championships.

Second-year Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher landed 22 players from within the state's borders, mining South Florida for many of his top prospects including tight end Nick O'Leary from Palm Beach. The 6-4, 235-pound O'Leary, the grandson of golfing great Jack Nicklaus, is ranked the nation's top prospect at his position by most recruiting services.

"You talk about a throwback guy," Fisher said. "He may be as instinctive a guy as there is in the whole class. A complete football player and has tremendous ball skills."

Other highly ranked Florida State recruits at their position include safety Karlos Williams of Davenport, running back James Wilder, Jr., of Plant High School in Tampa and Lake City defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. The 220-pound Wilder's father is former Tampa Bay star James Wilder Sr. is the Buccaneers' all-time career rushing leader. He gives Fisher the big back he's been hunting since coming to Florida State four years ago as offensive coordinator.

Fisher plucked three recruits out of Miami high schools -- running back Devonta Freeman, linebacker Arrington Jenkins and offensive lineman Ruben Carter -- and four more prospects from Broward County, including three from perennial prep power St. Thomas Aquinas.

"We've got a lot of good connections down there," Fisher said of the Seminoles' recruiting success in archrival Miami's backyard. "We're going to concentrate on where the players are."

Florida State's class is ranked among the top three nationally by three noted recruiting rating services. It has generated as much excitment among Seminole boosters than the one former coach Bobby Bowden landed 26 years ago that included top 10 first-round NFL picks including defensive back Deion Sanders and running back Sammie Smith. The group also included future NFL quarterback P.T. Willis and a handful of top offensive linemen.

Fisher also went heavy again for offensive linemen.

Needing replacements for All American guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon, a four-year starter, the Seminoles signed eight offensive line prospects -- all who weigh more than 285 pounds.

"We wanted to get much bigger, but not lose athleticism," Fisher said. "We need numbers there, we need depth. I think there are some really quality guys in there."

Eight of the 29 new players signed Wednesday are already enrolled and will be with the team for spring workouts that begin next month, including 6-4, 320-pound Jake Fahrenkrug from Minneapolis, who transferred from the two-year North Dakota State College for Science at Wahpeton, N.D.

The other junior college player signed by the Seminoles is Cornelius "Tank" Carradine, a 6-5, 260-pound defensive end from Cincinnati who played at Butler (Kan.) Community College.

"Tank's as athletic as any end I've every been around," Fisher said. "Very freaky. He can be a really special guy."

But, like all signing days, it wasn't a total success for Fisher and his assistants.

Highly regarded St. Augustine linebacker Tony Steward opted for Atlantic Coast Conference rival Clemson, mindful of running back C.J. Spiller's decision five years ago that disappointed Seminole coaches.

"We wish him nothing but the best," a disappointed Fisher said. "He made a choice what's best for him. He's going to have a heckuva career at Clemson."

With EJ Manuel taking over Florida State's quarterbacking duties the next two seasons and two other scholarship players behind him, the only quarterback Fisher signed was 6-5, 210-pound Jacob Coker from St. Paul's Episcopal in Mobile, Ala. Coker will likely get a redshirt season.

The Seminoles return most of their starters from last year's 10-4 team that sandwiched season-ending wins over Southeastern Conference powers Florida and South Carolina around a loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game.

And they get a big early season test when they play an Oklahoma team Sept. 17 that is likely to be the nation's preseason top-ranked team.

"Do we have confidence that we know we can play with anybody in the country?" Fisher parroted a question. "I believe so. Now we have to go prove it."