Over the next month, Seminole assistant coaches will visit each and every high school in the state of Florida. The staff will barely have time to exhale, as it must also cover its out-of-state responsibilities as well.
It's a process that combines tact with patience, energy with endurance.
John Lilly has headed the Seminoles' recruiting efforts since 1998. While he has continued the program's success level in the recruiting arena, he also realizes FSU can't afford to lose its grip, especially here in Florida.
The Miami Hurricanes have reemerged and are defending national champions. Florida has an aggressive new coach in Ron Zook. Atlantic Coast Conference schools, mainly Maryland and North Carolina State, make it a point to spend quality time in the Sunshine State. Lilly also will run across assistant coaches, as well as some head coaches, from the Big 10, Big East and even the Big 12.
Lilly said FSU hopes to again sign up to 22 recruits next February. Immediate concerns include the offensive line and secondary, though Lilly admits the Seminoles' approach hasn't changed over the years. FSU wants to be involved -- and usually is -- with the nation's top prospects, positions aside.
In Miami Friday with fellow Seminole assistant coach Jimmy Heggins for a high school coaches clinic, Lilly arrives back in Tallahassee Sunday morning. He might not even have time to squeeze in his daily jog, heading back out to Los Angeles Sunday evening. Next week, Lilly will visit around 30 schools in California, Texas and Florida -- he flies into West Palm Beach Thursday night.
"This is an important time," Lilly said.
"You get four weeks, as the (NCAA) rule is worded. You can go Monday though Saturday, no Sundays or Memorial Day weekend. You could go out as early as April 15, but it's more advantageous for us here in (Florida) particularly to go out for these four straight weeks because, for the most part, that's when everybody is practicing in the state of Florida, which is our priority anyway."
FSU can send out seven assistant coaches each week. Two must stay behind in accordance to NCAA rules. Coach Bobby Bowden is not included in the equation, since he's involved with his spring booster tour and is considered the nation's top recruiting closer anyway. Here's a breakdown of the coaches' responsibilities
Mickey Andrews -- Panhandle. "Next week he will probably be in Alabama and Mississippi a little bit," Lilly said.
Jeff Bowden -- Tallahassee area
Jody Allen -- From Madison County east to I-75 and south into Gainesville.
Joe Kines -- Jacksonville area, down to St. Augustine.
Billy Sexton -- Orlando and Daytona.
Odell Haggins -- Polk County down to Naples
John Lilly -- Broward County and Palm Beach
Jimmy Heggins -- Dade County
Daryl Dickey -- Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota.
Each assistant coach also has out-of-state responsibilities. Heggins covers Louisiana, Andrews Alabama and Mississippi. Haggins, Kines, Allen and Sexton each cover different areas in Georgia. Allen doubles as the junior-college lead. Sexton is also responsible for South Carolina. Dickey eyeballs selected quarterbacks across the country, as well as recruits in Tennessee. Lilly plans to visit Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia in two weeks.
It goes without saying that this is an extremely busy time for FSU's staff. It's about nurturing relationships and building new ones.
"Really, I don't know how they ever recruited before cell phones because there is a lot of communication that goes on," Lilly said and laughed. "I think I have 65 (schools) in Florida. I like to take two weeks to do it but it might take another day or two over that but it all depends on how much you can cover and how well you can organize it. And you know never know that certain things may end up happening that puts you behind or puts you a head, for that matter.
"I think most years I am in probably 90-some schools in a month, something like that. It's actually probably somewhere around 100 and that's in four weeks. The thing is when you go out of state, you spot recruit a little bit more. It probably, in some ways, it keeps you from forming those relationships with (coaching) staffs and school personnel and all that and even with the kids from the standpoint that they see you in there every year. Most of the time you are going where there is a player. But that makes it a little more exciting, too, because every time you stop when you are out of state you are going into a school that has somebody."
Lilly's recruiting board has more than 300 names on it at the moment. That number expects to fluctuate, much like the Stock Market, over the next month. It's believed FSU has more than 50 scholarship offers out at the moment, and one verbal commitment -- defensive end Chauncey Davis, who originally signed with FSU in 2001.
However, Davis, from Auburndale, failed to qualify out of high school and enrolled at Jones Junior College. As a freshman, Davis was forced to play out of position at linebacker but still he had 65 tackles. He's expected to move back to defensive end his sophomore year. Davis is on track to receive his AA degree in December of 2002.
"As spring recruiting develops, you are adding and subtracting from your board and your list," Lilly said. "Some guys on there you will see him and well, he's not going to be a guy we are going to pursue. And then there are other guys you never heard of that -- I can guarantee there are guys we haven't even heard of yet that we will sign in February. That's just the way it always works. We will either find him now or all of a sudden he will have a senior year somewhere and kind of come out of nowhere."
Part II on Sunday: Lilly talks about recruiting against Miami, what he expects from Zook's new staff at Florida and his approach this summer.