Recruiting Road Map: Part II

Florida has a new coaching staff in Ron Zook and Co. The 'Canes are defending national champions under second-year head coach Larry Coker. Spring is in the air. How does all this impact FSU recruiting? "At this time of year you run into guys and it's all fairly friendly for the most part," FSU recruiting coordinator John Lilly said. "It's December and January when you think somebody said this about you or they think you said this about them, it gets a little more tense."

Florida State is noted for its strong finishes on national signing day. Really, does anybody do it better than the Seminoles, who this past February signed Lorenzo Booker, Pat Watkins and Leon Washington in the final 24 hours?

But, as everyone knows, the recruiting clock really never stops ticking.

Recruiting coordinator John Lilly left for California today as the Seminoles continue their evaluations of recruits. During the next four weeks, Lilly and FSU assistants will visit every high school in the state of Florida.

The staff, as well, will also take care of its out-of-state responsibilities. Lilly, for example, starts in L.A. on Monday, flies to Dallas Tuesday night and ends the week in West Palm Beach Thursday evening. He's back in the air to Maryland the following week as FSU has 10 months to prepare for national signing day 2003 style.

As Lilly goes about his business, the Seminoles' rivals -- namely Florida and Miami -- also pounding the recruiting trail. Of course, the Gators have a new coaching staff in Ron Zook and Co. The Hurricanes are defending national champions under second-year coach Larry Coker.

UF's 20-man signing class last February under the freshly-hired Zook featured seven out-of-state players (four from Georgia and one each from Ohio, Virginia and New Jersey) and 13 in-state players, highlight by four from Miami, three from Jacksonville and individual players from Tallahassee, Fort Meade, Estero, Clermont, Belle Glade and New Smyrna Beach.

A major focus for UM, meanwhile, was the secondary, where the Hurricanes lost all of their starters from last season, and wide receiver. Coker signed five players at each position. The Hurricanes, according to BorderWars, signed the nation's third-ranked class -- FSU was fifth.

Additionally, the Hurricanes' depth will be tested due to heavy NFL draft losses. UM had 18 players taken in the 2001 and 2002 NFL drafts. That two-year total ties for the second-highest amount all-time for any college football program, one behind the mark of 19 set by UM in 1987-88 and Southern California in 1968-69 and 1973-74. The Hurricane's total matches USC's 1980-81 total of 18 draft picks. From 1987 to 2002, UM has had 56 players selected during the first three rounds of the draft. FSU is next at 51 and UF is fifth at 38.

NEW REGIME

Of course, FSU always has its eye on the Gators.

Tyke Tolbert joined Zook's staff as an offensive assistant coach and soon was given the additional duties as recruiting coordinator. Tolbert, who was wide receiver coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Louisiana -Lafayette from l999-2001, will coach the tight ends at Florida. He has been a collegiate coach since l994, and played wide receiver at LSU from l986-l990.

Lilly says it's too early to accurately forecast the Gators' recruiting impact in Florida under Zook. He also anticipates a professional relationship between the two staffs.

"I don't think we really know yet because we haven't gone through a whole cycle of it. The thing you don't really know. ... I think this time of year everyone is a little bit more buddies than they (normally) are because you don't know who you are competing with on a kid for the most part," Lilly said. "There might be a few that you have an idea of who it's going to be end up being, but for the most part you really don't know.

"At this time of year you run into guys and it's all fairly friendly for the most part. It's December and January when you think somebody said this about you or they think you said this about them, it gets a little more tense. Even (in Miami), that's the one thing, they dipped down here and got several players at the end last year. And I think that's probably an area that if the old staff (under Steve Spurrier) had been there I don't know if they would have signed all those same guys. I don't know how hard they focused in this area. I think the new staff is going to focus a little harder here."

Lilly also believes the Seminoles' past recruiting success in Florida and beyond will continue to benefit FSU in individual player battles with the Gators.

"The last few years the way it has worked out we just haven't run into them (Gators) that much on guys," Lilly said. "There has been one or two guys every year and fortunately we've been winning 'em when it has come down to us and them for the most part, though they've beaten us on a couple. It remains to be seen."

Although Zook and his staff got off to an awfully late start, Zook stressed it did not deter UF from calling on many players that were on the original recruiting board and even some that were new additions. "When you are at the University of Florida you don't have to talk about damage control," Zook said last national signing day.

UF fans also like to point out that UF was able to bring a number of players in for late visits after they had verbally committed to other schools, and turned a handful including Estero offensive lineman Randy Hand (Virginia), Coral Gables defensive end Steve Harris (Missouri), Richmond (Va.) Benedictine quarterback Patrick Dosh (Virginia Tech) and Jacksonville First Coast receiver Reggie Lewis (LSU).

FORMIDABLE FOE

While FSU-UF tug-of-wars for recruits have quieted in recent years, Lilly says FSU-UM skirmishes continue to be fierce and frequent.

"Miami, most definitely," Lilly said.

" In some ways it's a good thing. When you get in there on a kid and it's, 'Okay who is your top five?' and he says, 'Well, it's you (FSU), Miami and Tennessee and Georgia and whoever else.' You are on the right guy. Those are the usual suspects, those are the ones you compete against every year.

"I don't think it's any mistake if you look at the top five in America or the top 10 in America every year in the polls when the games start being played, that all the same schools are there that you are competing against all the time. Shoot, you are all going to recruit the best guy. If you think a guy is pretty good and nobody else is recruiting him you start to question your own evaluation a little bit. And you have to go back and look at it again and see if maybe you just got one that slid under everybody else's radar."

Coker, naturally, was pleased with the Hurricanes' 2002 recruiting class, saying, "the kids we wanted to get we pretty much got. Our coaches have done a tremendous job evaluating and we got pretty much the class that we wanted. We feel we have a very strong class."

PART III: Lilly talks about the Seminoles' summer plans and local high school coaches and recruits talk about FSU's recruiting approach.


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