As a visitor approaching the Moore Athletic Center's main entrance on the campus of Florida State, you stop to marvel at the statue of a man dressed in Seminoles apparel, with a headset in his left hand and his right arm pointing, as if he is telling a referee to watch the holding by the left guard on the opposing team. That man is Bobby Bowden, the coach with the most career victories in major college football.
You begin to think about Bowden's legacy: raised in Alabama, a coaching career that matured at West Virginia University and a national powerhouse built at Florida State. He has been coaching for more than five decades. His once-formidable teams have had consecutive 7-6 seasons and some wonder if the game has passed him by. You ask yourself: Can he still do it?
If you knew the man who walked the practice fields every morning to stay in shape, prayed to keep his health and was as mentally sharp as the tip of the spearpoint logo on the side of Florida State's helmets, then you would answer your own question with a resounding, Yes!
After entering the center, you survey the impressive trophy display in the atrium. There are national championship trophies; pictures of all-Americans and academic all-Americans; banners and plaques representing achievements in a variety of sports; and artifacts from the Seminole tribe. You start to realize this university in Tallahassee has some athletic prowess. Your mind goes back to football as two hulking offensive linemen pass you in the foyer. The players-only door is opened for you. To your left is the training room, where a few players are having their ankles taped by the head athletic trainer, Randy Oravetz, and his staff in preparation for practice. Players wait in line and are taped according to seniority.
Despite lingering injuries, the players are healthy and ready to contribute; suspensions carried over from last year will keep a few starters out of action for the first three games. Florida State will look to its freshman class for help. Standing in the back of the line, waiting to be taped, is a freshman who expects to contribute this season: the hard-hitting linebacker Nigel Bradham, who is poised, mature and talented.
You exit the training room and walk down the corridor. To your right, you notice a state-of-the-art weight room, which is run by Todd Stroud, the strength and conditioning coach. Defensive end Everette Brown is finishing a set of power cleans effortlessly. The starting defensive tackles Budd Thacker and Paul Griffin are each on a bench press, attacking 500 pounds as if the weight had upset them. The dynamic and explosive receiver Preston Parker is concluding his workout; he is among 17 players who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds or less during testing this summer. That is a fast team!
Straight ahead, a player leaves the door open long enough to allow you to sneak in without entering the access code. The door leads to the locker room — your true destination. You walk past the lounge where players congregate to watch highlight tapes of former Seminoles teams: Samari Rolle picks off a pass in the end zone; Warrick Dunn catches a pass from Charlie Ward and tiptoes down the Florida sideline for a score; Marvin Jones de-cleats a Miami wide receiver. The plays roll and the current players, especially the freshmen, stare at the screen in awe.
As you walk into the locker room — and avoid stepping on the logo of the Seminole head in the center of the floor — you notice a positive vibe among team members. You observe the talented linebacker Toddrick Verdell laughing with Zach Aronson, a walk-on long snapper. Offensive players are meshing with defensive players. Upperclassmen invite freshmen out to eat after practice. Players from Florida are learning about New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia high school football from those who hail from out of state. You observe a team that is not broken into factions. You see a group of young men who have been doubted and cast off by many critics coming together as one — on and off the field. You draw the conclusion that Florida State is primed for a better year. Then the whistle blows, followed by a shout: "Period 1. Time to take back Saturdays!"