They honeymoon period for coaches can be intoxicating, particularly on the recruiting trail.
Some first- and second-year head coaches, however, fail to take advantage of the honeymoon, when everything is bright and shiny, positive and hopeful. They focus too much on winning immediately on the field, ignoring the opportunities on the trail by simply tilling the fertile recruiting soil. Three years later, they’re standing on dry land blaming the sky and everyone around them for the lack of crops.
That’s not happening at Florida State, where recruiting should be easier for the Seminoles than most programs. Tallahassee is within driving distance of some of the deepest recruiting beds in the country, and with national championships and incredible traditions to sell to high schoolers, top-10 classes should not be a fleeting accomplishment.
Enter Mike Norvell, who could have easily stumbled out of the gates in the wake of the Willie Taggart era. After all, recruiting for a struggling program amid a pandemic could be a non-starter when cold-calling top-tier talent on the trail (especially with coaches not allowed to visit players or for those players to visit campus due to COVID-19 protocols).
Norvell’s first full class ranked 23rd nationally in the 2021 rankings, just weeks after a 3-6 debut season. It wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t great. If anything, it was similar to the last few cycles: No. 18 in 2019, No. 22 in 2020. As the 2022 class heats up, it seems the fun is about to begin for the Seminoles.
It’s early yet, sure, but the Noles’ 2022 recruiting class sits at No. 9 nationally and No. 1 in the ACC in the 247Sports Composite. They have two 5-star talents in the fold including athlete Sam McCall, who committed Sunday to FSU over rival Florida. Cornerback pledge Travis Hunter is a sure-fire top-5 prospect who analysts say could be the No. 1 receiver prospect, if he decides to focus on the position. The combination of Hunter and McCall alone has program-changing potential.
There is promise the top-10 ranking will hold through December. After all, the Noles have the least amount of commitments (six) among teams ranked in the top 10. There is room to grow.
“Norvell has made strides to overhaul a culture that was corroding since the end of the Jimbo Fisher Era, and he did this swiftly,” says Brendan Sonnone, Noles247 analyst. “Then he found success in the transfer portal the last few months to raise the floor of the program for 2021. And now he’s putting together a damn good class that features a couple of special talents, most notably 5-star cornerback/wide receiver and class bellcow Travis Hunter.
“… Evaluating has been sharp, coaches have worked well to recruit as a team with specific recruits, and the staff has invested its time in pursuing attainable players rather than chasing recruits out of their league. It’s been an organized, efficient approach based on establishing relationships remotely while being realistic with who to pursue.”
A necessary caveat is early positivity like this is a rite of passage each spring, and the results must reflect progress on the football field or things can come crashing down (just ask Tennessee). However, should FSU continue its run on the trail this year and beyond, the Seminoles will be in striking distance of ACC contention again. More importantly, Norvell will have FSU back on the national stage. Top-10 classes are all but a requirement to win titles.
No program has won a national championship without signing at least one top 10 recruiting class in the four years leading up to and including their appearance in the national championship game since the beginning of the 247Sports Composite in 2001. Only two of the 15 programs to play in the national championship game since 2001 signed classes outside the top 10 (Ohio State and Oregon), and both failed to win championships in those four combined appearances.
The 2022 class could — and should — be the program’s first step back to national relevancy.
Brandon Marcello is a national college football reporter for 247Sports. You can follow him on Twitter (@bmarcello).