Whether by plane, by car or by video chats on his cell phone, Mike Norvell has been tirelessly traveling the recruiting trail ever since he arrived at Florida State 10 days ago.
It began on the night of Dec. 8, just a few hours after Norvell agreed to become the Seminoles’ 11th full-time head coach. And it culminated on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period, when Norvell and his staff welcomed the type of signing class that, as recently as two or three weeks ago, seemed improbable. Maybe even impossible, given the upheaval in the FSU football program during the month of November.
Even better, as Norvell was quick to remind on Wednesday afternoon, they’re just getting started. He’s thrilled with the 17 newest Seminoles, and he expects a few more to join the fray between now and the end of the early signing period on Friday. And Norvell and staff will quickly get back to work on any undecided prospects in advance of the traditional National Signing Day in February.
Still, by Wednesday afternoon, Norvell had at least a few moments to exhale and reflect on what he and his staff had put together.
“Obviously we’re very excited,” Norvell said. “There are some key positions that we’re going to look at here for the second signing period. There will be some additions here probably in the next couple days as well.
“But I could not be more pleased with what we were able to get done here in such a short period of time.”
As of Wednesday evening, when Louisville defensive end transfer Jarrett Jackson made the surprise announcement that he’d be joining the Seminoles, that group consisted of 17 players – all of which addressed a position of need.
There were two quarterbacks – the first two prep quarterbacks to sign with FSU in three years – a running back, three receivers, a tight end and two offensive linemen. On the other side, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller bolstered his ranks with three defensive ends, a big defensive tackle, two linebackers and two defensive backs.
The Seminoles even added their first signee from another hemisphere when Alex Mastromanno, a punter from Melbourne, Australia, joined the mix.
Every major media outlet ranked Norvell’s first signing class at FSU among the top 25 in the country, and there’s still time to climb.
Seeing as Norvell had exactly 10 days to learn the landscape, make connections with FSU’s previous verbal commitments and new targets alike, and then convey his vision for the future, there may not have been a more impressive effort in the country.
Noting the additions of top quarterback prospects Chubba Purdy and Tate Rodemaker, as well as the way Norvell held on to previous pledges Bryan Robinson and Josh Griffis, ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren included Florida State in his list of Signing Day “winners.”
“It shows the strength of what we represent,” Norvell said. “The university, the community, the current players that we have that hosted these young men and talked about the experience.
“Then it also shows the belief in what’s to come. Because I can promise you … if they didn’t feel a connection, if they didn’t feel like this staff was going to help fulfill their goals and dreams, then that would have changed.”
All true. But it also shows a relentless effort from Norvell, as well as assistants Fuller, Kenny Dillingham, Odell Haggins and Ron Dugans, among others, to make it happen.
From Day 1, everyone in Norvell’s orbit had one chief task: Get Florida State’s new head coach in front of as many prospects as they could.
Sometimes that was at a high school. Sometimes in a living room. And sometimes, when he was on the go, a video chat had to suffice.
On most days, the alarm clock went off before dawn and the day didn’t end until after midnight. Norvell and his traveling companions rarely went to sleep in the city where they woke up.
And when Norvell had a prospect’s attention, he had to make the most of it. In some cases, he had a few hours to work against relationships with other schools that spanned years.
“There’s not enough time to give a recruiting speech when you have 10 days,” Norvell said. “So all I try to do is just put my heart out there on the table, tell these young men why I do what I do, the importance of their opportunity and how we see them within this program.
“And I believe that it allows us to build a foundation to what’s going to be there for their future.”
Safe to say the message got through.
Not only did Norvell hang on to top prospects such as Demorie Tate and Bryan Robinson – despite heavy overtures from other suitors – but he also lured perhaps the two most important additions to his class away from other schools.
Purdy, an Arizona native, had been verbally committed to Louisville since June, but, following an official visit just last weekend, flipped to Florida State.
Same goes for Rodemaker, previously pledged to USF before Norvell convinced him to spend his collegiate career a little further north.
For Florida State fans and media still getting to know Norvell, that kind of pull might come as a bit of a surprise.
But for those who have worked with him before, it was nothing new.
“Your head coach is your front porch,” said Fuller, Norvell’s defensive coordinator at Memphis this season. “So for us to have Mike in place for that last week was critical.
“And it’s so delicate, this recruiting process. You lose one day, or even one hour, and maybe you lose one commitment. And you never know how that ends up playing three or four years down the road. … Mike knows how to do it.”
Dugans, who had known Norvell for only a few hours before heading out on the road with him, came away with a similar impression.
“The thing that got me, when he first talked to the staff, was just his honesty. I loved that about him,” Dugans said. “Then, getting out on the road with him, and seeing him in living rooms, he was honest with parents. … And you respect that. That’s what I liked.
“He’s been really good.”
And that’s really good news for the Seminoles, who can count this group of signees as an emphatic first step on their road back to national prominence.
They’re not finished. Norvell made that clear. But they’ve certainly started.
“It’s a great day,” Norvell said. “It’s been an incredible last-week-and-change, having been able to get into a lot of homes, obviously a lot of high schools, being able to have the opportunity to spread the vision of Florida State football. The vision of not only where we are, but where we’re going.”
FSU’s 2020 signing class (high school signing class, through Dec. 19)
Carter Boatwright TE 6-4 227 Moultrie, Ga. Colquitt County HS
Stephen Dix Jr. LB 6-2 210 Orlando, Fla. Dr. Phillips HS
Ja’Khi Douglas WR 5-9 187 Houma, La. Terrebonne HS
Jadarius Green-McKnight DB 5-11 204 Fort Myers, Fla. Dunbar HS
Josh Griffis DE 6-4 236 Starke, Fla. IMG Academy
Zane Herring OL 6-5 300 Lee, Fla. Madison County HS
Jarrett Jackson DE 6-6 281 Riviera Beach, Fla. P.B. Gardens HS/ Louisville
Alex Mastromanno P 6-3 215 Melbourne, Australia Brighton Grammar
Jayion McCluster LB 6-1 206 Largo, Fla. Largo HS
Kentron Poitier WR 6-3 200 Miami, Fla. Miami Palmetto HS
Chubba Purdy QB 6-2 210 Gilbert, Ariz. Perry HS
Bryan Robinson WR 6-1 185 West Palm Beach, Fla. Palm Beach Central HS
Tate Rodemaker QB 6-4 190 Valdosta, Ga. Valdosta HS
Manny Rogers DT 6-5 329 Sewalls Point, Fla. Jensen Beach HS
Thomas Shrader OL 6-5 283 Venice, Fla. Venice HS
Demorie Tate DB 6-1 189 Orlando, Fla. Freedom HS
Lawrance Toafili RB 6-0 180 Pinellas Park, Fla. Pinellas Park HS
Lloyd Willis OL 6-7 310 Miami, Fla. Killian HS