FSU tries to refocus recruiting base

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2008

Crawfordville Wakulla standout linebacker Nigel Bradham had heard early and often during the recruiting process about what would happen if he signed with the school he had always wanted to attend.

"People would say, 'Florida State's going to play those out-of-state guys,'" he said.

The rest of that message for him and other Floridians was implied: Don't go there. He didn't buy that. He knew the Seminoles have long focused on homegrown talent first, followed by prospects a short drive away in Georgia.

But as Bobby Bowden's program enjoyed unparalleled success year after year, the coach and his assistants extended their recruiting territory far beyond their traditional and talent-rich base.

"You start getting good and the next thing you know, a kid up in New York wants to come here and then there's a kid out in California who wants to come here and there's a kid in Denver and they're pretty doggone good," Bowden said recently. "So, you end up going to get those guys and you end up with a lot of them."

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Unless the loyalty of the high school players and coaches in your back yard begins to erode until, suddenly, it costs you enough top-shelf homegrown talent that it rocks your foundation. Consider what's happening of late in Tallahassee:

- In 2002, 14 of the 22 signees listed in the team's media guide hailed from Florida, including future NFL draft picks defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley out of Chamberlain, receiver Chris Davis from St. Petersburg Catholic, tailback Leon Washington, safety Pat Watkins and linebacker Buster Davis. Four others were from Georgia.

- In 2007, 10 of the 19 newcomers were from Florida, including starting guard Rodney Hudson and linebacker Kendall Smith. Two others are from Georgia.

"We've talked to our coaches, 'Let's concentrate more on Florida. Let's concentrate more on Georgia,'" Bowden said.

They've gotten that message. Eleven of FSU's 20 commitments are from Florida, including Bradham, FSU's lone Rivals.com five-star prospect so far, linebacker Vincent Williams Davenport Ridge, defensive lineman Moses McCray (Hillsborough), linebacker Nigel Carr and receiver Avis Commack (Jacksonville First Coast) and defensive back Travis Arnold (Madison County). Defensive back Terrance Parks, who with Bradham and Williams already is enrolled at FSU, is from Georgia.

The Seminoles aren't ignoring players beyond the state line; some headliners who are expected to be part of a top 5 class include quarterback E.J. Manuel (Virginia), receiver Corey Surrency (California), linebacker Nick Moody (Pennsylvania) and offensive lineman Zebrie Sanders (Ohio).

"I know with this staff that was brought in, we want to make sure we want to take care of home before we go out of state," said Lawrence Dawsey, who had been working at USF since 2004 before joining the Seminoles last year in a staff overhaul. "I don't want to get into the past. ... I just know if I've got a guy just as equal in state as a guy of out state, I'm going to go with the in-state guy."

Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report. Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.