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Choices galore, but is it too much?

10 Florida schools will have football in 2002. Coaches see enough players to go around.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


WINTER HAVEN -- By early September 2002, if all goes as planned, there will be 10 schools playing college football in Florida.

Some will be elite programs (Florida State, Florida and Miami), and others will be maturing as Division I-A teams (USF and UCF). Some will have established Division I-AA traditions (FAMU and B-CC), others will just be opening their locker rooms (Florida Atlantic and Florida International).

What it means is that approximately 900 young men will suit up that September, springing this concern: Considering the tradition of milking the state of its high school stars, can Florida provide the talent for 10 programs?

"I think we will see the day when there are six Division I-A schools, in this state and I'm talking about competitive I-A schools," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "It will take a while, but the state can handle it."

That is music to the ears of FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger, the former Miami coach who is saddled with the job of preparing the Owls for their opener against Cornell on Sept. 8, 2001.

"There is no problem, whatsoever," Schnellenberger said. "My calculations tell me that about 300 kids from Florida sign at Division I-A or I-AA schools every year, and the state schools take on about 80 of those. So that means 220 have had to leave, and that's totally unacceptable.

"Adding two or three more schools will give the opportunity for another 70 or 60 players to be able to get their college degree from a scholarship here in their home state. I think it's about time that our state school systems begin to address the needs of our best and brightest student-athletes and secure that they stay in the state."

UCF coach Mike Kruczek said that a quick review of Division I-A programs around the country shows a number of state players on their rosters. Those numbers, he said, are likely to reduce.

"I don't think you're going to see any major dropoff with the big schools, but you're going to see more of the state talent staying here rather than go across the border to play at a non-elite school," Kruczek said. "Where there wasn't an opportunity to stay home, there will be now."

Added South Florida coach Jim Leavitt: "I don't look at it from the perspective that we'll be keeping athletes from other schools, I'm just glad that programs in the state are giving a chance for more kids to get an education. There are some kids who can't go out of state and may not have had the chance to stay in state and get an education. In a few years, they will have a number of possibilities."

Truth be told, the elite programs likely will remain the elite programs. No one at UCF, USF, FAU or FIU believes he can cut into the recruiting territory of the Gators, Seminoles or Hurricanes. The majority of the state's blue chippers, at least for the first decade or so, still will likely sign with one of the big three.

Where a difference will be felt, however, is in what Kruczek refers to as the "second-tier players," who traditionally would be non-starters at the big three or have to play out of state or for less recognized programs.

"Think about this: Our level-three player might be better than a level-one player out of state," Kruczek said. "Our state schools are going to be able to get those level two or three players, and get them a quicker chance to play. We're going to have better players and work our way in."

For schools such as B-CC and FAMU, the perceived depletion of talent doesn't seem to apply. Rattlers coach Billy Joe has made a name of going after junior college transfers who, like his past three starting quarterbacks Oteman Sampson, Patrick Bonner and JuJuan Seider, all came from Florida anyway.

In Daytona, coach Alvin Wyatt said the Wildcats aren't even trying to infringe on the state's premier programs. He said B-CC recruits specific types of players who fit the option-oriented "Wyattbone" offense. He said there always will be a number of those players available.

"Our first priority is to recruit the athletes that want to attend Bethune," he said. "We do not recruit against the likes of FSU or Miami or Florida, or sometimes UCF. If they want them, they are going to get them. So we kind of look for the kid that's going to help our program."

Florida coach Steve Spurrier believes the state's elite are a long way away from being threatened by the upcoming programs.

"If one of the new schools beats us out in recruiting, then that will be a player who didn't think he could play at one of the big schools," Spurrier said. "We should not have trouble recruiting against those schools right now. Whether or not, someday we may or may not, I don't know."

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