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Column: Thankful and hopeful as we head to 2022

If I had to choose one word to describe how I feel as we bid 2021 adieu, it would be the word “hopeful,” which is a feeling I will carry, thankfully, into 2022.

There were so many unanswered questions in 2020, so much uncertainty acerbated by the Covid virus, and so little hope.

The virus affected our lives in unimaginable ways. Some of us lost loved ones. Kids couldn’t go to school. Offices were shuttered. The institutions we care about were impacted severely by lost revenues, the FSU Athletics Budget projecting a $15 million shortfall abated by draconian cuts, including coaches’ and administrators’ salaries.

There were other uncertainties as well. FSU had to break in a new football coach in 2020, begin the search for a new president, a new Seminole Booster CEO and a new Chairman of the Board of Trustees in 2021 and an athletics director in 2022.

Lots of uncertainty I am thankful is now behind us as we flip the calendar from 2021 to 2022.

Anxiety turns to hope

Michael Alford
Michael Alford helped increase the boosters’ donor base and will become FSU’s AD in January. (photo via FSU athletics)

If you were anxious about FSU and its sports programs in 2020, you weren’t alone. The Osceola was seriously concerned about the viability of Seminole sports moving forward — whether it could compete in the new world — and therefore were worried about the viability of The Osceola itself,  being so tied to FSU Sports.

As we approach New Year’s Eve 2021, I’m beaming with hope for both the Seminole Athletics program and the future of The Osceola. As FSU addresses each of our past concerns, Seminole fans are feeling more hopeful. And each day more are trusting Osceola to provide their coverage. And for that trust I’m thankful to each of you, our subscribers. 

I’m thankful for FSU Athletics Director David Coburn and past President John Thrasher for finding ways to balance the athletics budget without doing irreparable harm to Seminole Athletics. 

I’m thankful for all the donors who responded to the fundraising appeals of Seminole Boosters, which enabled Coburn to fund solutions. Thankful to the leadership of FSU’s coaches, who absorbed significant salary and budget cuts and produced top 15 results in the Learfield Directors Cup rather than bolting for lucrative offers from our competitors. 

I’m hopeful more FSU fans will step up as donors to provide the administration with the resources they need to compete with programs realizing $40 million-50 million per year more than FSU from SEC and Big Ten Network contracts.

I’m thankful Comcast finally signed on to carry the ACC Network, which is good for those fans whose cable is provided by Comcast. I’m thankful the ACC Network now has 90 million households, which is similar to the SEC Network. What I’m anxious to see is how many eyeballs are watching SEC sports compared to ACC. I have an idea the eyeball count will be much greater in the college-sports-centric south versus the pro-centric north. From what I’ve been told eyeballs, not households, drive advertising revenues, which in turn drives money paid to the schools. 

There’s no question, Comcast coming aboard will generate more revenue, I’m just not sure how much more yet. I’m thankful they’re on board and hopeful the advertising revenue will close the revenue gap for the teams.

I’m thankful incoming President Richard McCullough and incoming BOT Chair Peter Collins chose to hire Michael Alford to be FSU’s next athletic director, a post he held for three years at Central Michigan prior to coming to FSU. 

While I’m thankful for the leadership we enjoyed in 2021, I’m hopeful the leadership will improve and be able to take the hard-fought wins to an even higher level. 

Thankful, hopeful for Norvell 

Mike Norvell
(photo by Mike Olivella)

I’m thankful for the resilient leadership of Mike Norvell, who withstood never-before-experienced hardships by a first-year head coach and tenaciously worked to improve the culture of a football team.

I’m thankful for the unselfishness of Norvell, who volunteered to take a much-larger salary reduction so his assistants would not have to. I believe that move by Norvell held the staff together, which allowed the change in culture to happen quicker.

I’m thankful Norvell and his staff have an eye for evaluating players and making good roster management decisions, assisting dozens of players to transfer out and the right players to transfer in.

I’m thankful Coburn, Norvell and the Sports Information department found a way to allow members of the working media to report on practices in 2021 so we can be a reliable conduit of information about the program to you. 

I’m thankful we were able to interview players in person, rather than by Zoom, so our readers can see the culture change that’s occurring as you see and hear from impressive individuals like Jermaine Johnson, Jordan Travis, Dillan Gibbons, Amari Gainer and so many others. 

I’m thankful for the leaders the portal has provided in Travis, Johnson, Gibbons, Devontay Love Taylor, Jashuan Corbin, Jammie Robinson, Fabien Lovett and Keir Thomas. Their leadership helped create the work-oriented, team culture Norvell is developing.

Going into the 2021 football season, I hoped to see one improvement: That the team would fight and not quit. I’m thankful to say this team fought and never quit and, for that alone, this 5-7 team was loved by its fans. I’m so thankful this team has eliminated most of the boneheaded penalties and selfish plays. I’m thankful they’ve become a team we want to cheer for. And because of those improvements, FSU was able to come from behind to beat arch-rival Miami. 

I’m hopeful what we saw in 2021 is what we can expect to see in 2022 and beyond. I’m hopeful the freshmen and sophomores, who comprised 80 percent of the 2021 roster, will develop in the offseason under strength coach Josh Storms tutelage and perform at a higher level in 2022.  

I’m thankful Norvell is able to sign more four- and five-star players in the 2022 class than in the 2021 class, in spite of a fourth consecutive losing season. I’m hopeful the 15 high school prospects he signed in the early signing period and the additional signees in February will make FSU a more competitive team in 2022 and down the road. 

I’m thankful FSU has addressed needs on the offensive line, with perhaps the best-ever group of linemen, including five preps and two promising portal transfers. I’m thankful they have also addressed needs at receiver with two former 4-star portal transfers.  

I’m hopeful FSU can go to the portal for a quarterback, linebacker and pass-rushing defensive end. 

I’m hopeful development of the existing players, combined with some talented incoming players, will help FSU find the points necessary to overcome single digit losses in 2021.  

Thankful for so many coaches who are leaders

Lonni Alameda and FSU made a run to the Women’s CWS title game and returned home to greet fans. (photo by Bob Ferrante)

In addition to having a leader like Norvell, we’re thankful to be able to cover a program with coaches like Leonard Hamilton and Sue Semrau, who find balance in the hyper-competitive sport of basketball. On the verge of induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, Hamilton boasts an un-heard-of graduation rate (above 95 percent) while winning ACC championships and making deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. And how many college coaches would take a sabbatical to take care of their mother, who was struggling with cancer?

I’m hopeful both of these coaches will do their magic and their teams will gel in time for post season play.

I’m thankful for our women’s sports programs and the leadership of coaches like Mark Krikorian (soccer) and Lonni Alameda (softball). Krikorian won the national championship this past month, his third national title in the last five years, advancing his program into the dynasty conversation. I’m thankful to have travelled to Oklahoma City to see Alameda’s softball team advance to the national title game. Alameda, who won a national title in 2018, was a couple of outs from winning her second title this past June against the home-favorite Oklahoma team. I’m thankful those two coaches have rejected overtures for more salary and more budget to stay at Florida State. 

I’m thankful to have walked the first NCAA Golf Tournament ever to be played in Tallahassee and to enjoy watching consensus player of the year Jon Pak complete his career as a Seminole. The tournament was played on FSU’s recently redesigned Seminole Legacy Golf Club.

I’m feeling thankful we are enjoying championship level play in 2021 that leans heavily into decisions made 25 or more years ago. Former Athletic Director Dave Hart had the vision to enhance the athletic facilities and convinced the Seminole Booster Board to embark on the program’s first ever capital campaign, which funded the soccer/softball complex, numerous other Olympic sports venues and make enhancements to Doak Campbell Stadium.

I’m thankful The Osceola was able to walk the first-ever NCAA National Championship Cross Country meet in Tallahassee this year on a piece of land that was a collaboration of the city, county and FSU to develop the premier cross-country course in the nation.

Thankful for Coach Bowden’s light and hope

Bobby Bowden
We all lost a buddy in August. (photo via FSU athletics)

While 2021 also marked the passing of our beloved Bobby Bowden, I’m so thankful his passing was on his terms, peaceful because of his abiding faith. I’m thankful for all the lives he touched, who returned to pay their heartfelt appreciation and respect. I’m so thankful to have been able to spend so much time with those players while they were grieving and reminiscing on lessons learned during the Dynasty, a 14-year stretch of seasons in which the Seminoles won 10 or more games and finished in the top four. I’m both thankful and hopeful that all those players who shine the light Bobby Bowden lit in them will continue to shine it on the people they now influence.

I’m thankful for the success of those years but more thankful for the journey or, as Mike Norvell would say, the Climb. I’m hopeful that the progress I am seeing and the hope I am feeling is just the start of another journey — a climb — that can be enjoyed by those of us who went along on Bowden’s but also by our younger generation who can make this “Climb” their own. 

Like many of you, I’m thankful and hopeful the vaccines and medicines, which continue to be developed and deployed, will mitigate the Omicron and other variants, protect us, and allow us to enjoy life and sports without interruption. 

I’m especially hopeful I’ll run into you in 2022 whether it be at Doak for the Spring Game, over in New Orleans for the FSU-LSU game, in Miami, where I plan to spend Friday with Seminoles at ‘Stiltsville,’ in the middle of Biscayne Bay, at Joe’s Stone Crab or Versailles, and at tailgate parties prior to the clash with the ‘Canes. And I’m especially thankful we have the opportunity to all make Doak rock once more when Florida and Clemson come to Tallahassee.