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Column: This could be a May to remember for FSU athletics

Help me out here. Is it just me – starved for sports after a Covid blackout – or is there more Florida State action to follow in April, May and June than at any time you can remember?

March Madness ended too soon but probably as it should have, with a Sweet 16 finish, followed by a full and interesting spring football practice. Now we’re into the heat of more NCAA tournament action, hunting a national championship in one or more of six sports, with news popping every week about a consequential presidential search and legislation, and as promising quarterbacks and transfer players at positions of need are buying in to Mike Norvell’s rising program. 

Something exciting is in the wind. Or, should I say some exciting things are?

The Championship month started with the Beach Volleyball team advancing to the NCAA Tournament Finals. At about the same time, Florida State Athletics and Seminole Boosters announced plans to build a football operations building with early planning for enhancements to Doak Campbell Stadium. https://theosceola.com/?s=football+operations

Not long after, FSU football received a momentous commitment from four-star quarterback A.J. Duffy which elevated FSU’s 2022 signing class to No. 11. The commitment was widely lauded by recruiting services as a sign Mike Norvell’s program is turning a corner.

Thrasher, Governor, legislative leadership saved day

In the closing days of April, the Florida Legislative Session got kinda crazy with Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) legislation, when at the 11th hour it looked as if the bureaucrats would punt a law that would allow student-athletes in the state of Florida to be compensated from July 2021 to July 2022. FSU football players McKenzie Milton and Cam McDonald were among the startled Sunshine state players and head coaches who took to Twitter to encourage the legislators to enact the legislation in 2021 as planned.

Certainly, the NIL legislation is important to the student-athletes, who would like to profit from their image but this legislation was also critical to the colleges in Florida who find themselves recruiting against colleges in states with approved NIL legislation.

President John Thrasher, Governor Ron DeSantis and the legislative leadership played major roles to approve the bill. 

“We truly appreciate the work President Thrasher, as well as leadership from UF, UCF and the University of Miami, put into the effort to change this date back to this July,” FSU Vice President and Director of Athletics David Coburn said. “We appreciate the President stepping up and leading at a critical time, as he always does. We also greatly appreciate the support we received from the Speaker, the President and the Governor. They all stepped up when we needed them to help solve the problem. It was not easy, given the fact the Session was hours or even minutes from ending, but they got it done.”

Florida State has been on the leading edge in the implementation of the legislation in 2021 by partnering with the College of Business, the Jim Moran Institute and the Academic Center for Excellence to develop two for-credit courses to teach the players how to maximize their brand. FSU also hired Apex who will help student-athletes elevate their social media reach to capitalize on the NIL opportunity.

FSU sports action in the news

FSU football was back in the news as they announced plans for a series of 12 youth football camps across Florida (for kids up to the eighth grade). Mike Norvell and all 10 of his assistants are working the camps, which began in South Florida on May 9 and drew more than 250 kids. The last camp will be June 21 in Tallahassee. This is a huge commitment from football to establishing relationships in Florida.

The Seminoles baseball team then took two of three in series at No. 2 Notre Dame to better position themselves for NCAA Tournament play. Sidebar note: The Irish head coach Link Jarrett is a former FSU star and was a candidate to replace Mike Martin Sr. So you know this series was going to make a very big statement one way or the other with FSU fans in regards to FSU’s hiring of Mike Martin Jr. The win was big for baseball and for Meat personally. The ACC baseball tournament will be held May 25-30 with the NCAA Regionals June 4-7 and Super Regionals June 11-14 with the College World Series June 19-30 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. 

You see where this column is going? You may want to pull out your calendar for May and June and take note of events yet to be played.

In a bubble up in Cary, N.C., the No. 1 seed women’s soccer team advanced to the semi-final game of the 2020 NCAA championship. You read that right, 2020 as this is the conclusion of a suspended 2020 season. The Seminoles beat Milwaukee and Penn State before defeating No. 9 Duke in a clutch, penalty-kick shootout to advance to the NCAA College Cup for the 11th time. They’ll play unranked Virginia on Thursday at 6 p.m. on ESPN2. The Cavaliers have won three matches to reach the semis, including shutouts against No. 12 BYU and No. 4 TCU. The NCAA Championship match will be played on Monday, May 17 at 5:30 against the winner of No. 2 North Carolina and No. 16 Santa Clara. A handful of tickets remain for the championship at $20 each.

While soccer was making its move toward a third national championship, the Women’s Tennis team won its first round NCAA Championship match against Alabama State. A couple of days later, Norvell received a commitment from Andrew Parchment, a Kansas transfer who will add valuable experience in the wide receiver room. Back in action, the Women’s Tennis team won their second round NCAA match against No. 19 Auburn on FSU’s Speicher Courts to advance to the Sweet 16 for the third time under head coach Jen Hyde and the second time in the last three NCAA Tournaments. The women will face 10th seed Texas A&M at Lake Nona, Fla., on Sunday.

The No. 8 Women’s Golf team took a five-stroke lead over Michigan State and UCLA in the opening round of the NCAA Louisville Regional on Monday and here’s an update, claimed the school’s first NCAA Regional Championship in program history shortly after this article was published on Wednesday. The women conquered a tough course in horrible weather to take a three stroke win over UCLA and Texas A&M and distanced South Carolina, the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA field. For more on the Regional.

The NCAA Championship Finals will be May 21-26 at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“Just looking at teams competing now, we had nine teams still playing last week,” Coburn said. “And in one form or fashion, five of them were in the top five in the country, two others are top eight and two more are top 20.  We all know a lot can happen in sports, but each of these teams has a shot to compete for a national championship. Can you ask anything more than that?”

And on Monday Night, the Seminoles added another much needed offensive lineman, Dillan Gibbons, a part time starter who will transfer back to the Sunshine State from Notre Dame. 

A day later, the consequential presidential search got real as FSU released 22 applicant names, which narrowed to nine by the Board of Trustees on May 11. Among the candidates is FSU Vice President David Coburn, who is currently Director of Athletics. The candidates are scheduled for interviews Friday and Saturday, with an open forum for faculty, staff and students to query the candidates the week of May 17.

By June 1st, I’d expect FSU to announce its sixteenth president (since 1851) and its 12th since 1941.

More upcoming championship action

While FSU searches to replace Thrasher, there’s plenty of sports action too.

The No. 7 ranked Women’s Softball team, which has developed before our eyes this year, will be the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament with the Championship game, played on May 15 at noon. FSU will learn whether it will host an NCAA Regional during the selection show on May 16 at 9 pm on ESPN2. Regionals run May 21-23, with Super Regionals either May 27- 29 or May 28- 30. The Women’s College World Series runs June 3 to 9.

The No. 1 seed Men’s Golf team, led by the nation’s top golfer and ACC Player of the Year, will take on a 14-team field at the NCAA Men’s Regional May 17-19 at the Seminole Legacy Club. It will be fun to watch the Seminoles against the field on a very challenging new track designed by Jack Nicklaus, which was a priority project of FSU’s outgoing president, John Thrasher.

The ‘dead period’ for football ends on June 1, which will allow football to have contact with high school age kids for the first time in more than a year. Norvell will host a “mega camp” on June 6 with more than 50 college programs from FBS and FCS levels heading to Tallahassee. The Noles will host camps for individuals on June 13, 18, 19 and 20, a ‘Big Man’ camp on June 9 and 16, a quarterback camp on June 18 and 19, a kicking camp on June 18 and seven-on-seven camps on June 9 and 16. For more information, https://www.coachnorvellcamps.com/camps.html.

You can expect more commitments to follow.

While you haven’t heard as much about Track and Field, another team with a great chance to claim a national title is the Men’s Track team. Both the Men’s and Women’s Atlantic Coast Conference Championships take place in Raleigh, N.C., on May 13-15 with the NCAA Championship at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., on June 9-12. While FSU has numerous athletes capable of qualifying and scoring, there’s a couple of exceptional guys to watch. Trey Cunningham is a finalist for the Bob Bowerman Award, which is presented to the top male and female track athletes in the nation. He ran a 13.28 in the 110-high hurdles in Gainesville a few weeks ago and is among several very strong candidates to score points at the NCAAs. On the same day, sophomore JoVaughn (Jo Jo) Martin, ran a 9.94 100m dash to become the co-world leader in the event. What’s amazing is his previous best time was 10.4 from two years ago.

On top of the athletics accomplishments, FSU graduated nearly 70 student-athletes this spring alone, including the 10 men’s basketball team members.

Did I miss any of the FSU teams still contending for a national championship or any other encouraging news?

It would be easy to do in what has been a really-fun spring with hours of championship action yet to come.