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Early enrollees jump-start careers as Noles, look to provide spark in 2021

Florida State has needs all over the football field and an influx of talent has arrived on campus. Six freshmen enrolled early this week (classes begin Wednesday) and a group of transfers are joining them as well.

Wide receiver is the position that will see the biggest immediate impact. FSU has just six returning receivers with experience, including Ontaria Wilson (who led the Seminoles with 30 receptions and 382 receiving yards in 2020). After Wilson, Keyshawn Helton (14 receptions, 119 yards, two TDs) and the departed Tamorrion Terry, no other FSU receiver caught 10 passes in the fall as the coaching staff often leaned on versatile running backs as pass catchers.

The Seminoles will enjoy a boost with the arrival of Kansas transfer Andrew Parchment in May or June. But the arrival of freshmen receivers Malik McClain and Joshua Burrell are welcome additions who can get a jump on learning Mike Norvell’s offense. And if there is a theme to the coming few months it will be a focus on strength and conditioning, preparing for the start of spring practice in March.

With four signees on the offensive side of the ball arriving early, the timing couldn’t be better to get acclimated with teammates and build chemistry with FSU’s quarterbacks. We’ll take a look at the group of six high school signees and what they could bring to the table for the Seminoles in 2021.

WR Malik McClain

Stats: The four-star receiver was the biggest, late addition to the class with his signing on Friday on the final day of the early signing period. A football-basketball player, the 6-foot-4 McClain caught 15 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns at IMG in 2020. At Daphne (Ala.) in 2019, he caught 26 passes for 424 yards and five touchdowns

Quoting: “Malik is a dynamic playmaker who possesses great size, speed and agility, and he can be utilized to attack defenses in a variety of ways,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “We believe Malik is a special young man not only with his ability on the field but also his personality, heart and passion for success off the field.”

Analysis: It’s worth reminding that few true freshmen receivers over the last decade, aside from Rashad Greene and Travis Rudolph, have been productive in year 1. On the flip side, receiver is a position where FSU must elevate the dependability and find targets who can separate from defensive backs. With a full spring practice, McClain can begin to learn the offense and, if he can block, will show he is ready for playing time in 2021.

WR Joshua Burrell

Stats: The three-star receiver was considered one of the top 5 prospects in the state by 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals while playing in South Carolina’s highest classification. Burrell had 57 receptions for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. He also ran track at Blythewood High.

Quoting: “Strong hands, strong runner with the ball,” FSU offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said. “When you watch him play, the ball is in his hands, he becomes a running back. When he wants to play when the ball’s in the air, he goes and gets it. So he’s got that great balance of being that big wideout that can go win contested catches, but he’s that guy who wins that contested catch, shrugs off the corner and goes for 70. And that’s something we needed was somebody to go make those contested catches, and somebody who could make a play with the ball in their hands. This is another kid, all he knows how to do this work.”

Analysis: Burrell is 6-2 with good hands and has shown off his route-running skills. He doesn’t have track speed but is very quick and moves well with the football in his hands. Burrell has shown to be a good blocker and has the versatility to play as a slot receiver or on the outside. Similar to McClain, it’s a matter of absorbing the offense, being a willing blocker and showing that he’s ready to play in the fall.

G-C Bryson Estes

Stats: The three-star guard-center won three straight state titles and blocked for an offense that averaged 49.7 points, 52.6 points and 52.8 points. Estes is considered the No. 9 center in the nation by the 247Sports Composite.

Quoting: “He is a powerful mover of men,” Dillingham said. “When you turn on the tape, his feet never stop and he moves people. And we see him as an interior guy for us that can bump out to tackle. But he’s a jack of all trades, he can play center, guard, tackle all over the place.”

Analysis: An athletic interior offensive lineman with good size. Estes moves well and is capable of getting out front in the screen game. Arriving early will help Estes add some good weight on his 6-3, 291-pound frame. It will be interesting to see if Estes settles in at guard or is a potential backup to center Maurice Smith, but FSU is short on numbers up front and a versatile lineman will be valued.

TE Jackson West

Stats: The tight end is considered among the top 20 tight ends in the nation by 247Sports and ESPN. He caught 19 passes for 269 yards and one touchdown in only three games played during his senior season. West made 23 receptions for 411 yards and two touchdowns as a junior.

Quoting: Jackson was just a kid that we actually saw in camp a few years ago. And he’s underrated for how fast he is. Really good ball skills. But more importantly, he’s a guy who can put his hand in the dirt and knock somebody off the ball. And the thing that excites me most about Jackson is he texts me and says, ‘Hey, coach, I’ve been watching your games on YouTube. And I see the route that you’re running. So I’ve been practicing them with all my buddies in the backyard.’ This is a guy who wants to be the very best he can be. And he is studying our games, practicing what we’re doing. And he’s already learning our system right now. So he has a passion to be the very best he can be. 

Analysis: He has good size, soft hands and finds openings in zone coverage. West is a big target at 6-4 and 235 pounds. He’s another tight end who has a history on the basketball court, helping Huntsville (Ala.) High win a state title his sophomore season. West also had 15 pancake blocks as a junior in 2019. FSU is loaded with tight ends and it’s likely a few could shift positions, but West looks like a prospect who could be the versatile lead-blocker that Norvell covets as well as a downfield receiver.

DL Joshua Farmer

Stats: The defensive end is considered the No. 40 defensive end in the nation and among the top 100 prospects in Florida. Farmer had 27 tackles and five sacks as a senior.

Quoting: “We watched Josh on film, he showed up to campus on our first Junior Day, and right away his length, and just his frame jumped out,” Fuller said. “So that matched up with the film right away. So we offered him at that point. He’s an extremely hard worker. We think he’ll start out at end, possibly go into a three-technique.”

Analysis: Farmer played at Gadsden County for Corey Fuller, so you know he is a hard worker and will be ready for what the FSU coaches throw at him this spring. He was the first commitment to FSU in the class of 2021 and, despite a late push by other schools, signed with Norvell and the staff. FSU loses starting ends Joshua Kaindoh and Janarius Robinson. Practice time is up for grabs and, if he can handle it, Farmer could pave a path to playing time as part of a rotation on the outside.

CB Kevin Knowles

Stats: The three-star cornerback is considered the No. 25 corner in the nation by ESPN. As a receiver, he scored three touchdowns in an abbreviated four-game senior season. Knowles had five interceptions as a junior.

Quoting: “Kevin is the ultimate nickel-corner-type athlete,” Fuller said. “He’s got exceptional feet. He’s aggressive. He plays with great instincts. You throw the ball on offense, he scores. He is everything we’re looking for in a Seminole as far as who he is as a kid, his work ethic, his quickness, his toughness, his pad level.”

Analysis: Knowles has great ball skills, is physical and changes direction well. FSU is looking to revamp the secondary, which lost a consistent corner in Asante Samuel Jr., and Knowles will be given a chance to develop and play a critical role against smaller, tough-to-cover slot corners.

Transfers

FSU will welcome quarterback McKenzie Milton, defensive end Jermaine Johnson and cornerback Jarques McClellion. Parchment is expected to arrive in early summer.

Osceola writer Patrick Burnham contributed to this story. Comment on the story on the Osceola’s message board