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In a year of challenges, 10 positives for FSU athletics in 2020

George Carlin famously had his list of four-letter words. If he were around today he’d probably agree 2020 is deserving of addition to his list, a four-numeral disaster that’s as worthy as any cuss word in the English language.

This won’t be a story about finances, postponements, cancelations and challenges. We’re sorry in advance — but think you won’t mind.

Even optimists found 2020 to be a challenge to how they are wired. But this will be a story about a glass-half-full mindset as we look back at 10 positive storylines for FSU athletics this year. 

ACC hoops regular season title

Trent Forrest’s dunk prompted the crowd to erupt during a win over Louisville (photo by Mike Olivella)

Let’s start with the big one. FSU won an ACC tournament title in 2012. But the Seminoles had not quite put together a regular season like what they did in 2019-20. An unblemished 16-0 home record. A 26-5 record, wins (and dunks) over Louisville. And lowering the banner with the ACC regular season championship after a win over Boston College and a 16-4 mark in league play. Yes, we’ll always wonder what might have been in the NCAA Tournament — even Dick Vitale thought FSU could have won a national title. But the 2019-20 season, with all of the talent on display each night, is one that we won’t soon forget.

And don’t forget Williams and Vassell were selected in the NBA’s draft lottery, with Trent Forrest going to Utah on a two-way contract. Mixed in with Malik Beasley, Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Issac, Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele, you can turn on an NBA game almost any night of the week and watch a Nole. Pretty cool.

Wins over Florida

Parker Messick
Parker Messick combined with Antonio Velez on a shutout at Florida. (photo courtesy Ryan Kelly / WCTV)

This never gets old for FSU fans. The Seminoles knocked off Florida in men’s basketball (83-71 on Dec. 12), in women’s basketball (81-75 on Dec. 1) and baseball (2-0 on March 10).

Antonio Velez tossed six innings of one-hit ball with seven strikeouts, while Parker Messick had seven strikeouts in three innings. In Gainesville. Against the No. 1 team in the nation.

M.J. Walker and Scottie Barnes had 17 points each as FSU shook off a sloppy start as well as battled the emotions of Keyontae Johnson’s injury. And how great is it to know FSU’s staff supported Florida’s, with doctors and nurses at TMH doing what they could to help his recovery? Here’s hoping we see Johnson on the court, if not this season in the future.

And how about a head coaching debut for Brooke Wyckoff against UF? Morgan Jones scored 22 points and Valencia Myers had a double-double to secure the win. There were few doubts that Wyckoff would be a stabilizing force as Sue Semrau takes time to be with her parents, but Wyckoff had a tough challenge in game 1 against a rival.

FSU football win over No. 5 UNC

Mike Norvell Jarvis Brownlee
Mike Norvell and Jarvis Brownlee celebrate the win over UNC. (Photo by Don Juan Moore)

Feel-good wins in football have been few and far between through the years. If you were in Doak on Oct. 17, or were watching on TV, FSU’s win over No. 5 UNC was a flawed diamond. But if you found yourself cheering, or crying, it’s understandable. Wins over a top-10 team are rare, not since the Orange Bowl victory over Michigan.

Mike Norvell called it the best half of football he has been a part of as a coach, and it’s hard to argue with a 31-7 halftime lead against a highly ranked opponent and a quarterback who was a former commit. The second half was on-the-edge-of-the-seat drama but also filled with enough defensive stops and long drives to keep the Tar Heels from coming back.

FSU’s ‘bowl’ win over Duke

Jordan Travis
Jordan Travis and FSU carved up Duke’s defense. (Photo by Don Juan Moore)

The Seminoles had 28 days between games and desperately wanted to get back on the field, finally doing so against Duke on Dec. 12. With that kind of break, it felt like a bowl game. Norvell used the added practice time to prepare for the Blue Devils but also strengthen bonds and determine who is bought in to the long-term vision.

Nobody is smiling about a 3-6 season. But FSU players and coaches wrapped up the season with positive momentum going into an offseason that will focus on continued improvement beginning with strength and conditioning.

FSU hoops’ 5-1 start

Scottie Barnes
Scottie Barnes’ game-winner against Indiana was part of a 5-1 start for FSU. (photo by Mike Olivella)

With no exhibition games and game 1 against Gardner-Webb pushed back, we sat down at the Donald L. Tucker Center or sat on the sofa curious about how the men’s basketball team would look. And could Scottie Barnes live up to the hype?

Let’s say you asked FSU fans a question in the preseason: Would you accept a 5-1 start at the holiday break despite the loss of two lottery picks? No coach would, but most fans would be content. The bummer is definitely a loss to UCF, but also one that featured talented transfers and last year’s Mr. Basketball in the state of Florida. The positives are a victory over a rival (Florida), a 1-0 ACC start (Barnes sparking the second-half surge vs. Georgia Tech) and a long-awaited visit by a basketball blue blood to Tallahassee (with the new bloods coming out ahead of Indiana).

Soccer wins ACC title

FSU soccer
The ACC champs (photo courtesy FSU sports information)

Perfect from start to finish. The Florida State soccer team went 8-0 in the regular season and captured the ACC championship with a 3-2 win over No. 1 North Carolina. Clara Robbins led the way with five goals and five assists, and she was named tournament MVP (three goals, two assists). Leilanni Nesbeth (five goals, three assists), Jenna Nighswonger (four goals, five assists) and star midfielder Jaelin Howell led the attack. Howell even earned an appearance with the U.S. Women’s national team. Most of the roster is expected to be back on campus and compete in a to-be-scheduled spring season, which will feature an NCAA Tournament.

McKenzie Milton, signees

McKenzie Milton
FSU landed a quarterback and leader in McKenzie Milton. (photo courtesy UCF athletics)

For all the discussion of what this 2021 signing class lacks, and there admittedly are shortcomings, let’s focus for a moment on what it does have. There is a graduate transfer quarterback with three years of experience at UCF in McKenzie Milton. There are building blocks on the offensive and defensive lines. And there are a pair of receivers who will elevate the room. FSU’s class wasn’t ranked highly but vaulted to 22nd after four-star receiver Malik McClain made his signing official on Friday. If you’re a glass-half-full guy or gal, there are enough signees here for Mike Norvell to develop for 2021 and beyond. And remember Norvell was hired a year ago in large part for two reasons: who he hires and how he develops players.

Pak plays in U.S. Open

John Pak
John Pak played in the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club, wearing an FSU hat, of course. (Simon Bruty/USGA)

FSU senior John Pak played in the U.S. Open. Which is already pretty impressive. He also made the cut, earning the chance to play over the weekend at the famed Winged Foot course — and sunk an eagle put on Sunday. (Pak was the only one of 13 amateurs to make the cut.) And in the spring he will be striking golf balls again for the Seminoles.

Bowden beat COVID

Bobby Bowden
Bobby Bowden (FSU archives)

We promised not to discuss COVID but a brief break to remind that Bobby Bowden beat this disease in the fall. He was able to sit in his driveway and celebrate birthday No. 91 as former players, family and friends stopped by to wave.

Giving back

FSU football Riley Elementary
FSU coaches and players gave time and presented a check to Riley Elementary. (photo by Jerry Kutz)

FSU football players spent a few days doing community service and leading a book drive at nearby Riley Elementary. Camren McDonald spent time giving away food and learning to be a certified yoga instructor, part of his goals on and off the field. McDonald and Marvin Wilson set up non-profits so they could be active in the community.

Seminoles who have also moved on to pro teams are also lending a hand, including Dalvin Cook. The Vikings star is part of a food truck that has made it a mission to help youth and families that are food insecure. Buster Posey won the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, which was presented because of the work he has done along with his wife, Kristen, to provide grants to research hospitals and charity organizations to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer. Jameis Winston donated $30,000 to help eight Tampa-area restaurants struggling to stay open. And there are likely many more that have quietly given back in their community.

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