Coaches say recruiting is a relationship business. And to that end, Mike Norvell has recruited for years and knew high school coach Pete Duffy dating back to the FSU coach’s days at Arizona State from 2012-15.
When it came time to recruit quarterbacks, Norvell knew Pete’s son, AJ, quite well.
“He is a remarkable player,” Norvell said on Wednesday. “I’ve known AJ from back in my days when I was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State. I actually recruited his dad’s school. He’s the son of a coach. He’s been around ball his entire life and has really done a remarkable job, playing this last year at IMG.”
Duffy left Rancho Verde (Calif.) High, where his dad is the coach, due to the COVID pandemic and played for Bradenton’s IMG Academy. This fall, Duffy was considered a top-10 quarterback by ESPN and Rivals. While his senior season stats aren’t known, Duffy was accurate at an early age — he completed 70.8 percent of his passes as a sophomore and 69.6 percent of his passes as a freshman.
“Got to watch him life and just his whole demeanor,” offensive line coach Alex Atkins said. “He’s cool, calm and collected. He runs the ship. That’s what you need. He’s active in recruiting. He’s a team-mentality guy. He was like, ‘Coach, who are we getting? Where are we going with this thing?’ I always enjoy guys when you see guys that are going to captain the ship and come in and be the guy, and also he wasn’t fearful of competition. A lot of guys start looking around the room and making decisions. He looked at himself and said, ‘I’m good with wherever I go with.’ I appreciate that because it lets you know what kind of kid he is.”
The competition begins next month. Duffy will enroll early in January and he will compete with starting quarterback Jordan Travis as well as backup Tate Rodemaker. It’s also possible the Seminoles will also pursue a quarterback through the transfer portal.
“He’ll have an opportunity to come out here and compete here early in his career and just excited about what he brings to the table,” Norvell said. “He’s an extremely smart football player. He’s played in multiple systems. The son of a coach, which you always like to see. He embraces the competition.”
Landing panhandle’s best
While the morning was filled with drama over Travis Hunter’s decision, the afternoon brought a welcome signing from an uncommitted prospect. Defensive back Azareyeh Thomas of Niceville (Fla.), who had visited FSU over the weekend, made his signing with FSU official.
“He’s a special talent,” Norvell said. “He’s a guy that is a dynamic playmaker. It’s funny to start talking about the defensive backfield and talk about someone who is a playmaker, he’s a guy that’s going to be able to do both. We’re going to have to find ways to get the ball in his hand. He’s got the skill set and the athleticism to be able to start at corner but also be able to move around.”
Norvell called Thomas the best player in the panhandle, and he is a consensus four-star prospect. While often playing safety, where he had two interceptions and a fumble, Thomas also ran for 421 yards and had 33 receptions for 438 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.
FSU landed its first 247Sports Composite five-star signee since 2017 when Sam McCall signed on Wednesday, the first national letter of intent in to the coaches’ offices. There were a few highly regarded four-stars in the last few classes but none since the 2017 class featured five-stars Cam Akers, Marvin Wilson, Joshua Kaindoh and Khalan Laborn.
“Sam is a tremendous athlete a guy that has really showed his skillset throughout his high school career,” Norvell said. “Not only with what he does on the defensive side of the ball but he is a game changer. He has the ability to play corner and also could play safety for us. Plus he brings a dynamic element to our special teams.”
FSU announced 15 signees on Wednesday (including Armella’s late on Wednesday) and can sign up to 25, plus the potential for seven more — essentially a 1-for-1 trade if seven Seminoles enter the transfer portal.
The Seminoles also have a commitment from Lamar offensive lineman Bless Harris and have pursued the likes of Albany defensive end transfer Jared Verse and Oregon receiver transfer Mycah Pittman. Marietta (Ga.) linebacker Daniel Martin announced a top 3 on Wednesday: FSU, Oregon and Vanderbilt. Other available prospects include offensive lineman Antavious Woody as well as receiver Kevin Coleman.
Norvell didn’t hint on if the efforts would focus on prep stars or transfer portal players, but it’s likely the coaches will continue to pursue transfers.
“We’re gonna push to probably a full class,” Norvell said. “I’m excited about where we are. We probably will push forward to a full class and there’s still an opportunity with this year’s plus 7 where it could go above that.”