There are a lot of constants in college football, at least until the calendar turned over and we entered 2020, and one of those is that there will always be turnover as it pertains to head coaches. And with that there will likely be some roster turnover following the naming of a new head coach at any school.
There are a number of reason for this. Returning players don’t or won’t buy in to the new staff or don’t feel the new offense or defense being implemented fits their skill set. A new staff is usually very demanding early on and might feel inclined to let a player know that their program might not be best suited for the player or that maybe the system doesn’t fit the player’s skill set and it might be in the player’s best interest to find a new college to call home.
Granted FSU fans are considered newbies to this process but, with the Seminoles now on their third head coach in four seasons, the learning curve is starting to speed up.
One player who was considering entering the transfer portal upon the arrival of Mike Norvell and his staff this past offseason was linebacker Leonard Warner. Norvell had to ask Warner to give he and linebacker coach Chris Marve a chance to work with him before making any decision on moving on from FSU.
Two weeks from the start of the 2020 season, Warner’s decision to stay in Tallahassee seems to be paying off for all parties involved. He is expected to be in the starting middle linebacker in coordinator Adam Fuller’s defense and has earned the trust and praise of his coaches in camp this fall.
“In Leonard’s case specifically, I told him all I wanted was an opportunity to show who we are and what we’re all about,” said Norvell of the conversation he had with Warner on a potential transfer. “I told him that if in six months if you don’t feel like this is a place you want to be a part of or what we’re doing, then I’ll gladly support you in whatever opportunity you want to go and pursue. That is basically the case with everybody. Nobody knows what to expect when there is a new staff. Nobody knows what that is going to look like for them. Some guys embrace the challenge and some guys run from it. The guys that are here, the guys that are continuing to work each and every day, they are being challenged. There is no easy pass for anyone. I think it says a lot to Leonard the way that we work and what we do, that after a couple months, and those were a couple of hard months, and those were challenging months, but he wants to continue to improve and he embraces that challenge, so we are going to keep challenging him.”
And it seems as if the senior linebacker and his teammates have bought into Norvell and the staff’s vision and methods.
“It did,” answered Warner when asked if transferring crossed his mind this past offseason. “I had a conversation with Coach Norvell when he first got here. What he asked me for was a chance to prove himself. When he spoke to me and I looked into his eyes, I believed that he was going to do his best to put this program to where it is supposed to be. I think he asked for six months, something like that, and I gave it to him. I felt in two or three months that I already knew I wasn’t going to leave.”
What has changed since last season?
“Really the biggest difference in the team is the feeling through the players,” said Warner. “The leadership and the accountability factor. Guys who you may not think of as a leader, they feel like they have a voice, they feel like they can come and speak to anyone. Talking to somebody about their techniques. Small things like that. People being accepting of that kind of encouragement and that kind of teaching, I think it has just been infectious. The way we’ve grown has become exponential. It is beautiful to watch honestly.”
Norvell believes one of the reasons Warner has grown has been the competition he is getting from freshmen linebackers Stephen Dix and DJ Lundy along with sophomores Kevon Glenn and Jaleel McRae.
“The linebackers, the competition has definitely helped,” said Norvell. “You look at Emmett (Rice) and Leonard, what they’ve been doing and the growth they’ve had, those young ‘backers I think has helped push them.”
Warner started 11 games for FSU in 2019 and had 57 tackles. Fuller has been impressed with Warner’s ability to compete and lead at the same time.
“It’s going to be a group effort at linebacker, led with Emmett and Leonard, they’re the older veterans in the group and I really like the ownership those two have taken not only in defense but in special teams,” said the defensive coordinator when asked about Warner and the linebacking corps after this past Saturday’s scrimmage. “They’re just prideful in their work right now. The younger guys like I mentioned with DJ and then you got Amari (Gainer) and Kalen (DeLoach), it’s a group that has a good dynamic of some seasoned vets that are really playing their best football or trying to play their best football and then young guys that should get better every day because they don’t know any better. We’re trying to put those guys in the best positions we can, we’re starting to move some parts around, trying to marry some guys that are playing with each other and shaking that up because in a game that’s pretty much how it’s going to go.”
Warner says he is all in with the new staff and is looking forward to brighter days and nights this season.
“Me and Emmett are really close and we’ve been through a lot,” said Warner. “Honestly, we are just ready to win. It is as simple as that. We are bought in and we believe in this staff and we have faith that they have faith in us. It is going to be us together.”