LSU WR Russell Gage's family among many Louisianians who have still not returned home after last year's floods
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Like thousands of his neighbors in South Louisiana last August, LSU wide receiver Russell Gage made the panicked decision to help his family escape from their rapidly flooding home.
Seven months after the storms damaged about 146,000 homes in the region, the Gages have still not moved back into their house in Baker, about 15 miles north of LSU’s Baton Rouge campus.
“We’re putting the finishing touches on the house and everything, so it’s good,” Gage said Thursday, noting that his family expects to move back into the house in May or June.
Contractors have helped the Gages work to repair their home, but they remain among the many families who are still ensnared in a painfully slow recovery process. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated this week that 45,000 flood-affected residents are still living with friends and family and 373 more are still living in hotels.
That’s what the Gages did for more than a month after the floods, staying at a hotel close to LSU before the Federal Emergency Management Agency set them up to live in a trailer near their house until home repairs are complete.
The state government reports that more than 1,000 families remain in FEMA trailers, another painful adjustment for Gage’s family.
“At first it was difficult, especially when you can see the house [from the trailer],” said Gage, who will be a senior this fall. “But after a while of doing so, my mom’s definitely ready to move back into the house, but we’ve adjusted.”
Gage grabbed roommate Devin Voorhies and rushed home to Baker in August during preseason camp once his mother called him via FaceTime and showed him the water rushing into their home.
“Once I got there, the water was around 3 feet and rising,” Gage said at the time. “Me and my roommate were able to go and get a rescue boat to come in and get my family out to safety.”
Gage and Voorhies had parked about 5 miles from the house, so the rescue boat brought them halfway back and then the family -- Gage’s parents, sister and grandmother -- walked the remaining distance to the car. He then drove them to the hotel, where they would remain for the next several weeks.
Even in the storm’s immediate aftermath, Gage attempted to keep his family’s situation in perspective, showing resolve that has undoubtedly been tested during this drawn-out recovery process.
“The waters are gone, but the damage is done,” he said then. “We’re going to have to redo the walls and everything. But all that stuff’s replaceable. As long as my family’s safe, we’re fine.”
Gage was among several Tigers affected by last summer’s floods, a group that also includes defensive lineman Christian LaCouture, tight end Caleb Roddy, fullback Bry'Kiethon Mouton and tight ends coach Steve Ensminger.
Some of them are among residents fortunate enough to have already returned home, but the state’s recovery is still in its early stages overall.
The Louisiana government has secured $1.6 billion in disaster recovery funds, but the federal government has not released that money to the state. Gov. John Bel Edwards is lobbying President Donald Trump and Congress for at least $2 billion more, but it remains unclear where Louisiana flood recovery ranks on the federal government’s list of budget priorities.
In the meantime, the Gages and many like them will try to make the best of their unpleasant circumstances until they can get back into their homes.
“I guess you could say we’ve gotten used to it,” Gage said.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Shaq Quarterman bounced from the practice field, hamming it up for a cadre of reporters with his typical grin plastered across his face. Two practices into his second spring, this was old hat, and he had plenty of reason to smile.
Quarterman is, in many ways, the face of this new Miami team. He’s young, he’s brash and he’s good. And from the day he first donned a Hurricanes jersey, he made it clear his goal was a national championship. So, even just a few days into spring practice, he was asked how close this team was to that lofty benchmark.
“We were one game away from going to the Coastal last year, and with a lot returning, and seeing how good we did off the first year, and how much better we can be -- we can be so much better,” Quarterman said. “So we definitely feel we’re closer.”
The bold sentiments fit nicely with Quarterman’s personality. He thinks big. And after a 9-4 season, a dominant bowl win and the return of so many talented freshmen, from Quarterman to Ahmmon Richards to Joe Jackson, there’s ample reason for enthusiasm at Miami.
But a national championship?
“You’ve got to break it down to smaller pieces of doing things right on a daily basis,” coach Mark Richt said.
This, after all, is a program that has yet to even play for an ACC championship, a team that hasn’t beaten rival Florida State since Quarterman was in the sixth grade. For all the returning talent, there are still big questions in the secondary and on the offensive line and, of course, at quarterback.
So Richt rightly will grimace at the notion of championship talk after two spring-practice sessions. But this does feel like a different Miami team -- not in terms of brash expectations, but in terms of the ability to actually back it up.
“Our biggest motivators are ourselves,” linebacker Zach McCloud said. “We have a standard to play to, and we’re trying to get to that standard.”
That Miami standard is something this team is keenly aware of, but McCloud also knows it’s a benchmark the program has fallen short of reaching for nearly his whole lifetime. That makes setting preseason expectations tricky.
Certainly this wouldn’t be the first time Miami talked tough during the spring only for that bluster to disappear come September. What encourages Richt, however, is that bluster isn’t the defining feature of this team -- at least so far. Yes, expectations are high, but the details remain the priority.
Beat Florida State? Sure, they can do it. But that can’t define Miami.
Win the Coastal? It’s possible, certainly. But there are plenty of smaller questions to answer first.
A national title? OK, Miami might be closer, but that can’t be the only finish line the Canes see.
“Just get better,” Richt said. “If everybody takes that attitude and puts in the work and trusts each other, I’m not going to put a limit on what can happen. But I’m not going to make some bold prediction, either. If you want to predict something, predict that we’re going to work hard to be the best we can be.”
Tennessee returned to the football field Tuesday for the first practice of the spring. Noticeably absent from the group? Joshua Dobbs.
It had to be a little strange. Dobbs had taken part in the past three springs. He’d started 31 consecutive games at quarterback, and he played as big a role as anybody in changing the culture at Tennessee. The Volunteers were 14-18 in the 32 games before Dobbs made his first start as a freshman in 2013. In the final 31 games he started? They went 22-9.
“The great thing is we always talk about leaving a legacy. Josh has left a legacy,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “A lot of it is how you prepare, the mindset, how you approach practice, and I could see that our other quarterbacks being with Josh Dobbs, that really has helped them.”
That’s just it, though. Dobbs doesn’t have another year of college eligibility remaining. Sorry, Vols fans, he’s not coming back. But his footprints will still be all over this 2017 team.
As the current players were walking into the indoor facility this week for practice, there were coaches from the Los Angeles Chargers working out Dobbs and some of the other Tennessee players hoping to play at the next level next season. The following day, it was Sean Payton and some New Orleans Saints coaches on campus to see Dobbs.
What better motivation is there than that?
Also this week, while Jones was in a staff meeting, the school’s sports-technology coordinator brought him a notebook Dobbs had used when he was a freshman. It was chock-full of detailed notes.
“Knowledge is power,” Jones said. “This is another great example in terms of not just on the field but off the field in how you prepare, how you take care of your body, how you study video, how you do the extra things. That’s part of his legacy that he will leave here.”
Now all quarterbacks are expected to write everything down and take in everything that’s said, just as Dobbs did when he was there.
And maybe that will be the best barometer of the impact Dobbs will have on next season's team. Most fans are a little uneasy that Tennessee has to start a new quarterback this fall. But let’s not forget that the players vying to replace Dobbs had the opportunity to learn and grow behind one of the SEC’s better and more experienced quarterbacks the past two seasons.
“There is a lot of excitement,” Jones said. “The first thing is it’s very unfair for any of us to ask them to be Josh Dobbs. Jarrett and Quinten, they’re different individuals. For us, we have to do a great job of playing to their skill sets.
“But they’ve been able to witness his work ethic, how he represented himself every single day, how he led, how he approached game day, how he approached practice. And I think the one thing that you can really take from him is just his consistency in performance, his consistency on a daily basis.”
Dormady served as Dobbs’ primary backup each of the past two seasons, and while Guarantano hasn’t even been on campus for a full year yet, he credited Dobbs this week for showing him how to get through the ups and downs of a season and become a better quarterback.
The time for both players is now, though, because Dobbs won’t be there in the fall. He’ll likely be busy playing on Sundays in the NFL.
But expectations remain high at Tennessee in large part because of the contributions made by Dobbs or by the likes of Derek Barnett or Cameron Sutton or Josh Malone. They helped pave the way to where a bowl game isn’t enough anymore. The goal now is to play for and win an SEC championship.
The talk of spring practice at Virginia Tech will no doubt be the quarterbacks, but as coach Justin Fuente made abundantly clear this week, that’s the least of his concerns on offense.
How will the O-line gel?
Can his players hang on to the football?
And, of course, the ground game. That pesky ground game.
“I don’t know who’s going to play running back, either,” Fuente said, noting the inconsistency of last season's group.
Indeed, the 2016 numbers were less than gaudy.
Virginia Tech averaged less than 4 yards per carry overall in eight of 14 games. Many of the best runs were from quarterback Jerod Evans, who departed at season's end for the NFL draft. On non-QB runs, the Hokies averaged 3.92 yards per carry against FBS foes, 59th of 65 Power 5 teams. They ranked 57th in first-down yards per rush, 50th in yards before contact, 61st in yards after contact, and they were the worst Power 5 team in the country at converting third-and-short runs.
So yeah, Fuente has cause for concern.
“We have a couple guys who haven’t played much have great offseasons that have me cautiously optimistic,” Fuente said. “That is another question mark undoubtedly. We were not very productive there last year, and I’m anxious to see those guys practice and see who can do it consistently.”
That list of “guys who haven’t played much” isn’t likely to wow anyone outside the program. Redshirt sophomore Deshawn McClease and redshirt junior D.J. Reid have had minimal impact despite their years in Blacksburg. Freshman Terius Wheatley, the son of Michigan legend Tyrone Wheatley, joins the mix, too, though certainly the Hokies aren’t expecting the pedigree to translate to his dad’s level of production immediately.
The most likely candidate for carries remains Travon McMillian, who had a solid enough freshman season under the previous coaching staff but never seemed to be on solid footing after Fuente’s arrival. After what seemed like a potential breakthrough performance against Miami last season (18 carries, 131 yards), McMillian managed just 53 carries (and 213 yards) over the Hokies’ final seven games, topping 40 yards on the ground just once. His 1.77 yards after contact average ranked 16th among ACC running backs, and his work between the tackles was less than impressive.
Looking back at last season, of Virginia Tech’s 13 games against FBS opponents, its non-QB rushers averaged 4 yards per carry, while its opponents allowed 5.18 yards per rush in their other FBS games. That’s 23 percent below average. Overall, there were just three games when the Hokies’ rushers bested their opponent average: Miami, Duke and Virginia. Two of those were blowouts, with the bulk of the production coming in the second half.
That doesn’t mean the sky is falling, of course. And as Fuente said, there’s reason for “cautious optimism” this spring.
But it’s also worth noting that 2016's limited performance came during a season in which the quarterback play was strong.
“As far as why we weren’t as productive, I don’t know,” Fuente said. “We look at our scheme, at our offensive line, we made some plays in the passing game, our QB ran it a little bit. We made some plays and found ways to be effective.”
Will the Hokies find those same ways to be effective in 2017? That’s a tough scenario to envision with so much talent gone, which only serves to underscore the need for the backs to hold on to the ball, the line to open more holes and, most important, the overall ground game to blossom into a legitimate threat.
It’s way too early to have a good sense of how things will play out in the Pac-12 next season, but we're past the point where it’s OK to start trying to figure it out anyway. With some teams in the middle of spring practice, some just getting started and others set to begin in a few weeks, it feels like a good time to try to gauge expectations for next season. Over the next two weeks, we’ll take stock of each team in the Pac-12 to see how things are shaping up for 2017. Next up from the South: USC.
USC's role in the division race: The Trojans finished 2016 on a hard charge, finishing narrowly behind South champion Colorado and 10-3 overall when the dust settled. USC also beat the Buffs during the regular season. With star quarterback Sam Darnold in the driver's seat to begin 2017, the Trojans will be favored to win the division this time around. There is important talent to replace, but the rest of the South faces similar challenges, and the Trojans have their key component in place.
As far as the schedules goes, USC should have an easier time breaking into the season than in 2016. Although Stanford visits in Week 2, it's a home game this time and -- most important -- Christian McCaffrey won't be around to torment the Trojans. Alabama is no longer on the nonconference schedule to bruise USC out of the gate. Western Michigan presents a challenging start instead, and Texas visits the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Week 3. That's the prelude to USC's bid to take back the South.
What constitutes success: This is USC. Rose Bowls and national championships constitute success. The Trojans endured a recent dark period during which both of those goals seemed like pipe dreams, but last season's resurgence under Darnold -- which ended with triumph in Pasadena -- ensured that the program's lofty expectations became reality once again.
But maintaining success is no given. The Trojans must reload crucial pieces throughout the roster. Both tackles, including fixture Zach Banner, are gone. So is top receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Swiss army knife Adoree' Jackson. That's an exodus of electric talent, and it represents the challenge standing between USC and its expectation of glory in 2017.
Spring priorities: Darnold must develop familiarity with his new-look offensive line. The young quarterback had the benefit of breaking in behind a bevy of sizable veterans last season. Banner manned right tackle effectively, while Chad Wheeler protected Darnold's blind side well. Both are now gone, so this offseason is about developing cohesion with new pieces on the offensive end. That extends to the receiver position, where Deontay Burnett is set to emerge as Darnold's No. 1 target following the departures of Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers.
USC must also replace Jackson, nose tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, linebacker Michael Hutchings and strong safety Leon McQuay III on defense. Linebackers Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin give the Trojans a strong core on that side of the ball around which to build this offseason.
Rattlesnake hunt in Okeene, OK with Todd and Wild Bill. pic.twitter.com/0SqWb9LxFk
— Mike Gundy (@CoachGundy) March 17, 2017
When he met with the media Wednesday, the Oklahoma State coach got deep into the finer points of hunting the venomous snake. Want to learn how? Just check out the video.
But Gundy wasn't a lone hunter. He went to be with his sons.
"I'm going to be with my children," Gundy told ESPN.com's Jake Trotter. "When they grow up, that's it, I don't get those days back. In this last hunt, they were all fired up about it. I go to be with them. I ended up being more fired up about it than they did. I thought it was cool. They had a great time, but I was the first to ask, when can we go back?"
Gundy, proud of his expertise, is ready to spread the joy of huntin' rattlers.
"John Smith, our wrestling coach, his farm is right by mine," Gundy said. "He's got some pretty good walks over there. I figure I can teach him. That will give John and I something to do. When we retire, we can walk around in our boots and rattlesnake hunt and make videos for YouTube."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The realist inside Kyle Trask fully understands the situation at hand with Florida's quarterback position.
“There hasn’t been -- and I’m not trying to put anybody down -- a solid quarterback [at Florida] since the [Tim] Tebow era," Trask told ESPN earlier this week.
He's absolutely right. The three-star, barely-recruited quarterback -- who coach Jim McElwain is hoping is a diamond in the rough -- from Manvel, Texas, isn't blind to the fact that a school known so much for its quarterbacking prestige has fallen on hard times for the better part of the past decade.
Since Tebow left after the 2009 season, Florida has had 10 different starting quarterbacks, and none have passed for 2,500 yards or threw more than 12 touchdowns in a single season. During that time, Florida hasn't ranked any better than 79th nationally in passing (215.8 YPG in 2016).
Florida has had makeshift quarterbacks and four-star supposed gems, yet never managed one decent season in seven years at a position that Tebow, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Leak and Rex Grossman once held.
But there's a feeling in Gainesville that that could actually change in 2017, yanking the Gators out of the SEC's -- and nation's -- passing cellar, thanks to redshirt freshmen Trask and Feleipe' Franks.
"We’re going to be pretty good [at quarterback]," McElwain told ESPN.
Trask and Franks haven't taken any collegiate reps but are sharing the first-team snaps this spring, as former starter Luke Del Rio recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Del Rio, a journeyman quarterback, dealt with injuries last year and threw for 1,358 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. The other 1,447 passing yards went to Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby, who ran out of eligibility.
Athlete signee Kadarius Toney, who is more of a dual-threat option, is there too, but Trask and Franks are far and away the leaders.
But the fact of the matter is that Trask and Franks -- two guys whom QB guru McElwain recruited and signed in his vision -- are the guys. Both could play this fall, but one is expected to be the present and future at quarterback for the University of Florida.
“It’s not just competing to be the quarterback at the University of Florida, I want to bring the swag back to Florida," Franks, who was a 2016 four-star, ESPN 300 member, told ESPN. "I want to be the guy that the whole country is talking about. I have that in myself, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make everybody to realize that.”
Franks was a gunslinger with a missile for a right arm at Wakulla County High School in Crawfordville, Florida and a U.S. Army All-American. He flipped from LSU to Florida.
Trask was a backup to eventual Houston signee D'Eriq King. His first offer from Houston Baptist was "a dream come true."
During the spring of Trask's junior season, Florida assistant Randy Shannon visited Manvel to scout safety Derrick Tucker, who later signed with Texas A&M. During his visit, Trask caught his eye, and Shannon relayed his intel to OC Doug Nussmeier.
It took some convincing, but Nussmeier eventually went to Manvel. Impressed by Trask, he invited him to camp in Gainesville and then invited him back for megacamp Friday Night Lights in July.
After another notable performance, Trask was offered, said he committed a day later and enrolled at Florida as a relatively unknown player in December 2015.
“I came in with a chip on my shoulder trying to prove myself," Trask said. "I know a lot of people didn’t know who I was so I came in trying to make a name for myself.”
Now, both are battling to resurrect the quarterback spot at Florida. The charismatic Franks is the presumed leader, but he's had moments that conjured visions of last year's three-interception performance in Florida's spring game. Trask, the more soft-spoken, laid-back type, has displayed brilliance in some throws, but he hasn't fully embraced the leadership side -- unlike Franks -- and has tightened up more during live drills.
Trask says he feels "100 percent more confident" in himself and the playbook, while Franks says he's found more comfort and fun on the field after a "super confusing" first spring of "not even knowing what I was doing.”
These two still have a long way to go when it comes to reading defenses inside a packed stadium and making clutch throws when they really count. But something both have been better at than their predecessors is chucking the deep ball.
“They’ve been throwing big bombs," safety Nick Washington told ESPN. "They’re not afraid to let it loose. It’s exciting to know they’re willing to go for the big play.”
Added senior receiver Brandon Powell, who has seen a slew of quarterbacks go in and out of Florida: “They just tell us ‘Get open.'"
It's too early to anoint either much of anything, let alone Florida's starter, but it appears that there is at least more excitement under center. And the more McElwain wraps his fingers around the two, molding each more and more in his vision, you can't help but wonder if one of these guys will actually turn things around at a position thirsting for prosperity.
“They’ve got some intangible skills that should really allow us to push the ball [down field] a little bit more," McElwain said.
“I know one thing: They can throw it. They can really throw it. They have natural arm talent. We’re going to be pretty good [at quarterback].”
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Burton Burns is easily one of the most accomplished assistant coaches in college football.
As the longtime running backs coach at Alabama, he has mentored a pair of Heisman Trophy winners and five first- or second-round NFL draft picks. The overall numbers he has helped compile since joining Nick Saban's staff in Tuscaloosa in 2007 are staggering: The Crimson Tide rank among the top 10 of Power 5 teams in rushing yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns during that time.
That's not to mention Burns' former stops at Clemson and Tulane, either, where he cut his teeth and worked with backs such as James Davis and C.J. Spiller.
But Burns, who turns 65 in October, has a new kind of problem on his hands this spring at Alabama. It's a good problem to have, granted, but it's one that will require a deft touch and possibly a scientific calculator to solve.
How do you spread one football among so many talented running backs?
Go back to the first day of spring practice to see the issue. Burns, wearing a red Alabama baseball cap, red shorts and a long-sleeve shirt, stood on one end of a beat-up chute on a warm Tuesday afternoon, directing his running backs to get low and sprint under the mesh netting. Damien Harris was first through the drill. Then came Joshua Jacobs. Bringing up the rear was Bo Scarbrough, wearing a black no-contact jersey.
That was 2,589 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the field at once. It was the team's top four rushers, all underclassmen last season. On top of them, there was Najee Harris, the five-star true freshman who enrolled early with plans on making an impact right away.
It's going to be hard enough for Burns to decide on a starter. Damien Harris, who led the team with 1,065 yards last season, might be the favorite to hold on to the job. But as we saw late in the season before he broke his leg against Clemson, Scarbrough is a 6-foot-2, 228-pound force of nature with the ball in his hands. During the Iron Bowl, SEC Championship and two rounds of the College Football Playoff, he rushed for 454 yards and six touchdowns.
Not to be overshadowed are true sophomores Emmons, who in seven games before an injury rushed for 4.9 yards per carry, and Jacobs, who racked up 585 yards and four touchdowns on 85 attempts.
Only once during Saban's tenure have we seen four running backs garner 40 or more carries in a season, and that was in 2009 when Mark Ingram had a supporting cast of Trent Richardson, Roy Upchurch and Terry Grant. Even then, you had Greg McElroy rushing the ball only 54 times at quarterback, compared with the 191 rushes Jalen Hurts had as a true freshman quarterback last season.
Unless Alabama runs a Wing-T, it's going to be hard to get carries for the four returning running backs, along with Hurts and Najee Harris.
And make no mistake, the newcomer isn't a good bet to redshirt.
“Najee is a very good all-around player, one of the best players in the country, according to a lot of people's evaluation,” said Saban, who isn't exactly one to lead the hype machine. “He's got great size, he's got great speed, he's very fluid and smooth athletically, very complete. Has very good hands, good route runner, has special production as a player.”
Good luck keeping that level talent off the field, especially when he arrived in time for spring practice ready to play at a rock solid 6-foot-2 and 227 pounds.
Maybe we'll see Damien Harris and Scarbrough take fewer carries to get the others involved. Or maybe new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will put multiple backs on the field at once.
You'll remember that as a senior in 2015, Kenyan Drake had a career-high 29 receptions when Derrick Henry rumbled his way to the Heisman Trophy. Jalston Fowler's stocky frame helped him split time as a running back and H-back the year before that.
Who knows? Scarbrough, who played receiver in high school, and Najee Harris, who seems to possess good hands, could be options to split out as slot receivers. Maybe Emmons and Jacobs, who are more compact runners, could double as lead blockers, too.
It's going to take some creativity from Burns and Daboll.
There might be a few long nights finding the right formula to make all the pieces work and keep everyone happy, but at the end of the day it will be a pleasant problem to solve.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's a bizarre sight when ambling through the coaches wing of the Florida State football complex. The faces behind the desks and the business cards placed atop them haven't changed.
Florida State is one of four Power 5 teams that will have the same coaching staff for a third consecutive season in 2017. Meanwhile, Mississippi State has its fourth defensive coordinator in four seasons. In 2017, every 2016 playoff team will have multiple new coaches.
"[Players] get stability, build relationships. Change this and change that, everybody wants change in this world now," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "But you're breaking relationships, breaking how a guy gets coached, how he knows what a coach wants."
In early 2013, Fisher might have considered mandating name tags among coaches. Six assistants skipped town after 2012, forcing a staff reconstruction that bordered on a complete overhaul.
Since 2013, the Seminoles have lost only two assistants, and a staff that has largely remained in place is 47-7 over those four seasons. Only two teams have fewer losses.
At Florida State, three assistants have worked with Fisher more than a decade. Odell Haggins is approaching his 24th season, and Rick Trickett and Lawrence Dawsey have been with Fisher since he arrived as offensive coordinator in 2007. Tim Brewster, Charles Kelly, Jay Graham and Randy Sanders accepted positions in 2013. Bill Miller came in 2014 and Brad Lawing joined before the 2015 season.
"Old, experienced, know what to do, not enamored with all the things like young players -- eyes get giddy, want to go, grass is always greener," Fisher said, contrasting his stalwarts to coaches on the move. "They've been through that. They've won championships, they've been in big-time programs and understand what it's about and know we got a great program."
While never in jeopardy of a staff breakup like in 2013, other programs have taken the pulse of the Seminoles' staff. Brewster is considered one of the country's best recruiters. Lawing is an elite defensive coach credited with Jadeveon Clowney's early development.
It appeared Auburn might pluck Kelly, a former Tigers defensive back, with a reported $1 million offer after 2015, but the Seminoles defensive coordinator rooted himself in Tallahassee. When the defense floundered early in 2016 and it seemed Kelly could be let go, Fisher showed the same loyalty.
If Fisher felt there was too much of a deficiency at one spot, he said he wouldn't hesitate to make a move, but he's confident in his group.
Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Matthew Thomas is one of the few Seminoles who have experienced a change in coaching at his position. He said it takes a few practices to feel comfortable, and early meetings often focus on introductions over improvements.
"It's kind of difficult, kind of tough because you get used to one guy and then you get another guy with a whole new system and have to get his feel for how he does things," Thomas said.
Turnover on a coaching staff doesn't necessarily equate to a struggle on the field, however. While coaching dysfunction at Texas continually set the Longhorns back, Alabama has cycled through assistants and coordinators. The Tide nearly won a national title with Steve Sarkisian, who was promoted to offensive coordinator a week before the championship in what ultimately served as a one-game audition for the NFL. When the Tide opens against Florida State on Sept. 2, it will have a third offensive coordinator in as many games.
What the continuity at Florida State has also done is limit the time Fisher needs to double as a human-resources manager. Gathering contacts for background information and interviews is a lengthy process, coaches said.
NC State coach Dave Doeren hired two new coaches this winter, and he made a coordinator change before last season. He brought Eliah Drinkwitz aboard to run the Wolfpack's offense though neither Doeren nor anyone else on the NC State staff had coached with Drinkwitz.
"If you're starting from scratch and you don't know anything about the guy, it takes time," he said. "You got to call a lot of people, gotta get in front of them and maybe have them meet with other people on staff, and the negotiation could take a long time."
The way Fisher's contract is structured, there is incentive for the athletic department to keep assistants' salaries competitive in negotiations. If Fisher elects to leave before the end of his deal in 2024, his buyout is tied to the remaining money owed to the Florida State assistant coaches.
"Our guys don't run for [money], but end of the day it has to be competitive," Fisher said. "It's a big commitment, but at the end of the day [football is] what makes all the money."
NORMAN, Okla. -- After Oklahoma’s first spring practice Tuesday, Baker Mayfield answered every question thoroughly and thoughtfully about last month’s public intoxication arrest in Arkansas.
For almost 20 minutes, Oklahoma’s senior quarterback faced the music and owned the mistake.
“I felt terrible because I know I let a lot of people down,” he said. “I’ve been very hard on myself because I know it’s a special honor to play quarterback here.
“I messed up.”
Such reflection prompted a deeper contemplation. This wasn’t how Mayfield’s final college season was supposed to begin.
"He’s motivated to bounce back from it," OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley told ESPN. He’s not going to let that define him. He made a mistake and he’s gotta learn from it. ... Knowing the kind of kid he is, and the kind of resolve he has, I would be shocked if he doesn’t handle it that way and turn it into a positive."
Mayfield’s college football career has endured about as many winding turns and colorful moments as any in recent history, a narrative that has become well known.
As an undersized recruit with limited offers, he walked on at Texas Tech; improbably won the starting job; transferred to Oklahoma, the school he cheered for growing up in, of all places, Austin, Texas; improbably won a starting job again; quarterbacked the Sooners to the College Football Playoff; won a battle with the Big 12 to get his fourth season of eligibility back; then led the Sooners to a second-consecutive conference championship and, presently, the nation’s longest winning streak.
Along the way, Mayfield twice finished in the top five of the Heisman voting; broke the FBS passing-efficiency record; charmed teammates with relentless trash-talking, both in practice and in games; feuded openly with two Big 12 head coaches; fought Twitter squabbles with Oklahoma State players and pundits, too; enraged his former school’s fan base before torching their team twice on the field; won an intramural softball championship; overcame concussions and vicious hits to his head; and endeared himself to Sooner Nation forever with clutch moments in massive games.
Mayfield even once unleashed a dance video that went viral.
“Everything that I’ve been through, all the ups and downs, it’s kind of led me to this point,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy every bit of it. Taking a step back and looking back at the journey I've had, realizing it’s the last run, I’m going to enjoy it, and at the same time work the absolute hardest I ever have, with the ultimate goal of a national title.
“But I’ve got to enjoy it along the way. It’ll be one to remember.”
It’s a season Mayfield almost didn’t have.
Underscoring the drama and intrigue that has encompassed his career, the Big 12 faculty athletic representatives initially voted down Oklahoma’s appeal to change the conference rule last summer to allow walk-ons to transfer within the league without losing a season of eligibility. In a dramatic reversal, the faculty reps reconvened the following morning and essentially passed the same proposal, only with slightly different language.
Had the rule change not been adopted, Mayfield would've had to leave Oklahoma in order to play a final college season. Mayfield said, looking back at it now, that’s not a path he would’ve been able to take.
“I wouldn’t have had a decision, I would’ve had to go prepare for the NFL,” he said. “I would say I would never transfer -- I already did -- but I couldn't play anywhere else after playing here. I’ve loved it too much to do that. Growing up and loving and watching Oklahoma football, visiting the games, I enjoyed it a lot. It really changed my mindset on the game of football. I just wouldn’t have [transferred]. I wouldn't be here playing at the school I love. Obviously, I’m thankful I got the extra year, or I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Even Mayfield still wonders sometimes how he got here.
“More of a dream, than a reality,” he said.
Without an invitation to walk on, much less a scholarship, Mayfield arrived in Norman in the winter of 2014. Like a normal student, he moved into the sixth floor of Adams dorm, worked out on his own in the school’s student recreation center and waited for spring practice to officially join the team.
Trevor Knight was back after having just quarterbacked Oklahoma to a stunning win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, leaving Mayfield with almost no conceivable path back to a starting job. But Mayfield had always been a Sooner fan, donning his Quentin Griffin jersey whenever his family would drive up from Austin to catch a game.
Oklahoma was where he wanted to be. And no matter how much of a long shot it seemed to be, Mayfield was willing to bet on himself that he could get back on the field.
“You work for it,” he said, when asked how he conquered the odds. “Everybody that gets to college that gets to play, you always work for it. That’s what you want. But when it came down to it, it became a realization that if I wanted it that badly, I could go get it. That’s why I say, I’m in a position I’m very blessed to have, and I’m enjoying it.
“Right now, it’s up to me to make the most of it make the most of my senior year.”
Had the Big 12 not given Mayfield his senior year back, the Sooners would be facing a rebuild. Star running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are gone. So, too, is wideout and fellow Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook. Yet despite losing all that firepower, the Sooners still have championship aspirations.
Because they have their championship-level quarterback for one more season.
“This is my team,” Mayfield said. “That’s the mindset that I’m going to carry, I’ve got to make the most of it. I’ve been through a lot, had some challenges. But I’ve got to enjoy it.
“One final run at the school that I love, I’ve got to enjoy it and make the most of it.”
OXFORD, Miss. -- It’s been almost a month since Ole Miss self-imposed a one-year bowl ban for the 2017 season following a new notice of allegations from the NCAA. Head coach Hugh Freeze addressed it when the Rebels opened spring practice at the beginning of the month. But the players hadn’t been made available since the announcement.
That changed Tuesday when a trio of players spoke after practice. What was their reaction to the news of the postseason ban?
“Devastated,” offensive lineman Javon Patterson said. “I was devastated about it. But as a team, it was a real good wake-up call. The next morning we had a 6 o’clock workout, and everybody showed up with high energy. We had a couple runs, and everybody just got after it. That really showed a lot about our team.”
That energy and that drive have carried over to spring practice where the Rebels have moved past the bowl ban and are focused on improving every day.
The players know that they can’t play for a national championship or an SEC championship. They know that regardless of their record, there will be no bowl game at the end of this season. But that doesn’t mean the season is a lost cause.
“We have 12 opportunities, and those opportunities still have SEC teams -- Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, all those teams,” Patterson said. “We have to play them just like they have to play us. We’re going out there to beat them.”
For Patterson, there’s also comfort in knowing that this might not be his last year. He’ll be a junior in the fall, and unless he leaves early or transfers, he can return to Ole Miss in 2018 when the self-imposed bowl ban will be lifted.
The same can’t be said for the seniors, who took the news a little harder knowing that this coming season will be their last in Oxford.
“It was tough,” senior running back Jordan Wilkins said. “Everybody has the vision of going to a national championship, an SEC championship. But it doesn’t take anything away from how hard we’re going to work and [how hard] we’re going to push to. I think everybody’s focus is to wipe the table, and that will take care of everything.”
Wilkins, in particular, has helped the team stay positive in light of the circumstances. He missed all of last season after he was ruled academically ineligible less than a month before the first game, and now he’s just ready to get back out there and play again.
Fellow senior Marquis Haynes had a chance to hear his name called at next month's NFL draft, but he opted to return to school before the bowl ban was announced. Rather than get down about it, he's using the upcoming season as another chance to improve his tape and impress the scouts.
“[The decision] wasn’t tough at all,” Haynes said. “I just know that I need to come back and work on my techniques and what I need to do to get better, and finish my degree here.”
The motivation is different for everybody. For some, it’s about improving their draft stock. For others who might have missed last season, it’s the chance to play again. For the younger players, it's about the future of the program and what happens after this season. And, of course, each and every player on the team wants to win regardless of what else is going on.
But the most important thing is that this Ole Miss team is still motivated. No bowl ban will change that.
“We’re going to give everything we have,” Wilkins said. “There’s still going to be a lot to watch because we’re going to put on a show for everybody.”
The first breakout star of Dino Babers’ offense at Syracuse lasted just a year. Amba Etta-Tawo was a transfer from Maryland who’d caught just 20 passes as a junior but blossomed into one of the most prolific receivers in the country after joining the Orange. He arrived as an afterthought and departs with legitimate NFL potential.
The downside, of course, is that Syracuse now needs to replace all that production -- 94 catches to go with an ACC best 1,482 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The upside is, Etta-Tawo offered a sneak peek into what Babers’ offense can do for a receiver, and the Orange don’t seem too worried about finding the next superstar. In fact, they’re fairly certain there’s more than one already on the roster.
“We want to get to the point where we have multiple receivers at 1,000 yards,” senior Steve Ishmael said. “If everybody’s on their job, everybody’s going to eat in this offense.”
That mindset is all about Babers’ influence. On one hand, he’s not big on tipping his hand too early. Players know better than to reveal too much too soon, so don’t expect gushing over any burgeoning star. Etta-Tawo remained a virtually unknown commodity last year until Week 1, when he caught 12 balls for 210 yards in his Syracuse debut.
But it’s also about the potential Babers’ offense offers his receivers. While Etta-Tawo captured the bulk of the spotlight, three other receivers topped 500 yards, too, putting the Orange alongside Clemson and Louisville as the only ACC teams with four 500-yard receivers. Syracuse accomplished the feat in just 12 games, with a backup QB playing a significant percentage of those.
So as spring practice kicks off and the question of replacing Etta-Tawo is posed again and again, it’s easy enough to be confident Syracuse already has at least one good answer.
“They have that mindset, and I have the same expectations for them,” quarterback Eric Dungey said. “We have great receivers across the board and some young guys coming in. I’m excited to work with them.”
The list beyond Ishmael and fellow senior Ervin Philips isn’t exactly an accomplished one. Moe Neal moves from running back to the slot. Jamal Custis (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and Adly Enoicy (6-5, 227) offer imposing physical skills, but have just six career catches between them. Tight end Ravian Pierce has already earned raves from his offseason work, but Syracuse tight ends caught just six passes total last year.
But, of course, the same might’ve been said this time last year, when the Orange arrived at camp completely new to Babers’ up-tempo style and without a true star among the receivers. The results were impressive enough, and Etta-Tawo blazed the path that Babers insists plenty of others will soon follow.
So what if there’s no clear answer today? There’s clearly progress from a year ago, and Dungey has options to throw to, so it’s more likely only a matter of time before the next Etta-Tawo emerges.
“Every time you go into something the first time, it’s a little shaky,” Ishmael said. “Building the foundation is key. We’ve been practicing on it, and the more reps we get, the more we get used to the system, and it’s really clicking on all cylinders right now. Everything is in us now, and we’re just moving.”