EL PASO, Texas — Mike Norvell has spent the last three weeks tirelessly building the foundation for his tenure at Florida State, having added 17 freshman signees, some additional transfers and an almost-complete coaching staff since his introduction on December 8.
It’s all made for a perfect start, one that has FSU fans ready for what’s to come in 2020.
But, with all due respect to the new pieces, all of which will have roles to play in the program’s way forward, Norvell on Monday morning got what will undoubtedly be his biggest “win” this side of September.
First, third-year receiver Tamorrion Terry – an honorable mention All-ACC selection with 1,023 yards and eight touchdowns – announced that he would put professional football on hold and return to Florida State for his redshirt junior season.
Were that the day’s only news, it would have still been cause for celebration from Tallahassee to El Paso, where Terry and his teammates are preparing for the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl (Tuesday, 2 p.m., CBS).
Terry, after all, is one of the nation’s most dangerous receivers, and figures to be one of the central figures in a Norvell-led offense that has boasted a 1,000-yard receiver in each of the last seven seasons.
But things got even better a few moments later. That’s when junior defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, FSU’s best defender and best draft prospect, announced that he, too, would remain in Tallahassee for another year.
Wilson’s announcement was as stunning as it was exciting, and it sent shockwaves throughout Florida State’s online fan base.
Norvell felt it, too.
“I’m thrilled that Tamorrion and Marvin have decided to continue their education and football development at Florida State,” he said. “I knew they were fantastic football players, but, throughout our conversations, I’ve been impressed by their dedication to excellence and commitment to this football program and university.
“Those qualities describe the type of people we want to build our program with.”
Indeed, for a program that’s rebuilding its foundation, Wilson and Terry represent two strong pillars.
Their on-field production speaks for itself.
The 6-foot-4, 203-pound Terry has improved in each of his seasons at FSU, and by the end of the 2019 campaign had evolved into arguably the best deep-ball receiver in college football.
Five of his eight touchdown catches were on plays of 60-plus yards – two were from 70-plus – and he finished the regular season with a nation’s-best 53.75 average yards per touchdown catch.
And, despite playing a position that doesn’t always achieve big numbers in the box score, Wilson racked them up anyway.
His five sacks were most on the team, and his 44 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss were the best among FSU’s interior defensive linemen – all despite playing in just nine games before sustaining a season-ending injury.
Wilson’s impact, though, extends far beyond the stat sheet. A team captain and locker room leader, the 6-foot-5, 311-pound Wilson serves as a steadying anchor for the Seminoles, and his presence impacts all three levels of the defense.
Simply put, players at Wilson’s position, with his production and pedigree – players who do things like this on a regular basis… don’t play four years of college football.
Consider that seven of the first eight defensive tackles or ends selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft were either redshirt sophomores or juniors.
Wilson, had he chosen to, would almost certainly have joined those ranks in a few months.
And no one would have batted an eye had Terry turned pro and bet on at least one NFL general manager falling in love with his speed and size.
As Norvell said, it’s a testament to each of them that they’re choosing to put off the NFL and its millions for another year.
But, maybe even more than that, it’s a testament to Norvell.
He’ll be Wilson’s and Terry’s third head coach in four years – fourth when including interim coach Odell Haggins.
And, while Wilson has had continuity with Haggins as his position coach, 2020 will mark the first time that Terry has played for the same receivers coach in consecutive seasons.
It happens all the time in college football. A program changes coaches and, rather than learn a new scheme while playing for new coaches they didn’t commit to – and who didn’t recruit them – draft-eligible players simply head for the door.
Who would have blamed Wilson or Terry had they done the same?
But each player expressed a desire to leave Florida State football in a better place than they found it while continuing to improve as players and as men.
And, after meeting with Norvell and hearing his vision for the future, they were convinced that he was the right man to do both of those things.
That’s quite an endorsement.
“Their confidence in me and my staff is exciting, and we can’t wait to get to work providing unmatched experiences within our program,” Norvell said. “The future is bright in Tallahassee.”
“I want to be a part of (Norvell’s) plan,” Wilson added. “I’m still committed to Florida State. I’m committed to Coach Norvell.”
Those five words – “I’m committed to Coach Norvell” – might be as important as any spoken aloud since Norvell came aboard earlier this month.
In his three weeks on the job, Norvell has shown the ability to attract talented players and coaches from across the nation.
But his ability to earn the trust and commitment of the two of the most talented players in his own locker room, two players who have chosen to stay at Florida State when they didn’t have to, might be the most significant thing he’s done so far.