Florida State is all but guaranteed to finish with its eighth consecutive top-10 recruiting class — and possibly the school’s highest-rated crop since 2011 — when the dust of National Signing Day clears Wednesday.
But legal murkiness surrounding one recruit is overshadowing the Seminoles’ efforts to retool.
Brian Bell, a three-star linebacker from Valdosta, Georgia, who orally committed to Florida State last year, was recently named as a co-defendant in a $100 million wrongful-death lawsuit, according to the DeKalb County Clerk’s office.
The 27-page lawsuit filed by the family of Kendrick Johnson looks to hold Bell and 37 others, including members of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Valdosta Police Department, responsible in Johnson’s death. Johnson was found dead in the Lowndes High School gymnasium in Valdosta in 2013. He was 17.
The Lowndes County Sherriff’s office ruled Johnson’s death accidental following an autopsy. Johnson’s family contested the ruling, and seven members of the family were arrested amid protests. Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, Kendrick’s parents, were convicted this week for misdemeanor interference with government property, according to Lt. Stryde Jones of the sheriff’s office.
Bell wasn’t charged with any crime, and Jones said he was never a suspect.
“He was in his class where he was supposed to be,” Jones said. “Cameras showed it.”
But that only cleared Bell’s name in the court of online public opinion. A quick search for the subject on Twitter finds many users shouting for Bell’s scholarship to be revoked, with some even accusing him of being a murderer.
A Florida State spokesperson declined to comment on any oral commitments before Signing Day.
Besides Bell, the Seminoles have received verbals from 13 others, including five-star defensive back Tarvarus McFadden (Plantation American Heritage). McFadden joins fellow five-star prospects George Campbell (WR; Tarpon Springs), Derwin James (DB; Haines City), Jacques Patrick (RB; Orlando) and Josh Sweat (DE; Chesapeake, Virginia) in a class Rivals.com ranked fourth in the nation.
FSU has the most five-star recruits in the country with five. All but McFadden have already signed letters of intent, enrolled early and are expected to participate in spring practice.
Three other players, all four-star recruits, have also signed letters of intent and enrolled, including locals Da’Vante Phillips and Calvin Brewton of Miami Central.
Brewton, a defensive back, chose his childhood dream school over Notre Dame and Georgia, among others. Central coach Roland Smith said Brewton stands out because of his length, speed, athleticism and toughness.
Phillips was named to the Herald’s All-Miami-Dade first team after reeling in 48 catches for 748 yards at wide receiver during the regular season. He chose FSU over Alabama, Ohio State and Miami.
“Overall, it’s a tremendous group with a lot of talent, and I know they’ll keep the legacy of our program intact, headed in the right direction and winning championships,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said of the early enrollees.
Hallandale linebacker Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane joins Bell among six three-star verbal commitments. Thirteen of FSU’s 21 total commitments hail from Florida.
East Lake, Tarpon Springs
Haines City, Haines City
First Coast, Jacksonville
Timber Creek, Orlando
Oscar Smith, Chesapeake, Va.
Lowndes, Valdosta, Ga.
Montverde Academy, Montverde
IMG Academy, Bradenton
Hallandale, Hallandale Beach
Gilman School, Baltimore
American Heritage, Plantation
Coffee County, Pridgen, Ga.
Oak Ridge, Orlando
East Mississippi CC
Gleneig, Gleneig, Md.
Darvin Taylor II
Thomas Dale, Chester, Va.