The trials and tribulations of National Signing Day often call into question the meaning of the word “commitment,” with players routinely backing out of oral commitments and leaving unprepared programs high and dry.
Florida State showed Wednesday that schools can play that game, too.
With the cameras rolling and fax machines finally churning, Florida State declined to offer three-star linebacker Brian Bell an official scholarship despite a more than year-long commitment to the Lowndes High School (Georgia) star. This after Bell was named in a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit by the parents of former classmate Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead in the Lowndes gymnasium in 2013.
FSU alerted Bell of its decision last week, according to Lowndes High School coach Randy McPherson.
“Last Wednesday morning, coach Jimbo Fisher told me that the FSU athletic director and the president would not let him give Brian Bell a scholarship,” McPherson said in a statement released to the Valdosta Daily Times. “We went to meet with the FSU president the next day. The next morning, Jimbo called me and told me that they still were not going to let him give Brian a scholarship.”
The lawsuit blames Bell and 37 others, including his father, for the mysterious death of Johnson. Authorities ruled the death accidental after the 17-year-old was found between rolled-up wrestling mats. Bell was never charged or considered as a suspect, Lowndes County Sheriff Lt. Stryde Jones said.
But when social media became abuzz with news of the lawsuit, Florida State’s commitment to Bell came under considerable heat. Ultimately, the Seminoles backed off.
Bell became one of two oral commits not to sign with the Seminoles after four-star quarterback Kai Locksley backed out in more traditional fashion. Locksley signed with Texas, citing the chance of immediate playing time. Locksley, the son of Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, pledged his commitment to Florida State last summer.
Locksley’s flip might turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Seminoles. Locksley would have been the third four-star quarterback, joining Deondre Francois and De’Andre Johnson, in this class alone. Instead the Seminoles avoided a logjam and used the scholarship on four-star defensive back Marcus Lewis (Washington), whom they nabbed from Miami and Kentucky at the last minute.
Overall, Florida State signed 12 of 14 expected prospects and 21 total counting seven early enrollees and Ethan Frith (Summit, Mississippi), a 2014 signee who delayed his enrollment because of academics. Four-star local products Da’Vante Phillips (wide receiver) and Calvin Brewton (safety) from Miami Central joined four five-star recruits in the early enrolled class and are expected to participate in spring practice.
American Heritage defensive back Tarvarus McFadden held to his commitment Wednesday, giving Florida State its fourth five-star recruit, tied for second in the country.
Fisher’s class ranked No.3 in the country, according to 247Sports.com’s aggregate ranking. It’s Florida State’s eighth consecutive top-10 recruiting class and best since 2011, when it ranked No.2.
Even if any highly touted targets such as Terry Beckner Jr. (Missouri), Shelton Johnson (Michigan) or Iman Marshall (Southern California) chose Florida State, experts believe the Seminoles would have still trailed Alabama in the class rankings. Nick Saban has attracted the highest-ranked recruiting class every year since 2011.
The losses of Bell and Locksley, and FSU’s inability to sign Marshall, allowed the USC to leapfrog FSU and finish No.2. The Seminoles also tried unsuccessfully to lure five-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick from Alabama.
Abdul Bello, OL
Calvin Brewton, DB
George Campbell, WR
Deondre Francois, QB
Derwin James, DB
De’Andre Johnson, QB
Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane, LB
Marcus Lewis, DB
Gonzaga (Washington, DC)
Ethan Frith, OL
North Pike (MS)
Tarvarus McFadden, DB
Cole Minshew, OL
Coffee County (GA)
Nyqwan Murray, WR
Jacques Patrick, RB
Da’Vante Phillips, WR
Lorenzo Phillips, LB
East Mississippi CC
David Robbins, OL
Josh Sweat, DE
Oscar Smith (VA),
Auden Tate, WR
Darvin Taylor II, DT
Thomas Dale (VA)
A.J. Westbrook, DB
Jalen Wilkerson, TE
Coffee County (GA)