Atlanta, GA - There was no shortage of activity in Florida State’s Chick-fil-A Bowl camp Tuesday. The Seminoles began the day with a reunion at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast, where former coach Bobby Bowden was the keynote speaker.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who shared the head table with Bowden and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier at the breakfast, participated in the bowl’s first game-week press conference – along with seniors Christian Ponder and Markus White - before leading the Seminoles through practice at the Georgia Dome.
The Seminole players capped off the action with a trip to the Andretti Karting Center, where they continued their week-long competition with the Gamecocks, this time testing their skills behind the wheel of the power-packed, go carts.
FCA Breakfast has Seminole flavor
Master of ceremonies Ernie Johnson, who is best known as TNT’s NBA studio host, didn’t waste any time offering to a disclaimer at the start of the FCA Breakfast. Bobby Bowden’s presence as the keynote speaker was set up six months ago, long before anyone had an idea the Seminoles would be going head-to-head with the Gamecocks and their coach, long-time nemesis, Steve Spurrier in Friday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Regardless, Bowden’s presence – his first in-person encounter with Fisher and the Seminoles since leading them to last season’s Gator Bowl victory – was well received.
“It seemed like it was a year ago and we were just sitting in a meeting, talking like we hadn’t missed a beat,” Fisher said. “We have such a great relationship. I think that’s the thing that people still don’t really appreciate. … It goes back to our relationship and our background together. We go back 25 years. It was such a comfort zone. We talked about all kinds of things.”
Bowden’s trademark wit was on display for all to see in the overflowing Marriott Marquis Ballroom as he interspersed a few jokes with his message on the importance of faith and the development of leaders with strong morals and character.
“It was great to see him again,” said FSU quarterback Christian Ponder. “I love his humor and we miss him a lot. It was great to see him again.”
Ponder later joined Johnson on stage, along with South Carolina’s Brian Maddox, answering a few questions about football and the importance of faith.
FSU senior defensive back Ochuko Jenije delivered the invocation.
Still, the center of attention was Bowden, who said he was enjoying retirement where “every day is Saturday” and added that he didn’t miss coaching, only the daily interaction with the players and coaches.
Fisher: Seniors have set the table for future success
While FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, defensive end Markus White and quarterback Christian Ponder were peppered with questions about the upcoming game with South Carolina, the focus of Tuesday’s press conference was on the importance of the Seminoles’ senior class to the season.
“This is the last time this team will ever be together,” Fisher said. “That’s something that is very special.”
Clearly, Fisher believes the core group of 16 seniors – eight of whom are scholarship players – has left a lasting impression during his first year at the helm of the Seminoles.
“Our seniors have showed us how to win a game,” said Fisher, who praised their competitiveness in leading the program to the doorstep of its first 10-win season since 2003. “They’ve shown us how to work. They put us back in a situation where we’re back in the national title talk. We’re a factor in our conference again. What they have done for us is set a standard for these young guys of how you work and how you overcome adversity. These young guys now have to carry that on.
“Our seniors have set that standard for the rest of this team so next year our team can carry on for the next group. Then you start to build a program and not a team.”
Both White and Ponder said that the turnaround which has taken place is a source of great pride.
“We’re playing as a team,” Ponder said. “In prior years, everything was separated between offense, defense and special teams. Now there’s a whole different level of unity on the team. Guys want to play for each other. You’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing for the guy next to you. I think that’s something we’ve learned and grown into.”
Posting a 10th victory against the Gamecocks is the mission of the senior class; a sendoff to what appears to be a bright future for the program under Fisher’s direction.
“I’m disappointed that I have to leave,” Ponder added. “You hear about all these recruits coming in. They’re definitely headed in the right direction and it’s going to be exciting to see what’s going to happen next year. I’ll definitely be watching. But I’ve had a great opportunity to be here for five years and hopefully be known as part of the class that helped turn this program around.”
The Seminoles practiced for a little over two hours in the Georgia Dome Tuesday in what amounted to the last day of heavy work…Fisher said the junior tight end Ja’Baris Little would fill in for Beau Reliford with redshirt sophomore walk-on tight end Jonathan Johnson and senior fullback Matt Dunham working in the rotation as well…On Monday the ‘Noles took part in what amounted to an eating contest at a local Brazilian restaurant – Fogo de Chao - where they averaged 3.10 pounds of meat per man Walk-on defensive tackle Joshua Rodriguez was the top eater among ‘Noles, consuming 5 pounds before he was pulled away from the table. Alas, the ‘Noles were edged by the Gamecocks by a mere .09 pounds in the competition…With its eating victory, South Carolina tied the bowl week competition at 1-1 after the ‘Noles scored a dominating gaming victory on Sunday at Dave & Busters…The competition continues Wednesday with a Milkshake Making contest…FSU offensive coordinator James Coley will be excused from Wednesday’s practice as he and his wife Kenia will celebrate the birth of their second child…The ‘Noles will hold their final full practice in the Georgia Dome Wednesday, which will be followed by a second press conference. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will be joined by senior linebacker Kendall Smith, while assistant head coach Rick Trickett will represent the offensive side along with senior guard Rodney Hudson.