Press Conference: Florida State at the 2017 #ACCKickoff
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and players Deondre Francois and Derwin James talk with reporters at the 2017 ACC Kickoff.
JIMBO FISHER: Hello, everyone. Seems kinds of ironic we`re standing up here for the eighth year though they say time does fly. But I`m extremely proud to be standing up here as the head coach of Florida State University with a great history and great tradition which we’ve able to be a part of and also help grow and keep — continue. And very blessed to have the two great guys we have here along with our great team, but we’re looking forward to another great season as we always do and have a lot of expectations. But those are things that go along with being at Florida State.
But more so very proud of the things that we’ve been able to accomplish in the last seven years that put us in position to have these expectations. Being able to recruit great players like so, be able to have the great coaches, the great facilities and the great things in which we have at Florida State and the tremendous program in which we have.
We’ve accomplished a lot in the last seven years, being able to win a National Championship and three ACC titles, and have a tremendous amount of guys graduate, go on to pro football, have great success in life afterwards. And we`ve spent a lot of time, like I say, in our mental conditioning coaches, our development of players, and development of players once the air goes out of the ball at some time. It’s going to go out. And having those programs all in place and being able to establish that at Florida State with the great culture in which we’ve been able to develop there. And very fortunate to be able to do that and very proud to be able to do that and looking forward to another great season this year and then being able to answer y’all’s questions here in a minute as you know y’all will have quite a few.
But very proud to be here, excited to be here, looking for another great year in the ACC. Like I say, I think we’ve established ourselves as I think the premier conference in college football. I think what we’ve accomplished in the last few years and the things we’ve been able to do as a conference and the commitment that our conference has made and the schools in this conference have made with the coaches, the players, and everything that goes with it. Very proud to be a part of this, and very challenging at the same time.
Great to be with you, and let you hear from a couple of our players who will answer some questions.
Q. Derwin, just what you can say about having to watch from the sideline with an injury and just what that did for you to go through that adversity and make you hungry for a season like this one.
DERWIN JAMES: It was great. It was a long experience that I went through last year. Of course I wanted to be out there with my teammates and helping my team, but I learned a lot just from being on the sideline, just watching it, viewing it from a coaching standpoint. So like I said, I learned a lot from my coaches and helped the players the best way I could on and off the field.
Q. You said you learned a lot last year. What were the one or two big takeaways that you got from being on the sideline?
DERWIN JAMES: To appreciate the game more. I definitely learned that. And basically when the coach is getting on you it’s because of a reason. It’s because of something that you see, that they see, and like I say, I didn’t get that at first coming in, but now I understand why the coaches are on me so hard.
Q. Defensive players don’t typically get a lot of love for the Heisman Trophy. Just wondering with your versatility and everything, do you think you might be able to be considered this year?
DERWIN JAMES: I don’t really get into all that Heisman talk, I’m just trying to help teammates the best way I can. And we`ve got better team goals than just the Heisman. If it happens, then it happens.
Q. You missed 11 games last year, and with your return, with you being the defensive leader, what are some of the goals that you set for your team and the defense coming into this year, especially with a lot of returning starters, returning for you guys?
DERWIN JAMES: Basically making sure the next man up is prepared, very prepared, and ready to take that next step just in case the guy in front of him goes down. That’s the main thing. Making sure everybody is on the same page overall as a defense. Like I said, we’re deep in a lot of positions, just making sure everybody is ready to get out there if their number is called.
Q. You mentioned the depth and the next man up. When guys like you and Nate went down last year, how did that help build the secondary for this year when a lot of young guys got reps they might normally not have gotten?
DERWIN JAMES: Like I said, the younger guys with some of the older guys going down last year, like me and Nate, a lot of the older guys, veteran guys, it forced the younger guys to step up and they got a lot of playing time last year. So now, like I said, they got their feet already wet last year, so when they get in the game this year, it won’t be nothing new to them, so as a team it helped us more.
Q. Deondre, just what you can say about — obviously you have some losses on offense at skill positions, what you can say about some of the guys that have stepped up in the spring and some of those weapons that have been kind of top of mind for you as you go into this upcoming season.
DEONDRE FRANCOIS: Yeah, we lost a lot of weapons on offense, but I feel like we got a lot of young guys that have been working hard in the playbook that had great spring practices and that went into summer with a great mindset, so I feel like those same guys will go into fall camp with a great mindset, also.
Q. You were the ACC rookie of the year last year, and Dalvin Cook is now gone. Can you speak about Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers and the importance of having a good running game and how that will affect the team going forward?
DEONDRE FRANCOIS: We have a lot of good running backs. They all are good at different things. They’re all going to compete, and our run game and our offense are very crucial because it opens up our pass game. That’s one thing we’re going to thrive on. And all running backs that we have, they’re all great at other aspects of the game. Most can catch. They all can block. They all can run. They’re all going to work hard and compete.
Q. You took an incredible number of hard hits it seemed last year. Do you anticipate maybe looking to get rid of the ball a little sooner or just to try to avoid some of those hits this season, or are you planning on playing the same way?
DEONDRE FRANCOIS: No, I don’t plan on taking as many hits. Just polishing up my game, polishing up my protections, where I call my mikes, my hots, and my sights, getting the ball out quicker, understanding the game, and I feel like for my redshirt season to my redshirt sophomore season, the game has slowed down, so I feel like just studying more film, knowing more ways that I can get the ball out quicker will prevent more hits.
Q. Opener against Alabama; how much attention does that get?
DEONDRE FRANCOIS: A lot of attention. A lot of questions about that. We’re just working hard, excited for that game.
Q. You led your team to a great-come-from-behind victory in the opener last year since Mississippi. You fell behind against Louisville and didn’t come back. What was the takeaway from that Louisville game?
DEONDRE FRANCOIS: That one play can change the game, and being young last year, we didn’t understand that as a team. So this year we’re just focused on the details and focusing on every play, doing it right every time, trying our best to be perfect every time because you never know what play can change the game. It’s a game of momentum.
Q. Looking back on last season, what were your biggest takeaways from last season that helped establish you as a better player going into this year?
DEONDRE FRANCOIS: Just learning from my mistakes, not making the same mistake twice, understanding that I’m not perfect, focusing on the next play and understanding that the most important play is the next play, and then understanding that mistakes are going to happen. And as long as I continue to work hard and correct those mistakes, then I’m going down the right track.
Q. More than half the teams in the league are replacing their quarterback. You went through that last year. No matter how good the quarterback is, what are some of the challenges that you face when you’ve got a new guy under center?
JIMBO FISHER: Well, I think being able to make sure that he can match up with what the guys around him can do. I think that’s why they say, what can the quarterback do and what can the guys around him do to making that match and making him have success early. I think it`s very important for quarterbacks to have success early because I think you can lose confidence — once you lose confidence, it’s a hard thing.
And I think you can lose a guy before you make a guy, and I think you have to be very controlled in how you call plays and situations you put him in. But that also can be dictated by the kind of defense you have, the kind of running game you have. So I think having the right people around really makes a difference, but some guys can adapt to it. Some guys can take it all early. But very few can, and I think one of the key things is making sure that they are in positions to have success early so their confidence grows.
Q. Can you just talk about your guys on the defense, Derrick, Josh and Levonta? They’re a year older; what do you expect from them? And you’ve also some Khalan Leborn coming in as a freshman. Can you talk about the dynamic that your guys bring to that?
JIMBO FISHER: I say this every year to people, there`s great recruiting areas all over. When you talk about true athletes and you talk about every sport, great football, basketball, 757 and that Virginia Beach-Chesapeake, whatever, that whole area right through there, it’s tremendous. It really is, and has been for years. You go back to the history of it from Lawrence Taylor to Dwight Stephenson so J.R. Reed to the Vicks and the basketball guys, everybody, the Uptons, everybody in baseball. It’s a great competitive areas.
But those guys have all been a big part. I mean, Derrick Nnadi is going to be a tremendous nose guard for us, very strong, very powerful. Josh Sweat who was the No. 1 player in the country until he got hurt and had a great career, really came on last year in the run and pass stuff is really having a great off-season. Levonta Taylor, on of the top corners in the country, can play nickel, contributed big time as a freshman. Khalan Leborn hopefully will have an opportunity to do that. We think he`s going to be an outstanding player.
So I mean all those guys have been in — it all started because the guy was just standing there visiting us the other day, E.J. Manuel. He`s one of the guys that started it from there. E.J. was one of the great players in our history and kind of laid the groundwork for all that. That`s a great area for us, great recruiting area, and those guys all have tremendous futures I think now and possibly at the next level, too.
Q. Traditionally we’ve always thought of the quarterback as the toughest position to play in quarterback. The game is getting more sophisticated yet more and more young quarterbacks are winning the Heisman. Why is that, and talk about why D’Andre has been able to handle it as a young age?
JIMBO FISHER: I think, not only in football it`s a hard position, but in all of sports. I really do. I think there`s nobody has the multitude of things to multiply and go through when you`re talking about 11 guys on defense, 10 guys on offense and everything that can happen in between and you’re able to execute. But I think the way our development of guys at an earlier age, the ways high schools now are spreading the field throwing the football, but also in college, a lot of guys have it because they’re running the run-and-shoot stuff or the spread and they’re making decisions for them from the sideline. We don’t do that. We put him in a pro-style system and make him learn what they do in the NFL. But I think the ability for guys to develop at an early age because of the 7-on-7 leagues now and the way high schools are now spreading the game and guys are just throwing it more, they’re making better decisions, they’re being more equipped when they get there, and being able to throw the football.
Q. Conference supremacy is a big issue for fans, and your comment that you believe that the ACC is the premier conference in college football, I was wondering if you’d expand on that, and even today there were comments made from the SEC West about that division and your division would certainly have a case, as well.
JIMBO FISHER: Well, I would say two of the last four National Championships have come from here. We`ve played for three of them. 8-3 in playoff games and Power Six major bowl games, we’re 8-3; non-conference records against the SEC, the Big Ten and everybody else, we have the winning record Power Five wins. You have two Heisman Trophy winners, also the runner up last year. The coaches you have six coaches in the top 20 and all-time winning percentage in college football. You go down the list of everything and I think the importance of it.
I think it’s become — it’s very important now in the ACC. I think the programs have developed that way, and it’s not that I think — I coached in the SEC for 13 — I think it’s a tremendous conference. I think the Big Ten is a tremendous conference. I think they all are. But I think right now what we`ve accomplished in the last five years and you’re talking about major wins, big wins, National Championships, Heisman Trophy winners, coaches, everything that goes involved, I think the ACC is as good a league as there is in football, I really do.
Q. Just wanted to get your opinion as someone that has taken over for a legendary coach, what do you think your feeling is on how Justin Fuente did over this last?
JIMBO FISHER: I think he did a tremendous job. What Frank did at Virginia Tech, I mean was unbelievable. I think it was eight or nine 10-win seasons right there before the end and, what, he took them to a National Championship and all the title games and the Big East and the ACC. And I think Frank is going to be a Hall of Fame — I think Frank definitely is a Hall of Fame coach.
And for him to walk in there in those shoes and go 10-4 in that first year and play for ACC title and do the things he did, that’s kind of — that’s actually what we were, I think we were 10-4 the first year and played for an ACC title also. But I think Justin is a great young coach. He did it at Memphis. I think he has great play calling abilities, great dynamics in what he’s done, and I think it was one of the great jobs in college football last year.
Q. Speaking on mental toughness for Deondre, just what you can say about his mental toughness and how you saw him handle adversity through games and through the season last year.
JIMBO FISHER: I think that’s the thing that we all are — when guys are so talented when they come in, they think of all the physical things, making the reads, but at the end of the day, the ability to compete and learn how to compete and learn how to process the game and move on from these situations and take the physical part of the game and understand you’re going to get hit, get pounded, and you`re going to have to come back from.
There`s no excuse. You’re the quarterback. No matter how you feel, what you do, you`ve got to understand that, and I think that was something we worked on hard. I think he bought in totally. What I love about Deondre, he allows himself to be coached and allows you to take those steps with him, and I think our team gained tremendous respect for him. I mean, you go back and you research him on 3rd down, him in the red zone, him on fourth quarter drives, five of them that took — four of them we won, one of them we gave up a lead, but he took us back and made those drives as a freshman in key moments. Understanding key — understanding how to win, how to play in big moments. I thought it was outstanding, and what he accomplished. And I think our team understood that. Now I think they have such respect for him that they understand when he says things and does things, they respond and he’s doing a great job of communicating to his teammates and getting them to come along with him and just very proud of the development he’s made, and he’s fun to coach.
Q. You lose a lot of starters on the left side of your offensive line; how is your offensive line gelling so far, and what are your plans for improvement after some of the protection issues from last year?
JIMBO FISHER: Well, I think also health-wise, I think we get Ricky Leonard a lot more experience up front, Dickerson a lot more experience, Derrick Kelly now has really come on in the off-season, very proud of him. Cole Minshew has really developed in what he’s done. Eberle has gotten healthy; he played the whole year banged and bruised and now he`s up to 305 pounds because of his injury and now he can work his lower body, the strength he has. The young players, Baveon and Josh Ball you have Jauan Williams, you have a lot of guys in that second group right there that have played — and I thought had outstanding springs.
We have good players. I think they understand what they have to do. We’re bigger, we’re stronger, and I think they got even Deondre’s presence around to get us in the right place, get us in the right protections and do all those things and even enhance that ability. I’m really anxious after spring and how much work we’ve done this summer, I`m anxious to see him in the fall, and I think we’ll be fine.
Q. The opener against Alabama, I asked Deondre about it, but what are your thoughts as a head coach playing a team like Alabama right out of the gates? Some coaches would like maybe a week to get warmed up.
JIMBO FISHER: Well, I scheduled it, so I’d better be ready for it. No, it is. I think it’s a great opportunity. I think it’s what college football is about. You get to walk in that atmosphere and environment, the two-winningest teams in college football in the last seven years. I think it’s great for our league, I think it’s great for college football. I think we find out where we’re at, and I think not every year you have those games, but I think sometimes you are, and I think this is a year that we’re both prepared to be able to do that, and I think it’s an outstanding chance for us to take another step toward how we want to play and the things we want to do. As you know Nick is one of the great football coaches in this country and one of the greatest of all time. I believe that. They have a tremendous program, tremendous players, well-prepared, how they’re built from big physical guys to fast dynamic guys.
They’ve got everything, so we’re going to have to really have our “A” game and be ready to play, but then the big thing about that, which is — we turn around and ULM and then we turn around and play Miami, NC State right after that. We have a heck of a first series, and then go into Wake Forest before we even have a break. So we’ve got five games right there, very demanding, very tough, and not only in the Alabama game, but how they’re going to impact all the way down. So we have our work cut out for us, but if you’re a competitor and you like those things, those are great opportunities.
Q. What did you think of Clemson’s run to the National Championship last season and the impact of that for the ACC?
JIMBO FISHER: Well, I think it’s good. It solidifies it. We`ve had two teams win in the last four years and they also were the runner-up. I knew Clemson would be in it when we played them. They have been — Dabo has done a tremendous job coaching, they have great players, they have a great program, great history. Football is very important there. You know it was going to be good. And I was very happy for them. I was very happy for our league and what they did. Reestablishes our brand and what we do, and that game has turned into one heck of a game every year. Whoever wins it has a chance to win it all, not only win the ACC, but win a National Championship. Plus then it’s raised the competitiveness of the rest of our league, top to bottom, like I said our league is extremely demanding, and I was very proud of those guys and happy for them.
Q. A lot of attention has been given to the Florida State-Alabama game. You guys also play the eighth toughest schedule in the country. How do you keep the guys focused, especially your young players focused and prepared throughout the season knowing that there’s more games than against Alabama?
JIMBO FISHER: That’s a great point, which hopefully last year taught us that, that we opened up with a very good Ole Miss team, and then had another game and then we went to Louisville, got banged up. Louisville was ready for us, jumped on us. We`ve got the same scenario this year with Miami. Then we play NC State this year and last year we played North Carolina and then we had Miami right after that.
I think last year will hopefully make us understand that it’s not only a one-game deal at the beginning, that it`s going to be all the way through and that first half of the season, we’re going to have to be extremely prepared physically, mentally, psychologically and every way for it. And then I think last year hopefully will be that teaching tool because you learn from your experiences, good and bad.
And I think those are key points in coaching, but I think that`s going to be responsibility of Derwin, of Deondre, of reinforcing to young guys how this is not a one-game deal. This is going to be — that first time till we get a break to recoup, and then the second half of our season which is going to be tough. Because as you say, we open up with Alabama, we finish with Florida. That’s been the SEC Championship game the last two years. Our ability in the ACC to go schedule non-conference teams and, as I said, our league is as good as anybody, so I think our schedule is going to be very demanding. But hopefully these older guys will make that transition. I think when they take ownership — listen, coaches, we can do it all we want. At the end of the day, the players have to take ownership for what they do, what they accept and what they want. That`s what great teams do. They have the ownership ability to say, okay, we own this, guys, and we`re going to make sure everybody in our organization understands and owns it. And I think that`s going to be on our players to understand how demanding the first part of our schedule is and how much we have to be ready so we can finish the season the way we want, which is going to be very demanding, also.