NEWPORT BEACH, Ca. - When they walked into the ballroom for their "Media Day" interviews, I was struck by how much the 2013 FSU football team reminded me of the 1993 team that played for, and won the National Championship. Big and athletic, there aren't any "fat" guys on this team. Even the biggest of the offensive and defensive linemen who are over 300 lbs. look like athletes. That '93 team had the same look. Guys you'd take in a pick-up game and dominate. In fact, that's what a lot of the linemen were doing in '93 when not involved in interview or practice: playing pick-up football. Most linemen think they're QB's and WR's anyway so the chance to run, throw and catch is what they're looking for. I was surprised at the time that Bobby Bowden and his staff allowed it but Bowden said later it helped the team bond.
Jimbo Fisher thinks this is a close-knit team as well.
"I think we're a good football team," the chief Seminole said in front of hundreds of media members gathered around his podium. "But I think this is a great bunch of guys. They're really together. They look out for one another. They're something special."
Fisher speaks in a Hemmingway-esque staccato style. Short sentences, very straightforward. In this case he was very effusive in his praise for what kind of "men" this FSU team were developing into as well as their ability on the field. He emphasized the word "great" every time he used it when describing the kind of people his players have become.
"Just a great group to be around. Work hard, play hard. I like everything about these guys."
You might think that every coach says that, but actually you only hear that when you get to a championship situation. Because that's what it takes to win a title.
"Any successful team has teammates who have a strong affection for one another," Two-time Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin preaches.
The first time you hear that it's kind of strange. But under closer examination, it's what separates great teams from good ones. They're close, they root for each other.
"When I first got here, there was a lot of looking around, trying to size up what you can do," said Tyrell Lyons, a freshman defensive back from First Coast. "But now, we're just all friends. We love each other, we pick each other up."
Cameron Ponder from Yulee agreed right away.
"Absolutely," he said when I asked if it had made him a better man to have been on this team.
"I've learned to make friends with all kinds of different people. I come from a small town; I could be called ‘country' on this team. A lot of my teammates have never seen a four-wheeler. They don't know a thing about hunting or fishing. I was used to the same kind of people growing up in Yulee but now, I have a lot of different kinds of friends who are teammates."
In this "media day" situation, some of the stars of the team are put on podiums around the ballroom. The rest of the players are sitting at round tables in the center, waiting in case somebody asked them a question. During the Seminole's interview time, large groups of players in their jerseys huddled around the tables, laughing and chatting, taking each other's picture and working on their phones.
"We're a brotherhood," First Coast's Derrick Mitchell Jr. told me when I asked about the team bond. "Everybody gets along. No cliques, no separate groups. We all joke and have fun together and get down to business when we're on the field."
There are nine different players on the 2013 Seminoles squad who call Jacksonville and North Florida home. They're from very different backgrounds and different parts of town. Three are from First Coast. Lee, Wolfson, Bartram Trail, Sandalwood, First Coast Christian and Yulee are all represented.
Jonathan Wallace from Lee walked-on at FSU and stuck around. He says it's one of the best experiences of his life.
"We're tight," the 6-7 295 lb. redshirt senior said when asked about this team versus other's he's played on.
"The Jacksonville guys stick together, even though we played at different high schools. We have to. The Miami guys pick on us all the time!" he added with a laugh.
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