Photo courtesy of Jeremy Esbrandt/Florida State athletics
Florida State football is coming off its third disappointing season in a row, ending the 2019 campaign at 6-7 (4-4 ACC). Despite the final result, the Seminoles saw some players shine in limited playing time.
A new coaching staff usually means a clean slate, which brings new opportunity for players to make an impact. Here’s a look at some breakout candidates that could step into significantly larger roles in the upcoming season under first-year head coach Mike Norvell:
ONTARIA “POKEY” WILSON, WR
Ontaria Wilson started his career at FSU as a defensive back, but switched to receiver after spending a year on the scout team. Appearing in 11 games and starting two, he had a relatively quiet 2018. The 2019 season saw the speedster emerge as a reliable deep threat. Starting the first seven games before suffering a shoulder injury, Wilson ended the year with 21 catches for 227 yards and a touchdown. The former track standout has the speed to be a dangerous weapon in Norvell’s offense. Although he lined up on the outside on nearly 85 percent of his snaps last year, Norvell’s scheme will likely utilize his skill set heavily in the slot. Expect Wilson to see a lot of action while Tamorrion Terry and D.J. Matthews soak up coverage.
KHALAN LABORN, RB
With Cam Akers out of the picture, Laborn stands to step into the role as Florida State’s feature back. The highly-touted 5-star recruit flashed elite playmaking ability in 2018 before his season-ending knee injury. Laborn took a backseat to Akers in 2019 and looked sluggish at times when given the ball. He finished the season with 63 carries for 297 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, adding 10 receptions for 66 yards through the air. The dynamic back is another year removed from his injury and should be at full strength for the upcoming season. If the offensive line can give him some space, he will be a major weapon for the new offensive staff.
DARIUS WASHINGTON, OL
One of the issues plaguing the Noles for years has been their offensive line. Between lack of quality depth and terrible injury luck, the line found itself in bad shape again in 2019. The offensive staff looked to promising freshman players to step up to the call, and Washington answered. Making his first career start against Syracuse, he helped block for an FSU team that scored five rushing touchdowns against an ACC opponent for the first time since 2016. Praised for his work ethic, his future is bright at FSU. The former 3-star recruit looks to benefit from an offseason’s worth of development in strength coach Josh Storms’ program. Washington will likely be a starter this year, so look to see him continue to make an impact.
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RENARDO GREEN, CB
Green was one of Florida State’s most efficient rookies in 2019. Far outplaying his 3-star rating, the freshman out of Central Florida allowed only five receptions in 97 coverage snaps. He appeared in all 13 games, recording six tackles and two pass break-ups. The stats don’t tell the whole story, however, as he finished 16th among freshman Power 5 corners in coverage snaps per reception and 30th in coverage snaps per target. Green is a feisty, physical player who brings a tenacity to his game that can’t be captured in metrics. In the short spring practice, Green took reps at safety, so defensive coordinator Adam Fuller may utilize him in multiple roles this season.
JOSHUA KAINDOH, DE
Expected by many to be an elite defensive end, Kaindoh has not lived up to his billing. However, he showed promise in his debut season, totaling 17 tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble in 2017. With Jimbo Fisher leaving the program, the new defensive scheme relied more heavily on defensive ends in coverage. This resulted in Kaindoh playing mostly out of position in 2018, as he was primarily an aggressive pass rusher. The former blue-chip was starting to put it all together in 2019, gathering 11 pressures, nine tackles, and a sack through three games. Unfortunately, his promising season was cut short when he suffered a serious knee injury against Virginia. If he can stay healthy, Kaindoh is primed for a bounce-back year in Fuller’s more traditional 4-3 defense.
JALEEL McRAE, LB
An intense, physical run-stopper, McRae was a regular part of the linebacker rotation in 2019. He appeared in all 13 games, during which he collected 15 tackles and a sack. The former 4-star had a lot of hype coming into the season, but didn’t quite live up to the expectations. His stats can be misleading, as he put himself in position to make plays consistently, but would often miss. Florida State has hired an excellent linebackers coach in Chris Marve, so expect for McRae to clean up his technical skills before August. If he responds well to coaching, he could break into the starting lineup and make an impact before season’s end.