February 7, 2012

Craig and Fisher's ties to Alabama paying off for FSU

Growing up in the state of Alabama kids are taught you have to pick a side-either Auburn or Alabama, especially if that kid turns out to be a standout on the football field.

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and recruiting coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig are trying to show the top-ranked kids in the state of Alabama that they do in fact have choices outside of the Crimson Tide and the Tigers.

Since Fisher has taken over as head coach and brought Craig on board, FSU has signed five players from the state of Alabama, including three of it's top six rated players in its 2012 class.

"Just because no one has ever went to Alabama, don't mean you can't go to Alabama," Fisher said on signing day. "Is there a wall there that says you ain't allowed in?"

Fisher spent 11 years as a coach in the state of Alabama coaching quarterbacks at Samford (Birmingham, Ala.) from 1988-92 before following head coach Terry Bowden to Auburn to coach QBs from 1993-98.

He recruited Craig to play for him at Auburn, and turned the Prichard, Ala. native into the first 3,000-yard passer in Auburn history. Craig began his coaching career as an assistant at his high school Alma-matter Blount High school near Mobile, Ala in 2003.

After spending the next two seasons working on Nick Saban's staff, first at LSU then with the Miami Dolphins, Craig returned home to Alabama for the next four years as an assistant at Tuskegee University (QBs 2006-07) and South Alabama (WRs 2008-09) before joining Fisher's staff in Tallahassee.

Fisher and Craig's Alabama connections paid off in a big way for FSU this year as they were able to sign the state's top-rated prospect (as well as the nation's top-ranked QB) in Jameis Winsont, four-star defensive end Chris Casher (the top-ranked defensive player in the state of Alabama) and defensive tackle Justin Shanks (ranked the sixth-best player in the state).

"It's huge," Fisher said of their Alabama connections. "I lived in that state for 13 years and know all the coaches and him going in there, he was the lead recruiter on Casher, he was the lead recruiter on Shanks, he was the lead recruiter on (Winston, who he couldn't mention by name at the time because he hadn't officially signed yet) … it was huge having Dameyune in Alabama."

It marked the second year in a row that Fisher and Craig had been able to poach Alabama's top-ranked QB after signing Jacob Coker in 2011.

Winston said his relationship with Craig was one of the main reasons he chose to sign with FSU over in-state finalist Alabama. He said he sees Craig as a mentor.

"I just listened to the way he carried himself and I respect him so much for who he is," Winston told Warchant.com. "Dameyune he didn't have to make an impression on me, because I already looked up to him for who he was, being a black quarterback from the state of Alabama and being just a great guy."

Growing up just outside of Mobile, Craig has been able to relate to players in the state of Alabama in way that many coaches have been unable to in the past.

"It's more than just football with Coach Craig," Casher, a Mobile native as well, said. "He's a guy that you can certainly tell cares about you from a personal standpoint so that part stood out to me a lot. He was one of the few coaches that from the very beginning didn't hesitate about wanting me badly both as a student and a player at FSU. What you see is what you get with Coach Craig."

Being able to relate to the kids in his home state helped Craig sign Winston, Casher, and Shanks who were all being pursued by in-state powerhouses Alabama and Auburn. He is hoping it will pay off again in 2013 as FSU has already secured a verbal commitment from Shank's high school teammate Austin Golson from Prattville High.

FSU is also pursuing 2013 Mobile St. Paul's running back Jordan Huff among others in the state.

"The kids love Dameyune," " Prattville assistant coach Lanier Stewart told Warchant.com. "He's just so active with the state of Alabama, but at the same time these kids know that he knows what they are going through with him being from this state as well."

Fisher and Craig know that having ties to the state and being able to relate to the kids in Alabama is not all it takes to pull them away from the in-state schools.

Fisher said what makes Craig so good at recruiting his home state is ability to not allow the constant pressure put on him by the other schools to affect how he's going about his business.

"Over there, you better be able to dig feet in the ground and say 'Come on.' You've got to be able to go blow for blow," Fisher said. "You've got to be able to recruit over there and how the mentality of that state is, because of people leaving and they don't want (them to leave). You can't take no for an answer. You aren't going to get a lot of help inside. There aren't going to be a lot of coaches, and other people helping you do it. You've got to be able to grind. (Craig) does that tremendously. He's a fighter now."

-- Michael Langston contributed to this report

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