In his first year as the full time starter, Florida State junior quarterback E.J. Manuel passed for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns while throwing only 8 interceptions. Manuel is looking for an even better year as a senior and looks to guide the Seminoles to their first ACC championship since 2005. While Manuel looks to become Florida State’s first All-ACC first team quarterback since Chris Weinke, he will have perhaps the school’s best receiving corps in more than a decade to help get it done.
The 1999 team that went undefeated and won Florida State its second national championship may have had the best receiving corps in team history. The ‘Noles entered that year with Heisman hopeful Peter Warrick, the fastest Seminole ever in Laveranues Coles, Ron Dugans, Marvin “Snoop” Minnis and future NFL star Anquan Boldin.
Coles was eventually kicked off the team and a suspension killed Warrick’s Heisman aspirations. Nevertheless, FSU was able to get it done and complete a perfect season. The receiving corps’ since then have been pretty good, but the contingent that the Seminoles enter 2012 with has the potential to be great.
In 2000, Minnis had a good enough year to earn All-American honors, but academically ineligibility forced Minnis to miss the Orange Bowl. The lack of receiving depth was evident as FSU was defeated by Oklahoma 13-2, falling short of what could have been a second straight national title.
Boldin missed all of 2001 to injury while Javon Walker blossomed into Florida State’s best receiver. Walker left for the NFL following the 2001 season and Boldin turned out a 1,000 yard season in 2002.
Boldin likely would have been a preseason All-American prior to the 2003 season, but like Walker, Boldin declared early for the draft. The 2003 corps nonetheless, was stellar. Craphonso Thorpe, P.K. Sam, Dominic Robinson and Chauncey Stovall made for a talented foursome. Thorpe was named first team All-ACC in 2003, but a leg injury late in the season in Florida State’s ACC-clinching double overtime victory over N.C. State forced Thorpe to miss the final two games that year. Robinson graduated and Sam, like Walker and Boldin before him, decided to forego his senior year and turn pro. While Stovall matured into Florida State’s leading receiver in 2004, Thorpe never returned to form following the injury.
Three talented incoming freshman in Fred Rouse, Kenny O’Neal and Greg Carr joined upperclassmen Willie Reid, Chris Davis and De’Cody Fagg for the 2005 season. FSU would win the ACC that year, but following the season, Rouse and O’Neal were kicked off the team in two separate incidents. Carr and Fagg would go on to decent careers, but Davis’ case of the drops kept him from ever fully reaching his potential at Florida State.
Preston Parker, Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Jarmon Fortson were all highly touted coming out of high school and made for an above average receiving corps for the ‘Noles. But of the four, Reed would be the only one to finish his FSU career. After a solid junior season, Parker was kicked off the team after receiving a DUI for being asleep in his car in a McDonalds’ parking lot. Fortson would be kicked off the team following the 2009 season for failed drug tests and Easterling would leave following the 2010 season to pursue a professional baseball career.
It’s now 2012 and this Florida State receiving corps is unlike any in a very long time. Unlike the 1999 team that came into the season with plenty of All-American talent, this corps of FSU receivers lacks name recognition. Between them however, there isn’t anything that this contingent lacks.
Florida State is legitimately eight deep at wideout and that doesn’t include highly touted freshman receiver Marvin Bracy. Bert Reed is the lone significant loss from last season’s receiving corps. But as a senior, Reed had his worst season since his freshman year of 2008. The lone senior on the 2012 receiving corps is 6’6″ Rodney Smith. Despite a large frame, Smith has proven himself to be a legitimate deep threat for the Seminoles. Smith recorded a career-high 561 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. Smith however, isn’t the only 6’6″ receiver on the squad. Redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin stole the spring headlines for FSU and has the speed to match his size. Benjamin missed all of last season due to injury, but if he is half as good as they say, Seminole fans are in for a real treat.
To compliment the size of Smith and Benjamin is the speed of a pair of juniors and a sophomore. Juniors Greg Dent and Jarred “Scooter” Haggins and sophomore Christian Green can all fly. The three combined for 780 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. Don’t expect any of three to make many tough third down catches over the middle, but in space on slip screens and down the field, the three are a handful and will help Manuel and the FSU passing attack stretch the field.
Willie Haulstead and Kenny Shaw have the potential to be complete receivers, but both juniors come into the season with question marks. Haulstead led Florida State with six touchdown receptions as a sophomore in 2010, but missed all of last season. No one can be certain how Haulstead will perform coming off the injury. Shaw has shown signs of being a playmaker, but has lacked the consistency. Shaw caught 34 passes as a sophomore in 2011 for 418 yards and four touchdowns. But after suffering an injury on a big hit against Oklahoma, Shaw dropped key passes against Clemson and Wake Forest that could have turned both of those ballgames.
If there is an All-American caliber receiver in the Florida State huddle, it may be sophomore Rashad Greene. As a freshman in 2011, Greene led the Seminoles with 596 yards receiving despite missing four games. Prior to his October injury, Greene was on pace to become the first Seminole to record a 1,000 yard receiving season since Boldin in 2002. Greene has sprinter speed and can just flat go get the football, but putting on a few pounds wouldn’t hurt either. In the final game of his freshman season, Greene was named the MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl recording five catches for 99 yards and the game-winning touchdown in an 18-14 comeback victory over Notre Dame. If healthy for a full season, Greene should manage to prove himself as Florida State’s best receiver.
The forgotten man may be sophomore tight end Nick O’Leary. FSU has never been known for its long line of star tight ends, but O’Leary has earned high praise from many of the preseason publications. O’Leary is a throwback type player with his ruggid style of play and the fact that he doesn’t wear gloves. O’Leary recorded 12 catches for 164 and a touchdown as a freshman last season despite splitting time with two seniors.
While the Seminoles have now gone more than a decade without having an All-American receiver, they have had decent groups of receivers. The 2012 corps of receivers likely won’t produce an All-American this season, but may be the deepest in the country. The receivers for FSU should be motivated to produce, because they will know that if they don’t, it won’t be hard to find someone that can.
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