Feb. 16, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - One week after collecting the signatures of sprinters, middle distance, hurdlers and a thrower who rank among the nation's very best, the Florida State track & field teams have completed the early portion of their 2013 signing class with a quartet of distance runners expected to carry on the program's rich tradition of excellence.
FSU women's cross country and distance coach Karen Harvey tapped into a familiar pipeline to land Great Britain standout Hannah Walker, and also mined the Sunshine State for its most decorated high school runner, Bridget Blake.
Head track & field and men's distance coach Bob Braman returned to the fertile Midwest to bring Grant Nykaza on board, then dipped back into his old Tampa stomping grounds to snatch up-and-comer Abdin Fator.
In all, the Seminoles have signed a talented and well-balanced 2013 class of 10. The additions of Blake and Fator give FSU four in-state signees.
Harvey was elated to add a "big star from Florida" to her nationally-renowned distance core.
"Bridget has a lot of room to grow and (has) the work ethic and talent to drive growth," Harvey said of the two-time Foot Locker National Cross Country finalist and five-time state champion from Orlando's Dr. Phillips High School.
"I didn't want to be just like everyone else, because a lot of girls go to Florida," Blake said. "I'm definitely excited to be doing something different. ... I feel like Florida State is definitely a special program and school that fits its own mold."
Blake is the most decorated female distance runner from the Orlando area since Jenny Simpson Barringer, the 2011 World Champion in the 1500, starred at Oviedo. She won three consecutive 4A state cross country titles and is the defending champion on the track in both the 1600 and 3200.
"I am so, so excited to get out there under coach Harvey's wing and with the rest of the girls - they're all a great group of girls - a good group that will really push me and take me to the next level," Blake said.
"A big part was definitely coach Harvey. The coaching connection was definitely very important to me because we've gone through coaching change after coaching change about every single year (at Dr. Phillips). I was really looking for someone who I could really trust with my training and take me to the next level. Coach Harvey and I definitely clicked right from the beginning. She was somebody I could really look up to and really trust, and I really believe in her philosophies.
"The team is totally awesome. It will be nice to join a great team that works really hard toward to make it to the next level and go for national titles."
Fator, whose family escaped Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur, first to Egypt and then the U.S. in 2003, is a potential star. Just three years into his running career, he was named the Hillsborough County cross country runner of the year after rolling up wins at the county championship, as well as the FSU and flrunners.com invitational meets. He followed up with a district title and placed second at the region meet.
"Here's a guy who has a short running background - a couple of years down at Tampa Sickles High School - and a guy that has shown at times he can be a big-time runner," Braman said. "I think he's got a great upside. From his background, what he's had to go through to get to the United States, and all that he's had to deal with, he's going to work extraordinarily hard to be very, very good.
"We think he's one of these guys who people are going to turn around and say, `Where did that guy come from?' He has a chance to be very, very good. He's just a phenomenal human being. ... He is that diamond in the rough; definitely a long shot that we think is going to be a good payoff for us in the future."
Both Walker and Nykaza come with impressive running pedigrees.
"Hannah Walker is another amazing product of the University of Birmingham and our third `Hannah' from that school," said Harvey, who previously coached Seminole All-Americans Hannah England and Hannah Brooks from the same school. "Hannah's accomplishments are impressive and with good health and careful planning we can see Hannah being one of the top runners in the NCAA her first year."
Walker, who like England and Brooks comes to FSU with two years of eligibility remaining, has represented Great Britain in international competition. Most recently she placed 12th at the European Cross Country Championships. She also has incredible range, posting personal-best marks of 4:28.07 (1500), 9:21.4 (3000), 15:48.69 (5000) and 33:09.5 (10,000) on the track. Walker is perhaps most proud of her half-marathon debut in September, when she finished in 71:50.
"It was Hannah (England) who initially recommended FSU to me," Walker said. "I train with and am mentored by her at university and she spoke very highly of coach Harvey and her experience. Then following my visit in January I was so impressed by the training facilities, academic support and friendliness of the girls on the team that I simply had to sign!"
Walker had many suitors among American universities for her talents, but only seriously considered the Seminoles, based largely on the relationships she had forged with England and Brooks, as well as an endorsement for Harvey from her UK coach, Bud Baldaro.
"It's something I've been considering for the past couple of years," Walker said of her decision to come to the U.S. "It just seems like such a wonderful opportunity to further both my athletics and academics, whilst getting to experience living, training and competing in a different country."
Nykaza will join the Seminoles as one of the most accomplished runners in Illinois High School cross country history. The two-time state champion (he's never finished worse than fourth) out of Beecher High is, like Blake, a two-time Foot Locker National finalist.
"We really felt like he would be an immediate impact cross country guy," Braman said. "He's twice been to the Foot Locker Nationals. He's just turned 17 in August, so he's a young senior and a guy who has a lot of room to keep developing. ... He's kind of from that Midwest mecca of cross country running. We are looking at an area of the United States that produces - Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan. That's cross country territory there and those guys can do really well in adverse conditions."
Not coincidentally, he will help fill a void created with the departure of graduating Seminole from the Midwest - former Foot Locker national champion Mike Fout.
"In track, because he was injured last year, it might take him a year to get that going," Braman added. "He's got tremendous upside that hasn't shown itself. We're excited about getting Grant and we think he's going to be an All-American guy in his future."
In all, the Seminoles landed the signatures of 10 athletes, with the aforementioned joining: Michael Cherry, the nation's top-ranked 400-meter runner from Chesapeake, Va., who is the 2012 New Balance Outdoor Nationals champion Trevor Mackey, who represented the Bahamas in the 200 at the London Olympics and will transfer from South Plains (Texas) Community College Austin Droogsma, who is the No. 2 discus thrower in the 2013 class and Florida's best in the shot put as well from Gulf Breeze, Fla. Kali Davis-White, a senior from Lauderdale Lakes (Fla.) Boyd Anderson, who ranks No. 2 in the 2013 class in both the 100 and 200 Sydnee Over, a 400/800 talent from South Windsor (Conn.) who was the runner-up in the 800 at the 2012 New Balance Outdoor Nationals Nicole Setterington, Canada's No. 1 high school senior in the 100-meter hurdles, and was her country's Junior National runner-up last summer
FSU will also get a big lift from a pair of football signees. Levonte Whitfield is the nation's top-ranked 100-meter dash runner, while Jalen Ramsey has already soared 24 feet in the long jump.