Dec. 28, 2011
ORLANDO, Fla. -- In a game that hasn't hurt for story lines, Florida State's youth movement on the offensive line has generated its fair share of headlines in the days leading up to the team's 2011 season finale.
The first sell-out in Champs Sports Bowl history, the renewal of the rivalry between FSU and Notre Dame and the national interest in the programs has helped drive attention to Orlando, Fla. but the fact that the 'Noles are likely to start four true freshmen on the offensive line Thursday night has been the buzz around the many fans and media members milling about the team hotel.
Combine the fact that regular contributors Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Devonta Freeman will all undoubtedly play meaningful minutes, and FSU is looking at the possibility of featuring as many as eight true freshmen in on offense at the same time against the Fighting Irish.
The hype surrounding the bowl game has no bearing on what happens on the field; the fact that so many rookies will be expected to contribute to FSU's overall success does.
"We're anxious to see how some of these young guys take to this environment, which I think will be very well," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We'll be young in this game."
The Seminoles will be surprisingly young on the offensive line because of injuries to veterans and frequent starters.
Andrew Datko was lost for the year early in the season and as a result 17-year-old Bobby Hart was thrust into the starting lineup at right tackle. Austin Barron has started two games already this year and first-time starters Josue Matias (left guard) and Tre' Jackson (right guard) will be in the middle because of recent injuries to Bryan Stork and Garrett Faircloth.
"We had two guys that were injured since the Florida game," said Fisher, whose team also lost senior David Spurlock earlier this year. "Garrett Faircloth had a hip that will probably require surgery. He could play if he had to ... Stork has a finger that got infected [and] he almost lost it. It got infected very badly after the [Florida] game. He can play. It'd be hard at center but at guard and do some things and could go back in at center if he has to."
From all indications, Jackson appears to be the freshman that Fisher is most excited about.
An underrated prospect coming out of Jesup, Ga., Jackson played on both the offensive and defensive lines in high school and was considered a candidate to play either in college. If not for a injury he sustained early on at FSU, Jackson may have had a chance to earn a starting spot on offense -- or at least meaningful minutes -- during fall camp.
"Tre' Jackson would have played a bunch this year [but] had a knee injury at the beginning of the year," Fisher said. "Before it's over with, he's going to be one of the great linemen to ever play here. He's got a chance to be a special guy."
The high praise for Jackson and the confidence in the ability of the other three freshmen linemen is just felt by the Seminoles' head coach.
FSU's veterans are also on board with the youth movement.
"I'm really happy to see those guys in there because that's the way the program is going with those younger guys," said FSU senior receiver Bert Reed, who will play against Notre Dame after nursing a sore hamstring in recent weeks. "For them to get a head start it's good for the program. I think they are going to step up this game and play well.
"They have during practice and they go up against great defensive linemen every practice so I think they'll do well."
Playing in his final game for FSU, Reed may have a selfless eye towards the future but Fisher said Wednesday that the decision to start so many youngsters had nothing to do with 2012 and beyond -- although it doesn't hurt the 'Noles future prospects.
"It wasn't a future thing. It was really a necessity," Fisher said. "It's great that their going to play and I think it does help us in the future but it's unfair to the seniors on this team if you look to the future now. I think it gives us the best chance to win the game with the way we are doing things right now.
"Those guys have practiced very well and they've blocked our defensive front every day and done a very good job."