Column: It Was the Youth Movement That Built Florida State Football

by Danielle Kelley
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Photo courtesy of Garnet and Great, FSU archivist

After a blowout loss to in-state rival Miami, more than three years now of a program steadily heading further into decline, and starting 0-2 under new head coach Mike Norvell, the future for Florida State football seems bleak.

With the history of past success however, that is not going over well with the fan base to put it mildly — and it shouldn’t.

The irony is that even with all of the success that FSU has enjoyed, it has been here before. Most of us just do not remember it.

Bill Peterson took over as head coach in 1960 when Florida State was starting to decline. In 1964, he coached the Seminoles to their first win over the University of Florida. He also gave a new assistant coach named Bobby Bowden his first college opportunity at a major school.

After Peterson’s run, the eras of Larry Jones and Darrell Mudra from 1971 to 1975 were traumatic for the faithful in garnet and gold. At one point, FSU lost 20 straight games. It was time for a change.

Enter that assistant coach given that opportunity under Peterson. It’s now a household name — Bobby Bowden.

Bowden’s start at Florida State was not easy given the prior years and records right before him, and something had to be done. He started off his first season in 1976 with two losses — one to Memphis and one to Miami. FSU’s 47-0 loss to the Hurricanes then may have been even uglier than Saturday’s 52-10 defeat.

If you are a Florida State fan, you are well aware that losing to Miami changes things. Last year, head coach Willie Taggart was fired after the 27-10 loss to Miami. Although he was forced to watch from home with COVID-19, Norvell’s loss to Miami this past weekend has not gone over well.

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Bowden made the change. Heading into his third game against No. 4 Oklahoma, he made a decision. He started the freshmen, and is famously quoted for saying, “If we were going to get beat, let’s get the young guys ready.”

He decided to put six freshmen in that lineup. Oklahoma was ranked high, and Florida State had been struggling. This was a gusty call to say the least.

That game would later go on to be defined as the game that started the Bowden era. No, Florida State did not win. The final score was 24-9 after a late score by Oklahoma, but the Noles shocked everyone who were expecting a blowout. The Seminoles, at one point, were even in the lead.

Florida State would go on to win its next two games and the last three, losing only to Florida, Auburn, and Clemson. FSU would finish the season 5-6 — with more wins than the previous three years combined. After that year, FSU never looked back.

Until now.

Since Saturday, the call for a “youth movement” among fans is trending. FSU needs a move reminiscent of one made by Bowden in 1976.

Coach Bowden did not just take those chances in 1976 either. Lest we forget that Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Charlie Ward once saw the field only as a punter for the Seminoles. Bowden would change player positions if it was necessary.

Per Pro Football Focus, the highest-graded running back and wide receiver for Florida State during Saturday night’s loss to Miami are both true freshmen — Lawrance Toafili, and Kentron Poitier.

Maybe it is time for history to repeat itself.

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