TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Sometimes recruiting really comes down to luck.
Jimbo Fisher made a trip to Miami Central to evaluate a running back, but the recruit was taking classes in night school. So Fisher instead found himself watching the backup tailback in practice.
And he knew Devonta Freeman was a running back he wanted.
I stayed there and watched him the whole practice, Fisher said. And the more he watched he found himself saying, This guy is pretty good.
Freeman was more than pretty good. He was a pretty good diamond in the rough. Fisher and running backs coach Eddie Gran talked about Freeman and both wanted to make him a scholarship offer. The kid who had flown under the radar, who wasnt even given a star rating -- let alone a state or national ranking -- got an offer to play for the Seminoles.
You have to trust evaluations, Fisher said. Recruiting is one thing. Evaluating is another. Im not saying were gurus. We make mistakes all the time.
We wanted to get that offer out there early to him. Hopefully he remembered the first one he got because in the end he had a bunch of them.
The offers soon rolled in from all over the Southeast, but Freeman picked FSU. And the hunch that Fisher and Gran had on Freeman turned out to be spot on.
Freeman has had back-to-back 100-yard rushing games for the Seminoles (4-3, 2-2 ACC), who host N.C. State (4-3, 1-2) on Saturday at noon.
He became the first FSU freshman with consecutive 100-yard games since Chris Parker in 1988 and Sammie Smith in 1986. Parker didnt reach the 100-yard mark in his next game and Smiths feat came in the last two games of the season. Freeman could very well break the 100-yard mark against the Wolfpack, who are 75th in the nation against the run (allowing 165 rushing yards per game).
Freeman, who as a true freshman is not allowed to speak with the media, also leads the team in rushing yards (288) and has three touchdowns. He is just 5-foot-8, but at 200 pounds Freeman has been tough for defensive players to wrap up. Hes a bruising, physical back but also moves like a quick tailback.
It is God-given ability, Fisher said. You teach them where to run and how to run, but he has the it factor to do that and that makes him special. The athletic ability he has and the instincts for the game. You can sit here and say we practice and teach them how to cut and how to press a block, but you either do it or you dont.
Freeman has been running hard for a long time. After Fisher and Gran extended the scholarship offer, other schools and recruiting analysts took notice. Freeman went from no stars to a four-star prospect and was ranked the No. 9 running back in the nation by Scout.com.
He ran for 2,208 yards and 26 touchdowns in his senior year at Miami Central but perhaps saved the best for his last two games.
Freeman ran for 354 yards and the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter as Central advanced to the Class 6A state championship game. The next week, he helped the Rockets to a 48-27 win over Orlando Dr. Phillips with a 36-carry, 308-yard effort (just 20 yards short of a state title game record).
After the game he re-stated his commitment to FSU and Fisher, who was watching the game in person. Freeman, full of confidence, said his next goal was to win the Heisman Trophy.
He enrolled early in January, getting a jump in the classroom but also earning practice time with the first- and second-team offense. Freeman continued to impress in preseason camp, and he has seen increased playing time because of Chris Thompsons season-ending back injury but also his ability to stay in the game on passing downs and protect quarterback EJ Manuel.
Freeman is also benefitting from improved offensive line play. Fisher and offensive line coach Rick Trickett have been forced to shuffle the line due to injuries, but the Seminoles have surpassed the 200-yard mark in each of the last two games.
An FSU offense that for the first four games of the season was a one-dimensional passing team has found its running legs.
Guys get blocked or there is just one little crease, the more skill and more space you get, that is what you are trying to create, Fisher said.
What the linemen are helping to create is a name for Freeman.