TALLAHASSEE, Fla. The group includes a quarterback that is 23-5 as a starter. An All-American defensive end. A kicker that has scored the most points in program and ACC history. And a receiver that has a catch in 36 straight games.
Florida State (10-1) will honor its seniors before Saturdays home finale against Florida (10-1). While its a top-10 showdown and a rivalry game with Bowl Championship Series implications, it will be an emotional day for the student-athletes and their families.
The players arrived in Tallahassee as part of the class of 2008 or 2009. They witnessed the struggles as the Bobby Bowden Era came to a close during their underclassmen years and then the rebuilding of the foundation of the program under coach Jimbo Fisher.
Florida States seniors have enjoyed three straight undefeated seasons so far against teams from the state of Florida, two Atlantic Division titles and a pair of 10-win seasons. An ACC title could also come next week.
I think its brought back the credibility, Fisher said. I think its put us back in the national spotlight. I think this senior class needs to be remembered very well for getting Florida State back in the limelight and making it significant again in college football in the upper echelon of those conversations.
Among the seniors that will be honored Saturday are quarterback EJ Manuel, running backs Chris Thompson and Lonnie Pryor, wide receiver Rodney Smith, defensive linemen Tank Carradine, Brandon Jenkins, Amp McCloud and Everett Dawkins, linebacker Vince Williams and kicker Dustin Hopkins.
Manuel was Fishers first big verbal commitment, back when he was still the offensive coordinator under Bowden. But Manuel has been the most accurate quarterback in Florida State history, completing 67 percent of his passes. But he will also leave the school as one of the top 5 quarterbacks in passing yards, completions and total offense.
He is also 23-5 as a starter, having won 12 of his last 13 games.
I dont think its really sunk in that this is my last home game here at Florida State, Manuel said. Hopefully its a great feeling the fact that were up on the scoreboard. Thats whats most important to me. That would be a great feeling walking off that field knowing that we won.
A win would give Florida State 11 victories something the program hasnt had since 2000. That was about the time most of the current seniors turned 10 years old.
Smith has been as reliable a receiver as the team has had in recent years. He has a catch in 36 straight games, two short of the school record held by E.G. Green.
I think the 2009 class, we had a big part in turning this program around, Smith said. I think were going to finish it Saturday. Were going to finish what we started.
It will be an emotional day for two other seniors who will wear garnet and gold but wont be able to play.
Jenkins senior season was lost to a foot injury that he suffered in the season opener against Murray State. He announced on Monday that he has opted against taking a medical redshirt and will enter the NFL Draft.
Thompson is asking for a medical redshirt based on his loss of 12 games over the past two seasons. But his appeal to the NCAA is a long shot after he played in five games before suffering broken vertebrae in 2011 and participated in eight games before tearing the ACL in his left knee this season.
He could be at FSU or in the NFL in 2013. It all rides on the NCAAs decision that is still perhaps two months away.
I kind of see it as possibly my last home game, Thompson said. Its going to be emotional for me. But at the same time, Im just going to enjoy it. Its Florida State and Florida. To be out there for that game, its still going to mean a lot whether Im playing or not.
Theres no doubting the impact that the seniors, even the injured ones like Jenkins and Thompson, have had on the program. The 7-6 seasons appear to be in the past. And while the seniors know a national title is nearly impossible at this point, they are proud of their accomplishments.
Our expectations as a team have definitely changed, Hopkins said. At this point, where our program is, we expect more, we expect wins, we expect undefeated seasons. And I think thats a really good thing. Trying to leave a legacy of excellence on a program and getting back to where it was for so long.