September 7, 2012

Insider Report: New kickoff rules give FSU a leg up

Dustin Hopkins took advantage of the 11 Florida State scoring drives to work on perfecting his kicks based on a host of new rules. The senior said it takes a little adjusting to, but that the new rules don't make kicking off much different.

New rules move kickoffs to the 35-yard line and bring touchbacks up to the 25-yard line. The kickoff coverage team can no longer take off to a running start. Coach Jimbo Fisher says the rules were put into effect to decrease significant kickoff return injuries. But he's not sure that they haven't backfired.

"I said to myself, I don't know, this might be more physical than not." Fisher said.

"I think they did it trying to eliminate [more] returns," Fisher said. "But I think they might have enhanced the problem because I think you're going to get more big bodies flying in shorter areas now [in terms of] collisions. I think there are going to be more [because of] less space."

Fisher doesn't think the new rules affect FSU adversely.

"The type of athletes we have, I think if we hit the ball right and do what we're supposed to do, I think it can be an advantage for us," Fisher said.

In the Murray State game, several of Hopkins' kicks soared high into the hair, gathering plenty of hang time before eventually landing in 10-yard line. FSU's kickoff coverage team was already there, ready to use their size and speed to swallow up the defender.

Of Hopkins' 12 kickoffs during the game, five went for touchbacks. The other seven that were returned for an average of just 16 yards. Murray State was pinned behind their own 25-yard line on six kickoffs.

"Our coverage team is so fast and athletic, every time we tried to put one in the 10-yard line, they were right there," Hopkins said. "Running down quick and they helped make me look pretty good. I'm lucky to have those guys running down."

FSU didn't always abide by the theory of putting your biggest, fastest guys on kick coverage, but they have since Fisher has been around. He believes it can drastically change momentum of the game and give Florida State a leg up on their competition.

"Those body types in special teams - which we have a lot of - the Christian Jones type, Telvin [Smith], Toshman [Stevens], Kelvin Benjamin, Nick Moody types, Nigel Bradham - those big physical guys give you such an advantage [on special teams]," Fisher said.

Those players take pride in their special teams work, and cornerback Nick Waisome, who works on second team punt coverage said it is a matter of being the best.

"It's definitely a pride thing. Coach Gran is hard on special teams here, he wants us to be number one in everything," Waisome said. "He definitely stresses it and we take it as a serious matter whenever we go on kickoff. He's always like, we have to be number one, so that's what we shoot for."

Hopkins said that he has not game-planned further out that Savannah State, but that his kicking philosophy will likely only change if the other team fields a great kick returner. With the coverage team that he has on his side, he's not worried.

"It gives me so much confidence, because I know that even if I don't get a great kick, the chances of the other team getting a great return is hopefully pretty slim given the people I have next to me."

'Noles support Team Fleetwood

EJ Manuel took a deep breath and then another. He asked for the media, and for those watching his Monday morning press conference to support the Team Fleetwood facebook page, since he was unable to tweet and spread the word.

Manuel became emotional while talking about a recent visit he and Dustin Hopkins took to see 17-year-old Austin Fleetwood, a Wakulla teen who had been battling cancer.

"It was…just…"

Manuel couldn't finish the sentence. He had run out of words and shook his head back and forth.

Hopkins and Manuel went to Fleetwood's house on Sunday afternoon to visit the teen and bring him autographed FSU jerseys and gear. Fleetwood had wanted to come to the Murray State game the day before, but wasn't up to it.

Manuel said the teen was thrilled with the gear and the visit touched both he and Hopkins and helped put things in perspective for them.

"It definitely puts things in perspective - how unimportant football is and how important football is," Hopkins said. "The unimportance being that the beauty of life is just so much more significant than a game… And then I see the importance of football, in that the hope it can give people, just being able to relate to somebody on that level."

Austin Fleetwood passed away on Monday morning, not even 24 hours after the visit from Manuel and Hopkins.

"Being able to see him, I've never experienced something like that," Manuel said. "Luckily my parents and my sister were still here because I couldn't help but cry this morning when I [found out]."

Sadness tinged their memory now, but the visit itself was a happy one.

"Man, you can just see the smile on his face. I can't forget it," Manuel said.

Manuel and Hopkins won't soon forget the visit and both plan on wearing the red and black Team Fleetwood bands around their wrists for the rest of the season.

Waisome ready for bigger challenge

Nerves are par for course and Nick Waisome felt a little bit nervous running out of the tunnel and onto Bobby Bowden field for the first time as a starter.

It was different, he said, but he definitely liked the feeling.

"Little bit of nerves in the beginning, but after that first play, everything else goes away and it's just football," Waisome said.

Waisome, who made a tackle on Saturday night, was happy with the way he went out and performed for the first time on the big stage. He wished Murray State threw the ball more, but stayed on his toes throughout the game and worked on his technique so that he can be ready for teams that do throw more.

He's already looking forward to Savannah State and hoping that their offense throws the ball more.

"They know we're a pretty strong defense, I mean, I don't know if they would throw it on us a lot, but hopefully they do," Waisome said.

Waisome was prepared to see more action at field corner because opponents sometimes try to avoid challenging Xavier Rhodes, who is opposite Waisome at boundary corner.

"I thought I was going to get a little bit of action, but I'd watch and they'd give him one and they wouldn't give me anything," Waisome said with a laugh. "They did throw one time [to me], but it was a pretty good game."

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