After starting 2-0 for the first time in six years ahead of its ACC opener, the challenge was for Florida State Seminoles football to prove that Norvell’s message of standing up against adversity and to believe the program was one that could be executed and it happened. .
That challenge proved to be much more than being favored in an away game while wearing alternate uniforms – stopping incredible athlete Malik Cunningham, adjusting personnel after injuries to key players in quarterback Jordan Travis, with defensive end Jared Verse, defensive tackle Fabien Lovett and offensive lineman Robert Cooper, Tate Rodemaker letting go of his past to rise to the occasion and prove a lot of observers wrong.
Florida State got breaks but didn’t have a chance to win, they won it through courage and hard work and overcoming many obstacles. There were no bad shots of Louisville ruining a chip shooting range, no questionable calls to debate – FSU just worked and worked and worked and made the plays they needed. Wide receiver Johnny Wilson, whose main struggle so far this year has been finishing catches, put on one of the most impressive receiving performances in recent FSU history. Brendan Gant, who did everything Tallahassee asked, made crucial plays on special teams coverage. Kevin Knowles, as the Seminoles defense has done all night, got up when needed and finished the game on Florida State terms, knocking out Malik Cunningham.
“This program is not for everyone, but for those who are in this locker room, it is for them because they accept this challenge,” head coach Mike Norvell said after the win.
“Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but it will put you in the best position to achieve it. And that’s what these guys do.
Rodemaker rose to the challenge in front of him cannot be overstated – with all the pressure and all the vitriol in the world bearing down on him, he stayed strong and faced a foaming-at-the-mouth Louisville defense to snap. What came out was that it was further proof that Norvell doesn’t seem to give up on players if they give him a reason to keep believing – most coaches, especially those who have the wrath of some of the the more vocal and unrealistic parts of the fanbase, wouldn’t have kept Tate Rodemaker in the game, but he stuck with it and gave him every chance to prove himself.
“I knew we could win with Tate,” he said. “I knew we could win with Tate. I have seen it in practice. I saw him work. I’ve seen so much investment in the preparation of the moment. He found himself in a difficult situation on the road.
“But, he just went out there and responded in the second half. It’s just an incredible example of what this team is built on.
The victory was unlike any other in perhaps Florida State’s last decade — conflicted with a sense of loss given the injuries, but also one that showed a different level of rise on occasion. Most of FSU’s comebacks and gritty performances in recent seasons have either been the result of a more skilled opponent following a series of self-inflicted mistakes. The Seminoles shed talent and, aside from the occasional error, played relatively clean football — a major difference considering the impact of penalties on Louisville late.
For three years, Norvell preached belief in the system – and until 2022, gamers hadn’t had a chance to solidify that belief. Despite all the positive changes in the program, the results on the pitch were not there and in the end, winning gives the confidence to take a step forward.
“That’s what makes Florida State special – the people,” Norvell said. “They are incredibly talented young men and they are growing, and we are only at the start of our journey – the mistakes we made, we have a lot to clean up.”
“But what matters to me is our character, our identity, the fundamental elements of this program that worries us so much. When the guys can’t go out there, when they’re not available, but they still have an impact. That’s what makes it special.
FSU dominated one opponent (Duquesne), played with fire against another (USL) and topped a third (Louisville) to get an assortment of experience early in the season. It’s necessary – the next against Boston College is only a brief breath of fresh air before the Seminoles face an intimidating gauntlet of ACC opponents – WakeForest, NC status and Clemson Tigers.
FSU will have its hands full, but with proof of its potential showcased, the mission seems much less daunting.