Mike Norvell leading the FSU team in the legacy walk at the 2023 ACC championship game

“The C.L.I.M.B” FSU Football’s Return To The Top

“I can tell you this is an exciting day for Florida State Football, the future, and what’s to come. And I can tell you that this is going to be an incredible journey, and I am honored to join hand and hand, step by step, with all of the Florida State family and help to take one of the most iconic brands and iconic programs in college football and return it to where it’s supposed to be.”

Those were the opening words of Florida State’s 11th Head Football Coach, Mike Norvell, on December 8, 2019, at his introductory press conference. Norvell promised that the FSU of old was out the door and a “new age approach” would be implemented. He pledged that FSU would be a program built for playmakers and that it would be a team that finishes at an elite level.

Well, boy, was he right in so many ways. One of the main themes of the Mike Norvell era at Florida State has been this idea of “The Climb.” It’s become the calling card, the mantra of FSU Football since that faithful press conference in 2019. CLIMB is an acronym for Commitment, Little Things, Intensity, Mental Toughness, and Brotherhood. And over the last four seasons under Mike Norvell, we’ve seen each of the five pillars of the climb play out. Let’s review:

2020 Season:

By the numbers

Notable Transfers:

Jashaun Corbin, Fabien Lovett, Jarrian Jones

The FSU football program and its fans were coming off two seasons of historically bad teams in which it saw the beloved program reach such low lows it hadn’t seen in 44 years when, in the legendary career of Bobby Bowden, the Noles only won five of their eleven games in his first season at the helm. FSU fans had suffered through back-to-back seasons of seven losses.

Insert Mike Norvell and the new coaching staff (with returning long-time coach Odell Haggins). What was supposed to be a promising new era of Seminole football quickly turned into a nightmare season. The world shut down due to the global pandemic, which didn’t allow Norvell and his staff to meet in person with players, either returning or potential recruits. All meetings had to be done over Zoom. At the same time, racial tensions had spiked all over the country, and through some miscommunications on both Mike Norvell’s part and the team’s part – there was temporary beef between Norvell and the players. Norvell was quick to address the issues and get the healing process underway. The team began the 2020 COVID season looking to rebound from back-to-back terrible seasons. Florida State kicked off the year at home against Georgia Tech and took a 10-0 lead into the half against former FSU commit Jeff Sims. However, the joy would be short-lived as the Yellow Jackets outscored FSU 16-3 in the second half to stun the Seminoles and sour the opening of the Norvell era. That loss marked the 4th time in four seasons that FSU suffered a loss in its opening game.

The woes for the Seminoles would continue as Norvell would be diagnosed with COVID-19 and held out of the game against Miami on the road. The Noles would suffer a beat down to the tune of 52-10. Florida State would end up 3-6 in Norvell’s first season, with many games ending in a blowout. There were a few bright spots as the Noles found a way to beat 5th-ranked North Carolina at home 31-28 as Jordan Travis put on a show on the ground. He ran for 107 yards, two touchdowns, and threw for another.

Games against Clemson, Wake Forest, and Virginia were postponed and never made up due to the spread of COVID-19 among the teams.

2021 Season:

By the numbers

Notable Transfers:

Andrew Parchment, Jammie Robinson, McKenzie Milton, Keir Thomas, Jermaine Johnson, Dillan Gibbons

The Noles came into the 2021 season with high hopes of returning to ACC contention. With a complete off-season workout program, spring practices, and fall camp without a global pandemic interrupting operations, Mike Norvell and FSU fans believed that the 2021 season, while maybe not national title contention, could see FSU win more than seven games. Especially after going into the portal to get the likes of Mckenzie Milton, Dillan Gibbons, Keir Thomas, and Jermaine Johnson, who became a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. 

In what turned out to be an overtime thriller, FSU nearly upset 9th-ranked Notre Dame at Doak. Jordan Travis started hot and then went extremely cold with three interceptions. McKenzie Milton, the UCF transfer, led the Seminoles to OT, where it lost on a Jonathan Doerer 41-yard field goal. While moral victories don’t hold any weight in Tallahassee, unlike down in Moral Gables, FSU fans walked away feeling like this team was much better than the 2020 version from the previous season. That loss marked the 5th time FSU lost its opening game in five seasons.

That feeling would quickly dissipate as the following week would showcase the worst loss in Florida State history. FCS Jacksonville State would win a 20-17 game on a last-second hail-mary play that left a stunned Doak Campbell Stadium in disbelief. The misery wouldn’t end there, as FSU would lose the next two games in a blowout to historical bottom-feeder Wake Forest (who would end up having a decent season) and Louisville. The 2021 campaign was the first time in program history that FSU would start the season, losing its first four games.

In what has become the infamous Monday press conference following the 0-4 start, Mike Norvell delivered one of the most passionate answers to a question by Warchant.com‘s Corey Clark in which the coach’s eyes never left Clark as he told that room, the players, the fan base, and the potential recruits that FSU would resonate across Noles Nation. “I am looking for guys who wanna be a part of that process, who want to be successful, who want to be challenged. Guys that are willing to step up and step out and go do something that they are going to have to defend” Norvell said.

“Look, I’m pissed off that we’re 0 and 4, and we can bring up how many years it’s been, and I can’t control that. I can control this team, in this moment, right now with this opportunity” Norvell continued. It was a moment FSU fans point back to as the “pin in time” that signaled the change. Florida State would go on a three-game win streak to reach to 3-4 in the season. After another two-game losing streak, FSU would halt the four-game losing streak to the Hurricanes when, dramatically, the Noles converted a 4th and 14 with 58 seconds left down to the one-yard line. FSU would go on to score the touchdown and two-point conversion to secure the win. The Noles would win one more game before losing down in the swamp to the Gators, ending any chance of a bowl. FSU would finish 5-7 on the season, but the pillars of the climb were starting to show themselves, and everyone around the program, including the fan base, started believing bigger things were on the horizon.

2022 Season:

By the numbers

Notable Transfers:

Dmitri Emmanuel, Trey Benson, Jared Verse, Winston Wright, Tatum Bethune, Deuce Spann, Greedy Vance, Johnny Wilson, Mycah Pittman, Kayden Lyles, and Bless Harris

Coming into the 2022 football season, many believed this was the make-it-or-break year for “The Climb” and for Mike Norvell. Another season like the previous two and the book on Norvell and his tenure would be all but closed. There was speculation that while FSU was still on the hook for Willie Taggart’s buyout, FSU could not sustain another losing season and, therefore, would have to move on from Norvell. The public shaming and decommitment by the bell cow of the 2022 recruiting class, Travis Hunter, to FCS Jackson State to play for former FSU legend Deion Sanders didn’t help. However, the coaching staff wasted no time using their new-found reputation for developing portal talent to secure the commitments of oft-injured Mycah Pittman and Trey Benson out of Oregon, little-known Jared Verse from Albany, low-production Johnny Wilson from Arizona State, offensive linemen Dmitri Emmanuel, Kayden Lyles, and Bless Harris from Lamar.

Those transfers, along with the returning players, would set up FSU for what turned out to be just what the doctor ordered in FSU’s attempt to return among the elites of college football. FSU would finally break their five-game losing streak in its opening game by beating Duquesne.

LSU was next, and there was a feeling among FSU fans and the coaching staff that the Tigers from LSU (favored by 4.5 pts) were on upset alert. The Seminoles wouldn’t disappoint, jumping all over the Tigers from the get-go. FSU held a 24-10 lead with 9:04 to go in the 4th quarter. LSU would make a furious comeback, scoring on a two-yard touchdown pass from Jayden Daniels to Jaray Jenkins after driving 99 yards in 11 plays. It looked like FSU had given away the game as it was headed into overtime, pending the extra point. Insert Shyheim Brown, who blocked the extra point with no time left.

FSU would win its next two games to get to 4-0 for the first time since the 2015 season when it started 6-0. Spirits were high, support was strong, and the fan base finally started to believe that The Climb was beginning to pay off. Then came the three-game losing streak in which FSU lost to three ranked teams: Wake Forest (22nd), NC State (14th), and Clemson (4th). At 4-3, the mental toughness of this team would be challenged. Would they fold like the previous versions of this team had done in years past, or would they pick themselves out of the gutter and string together wins to right the ship? Thankfully, the latter was the case. The Noles would go on to win the final six games, including a dominating win over rival Miami and a thriller in the last home game of the season against Florida.

Florida State would add the tenth win in a thrilling victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cheez-It Bowl, beating the Sooners for the first time since 1965 (2-6 vs Oklahoma all-time). The 10-3 finish to the season would secure FSU’s 25th ten-win season in program history and the first since the 2016 season. The Bowl game was FSU’s first bowl game since the 2019 season and first bowl win since the 2017 season. But the good vibes wouldn’t stop there.

After the season, FSU would continue to receive Christmas presents as players like Jared Verse, Jordan Travis, Johnny Wilson, Trey Benson, Tatum Bethune, and a few others decided to return to school and run it back again for the chance at the College Football Playoffs and a national championship.

2023 Season:

By the numbers

Notable Transfers:

Keon Coleman, Gilber Edmond, Fentrell Cypress, Braden Fiske, Keiondre Jones, Jeremiah Byers, Casey Roddick, Kyle Morlock, Jaheim Bell, Darrell Jackson Jr. (Did not play until the bowl game due to NCAA restrictions).

The 2023 Transfer Portal offseason brought many talented and experienced players like Fentrell Cypress, undiscovered Braden Fiske, Keiondre Jones, Jeremiah Byers, Casey Roddick, Kyle Morlock, Jaheim Bell, and the crown jewel of that portal class, Keon Coleman. FSU was already returning the core of its 10-3 (winners of six straight games to end the 2022 season) team. Adding in that 2023 portal class took this team from a potential run at an ACC Championship to potentially playing in the College Football Playoffs. The Seminoles entered 2023, ranked in the top ten, and poised to insert themselves back in the national conversation of teams contending for a national championship. From the jump, you saw a team that exhibited the five pillars of “The Climb” mantra (Commitment, Little Things, Intensity, Mental Toughness, and Brotherhood). This team bonded like no one had before, likely since the 2013 national title team. The mental toughness this team showed week after week with the target squarely on their backs was otherworldly. No team out-hustled them, outplayed them (during the 13-game win streak), nor did any team come to captivate not only a fan base but a nation the way this version of FSU Football did.

9th-ranked FSU would begin the season in Orlando facing 5th-ranked LSU in a rematch from the thriller in New Orleans the previous season. LSU would take a 17-14 lead into halftime, but that would be the closest LSU got to winning for the rest of the game. FSU would score 31 unanswered points in the second half to demolish LSU 45-24. From then on, The Noles had put college football on alert that the sleeping giant that is Florida State Football was wide awake.

The next challenge for these Noles was finally conquering their “true” (Miami wishes) ACC rival, the Clemson Tigers. Clemson had won the previous seven matchups, and FSU was due for a win. It would take all 60 minutes and then some for the Noles to pull out an overtime win at Clemson, 31-24. Kalen DeLoach had a game-saving sack, scoop, and score to tie the game up in the 3rd quarter. The FSU defense held its ground and did not let Clemson see the endzone for the rest of the game, including a missed 30-yard field goal with 1:45 left in the 4th quarter. In OT, Jordan Travis found Keon Coleman for the go-ahead score. The defense stopped the fighting Dabo’s on 4th down to secure their first win since 2014. FSU became only the third team since 2014 to beat Clemson at home. Since 2014, Clemson was 61-2 before the loss to FSU this season. FSU also broke Clemson’s 25-game ACC home win streak.

FSU would continue its undefeated streak by blowing out the likes of Virginia Tech and Syracuse, outscoring 16th-ranked Duke 31-3 in front of a sold-out Doak Campbell Stadium. However, as the season progressed, Mike Norvell and the coaching staff’s mental toughness was tested as it seemed that week after week, key players (mostly on the offensive side of the ball) were held out of games due to injuries. Both Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman were late scratches for the Pitt game. Pitt, who had demolished a previously undefeated Louisville only a few weeks earlier, was looking to upset the undefeated but shorthanded Noles. The Seminoles, however, would prevail 24-7 thanks to an outstanding performance by Jordan Travis and Ja’Khi Douglas.

FSU would win its third straight game against Miami in what would have been an even worse score if not for a fluke-tipped pass that turned into a touchdown. The win would seal FSU’s 9th undefeated ACC season and first since 2014. Nole Nation was confidently beginning to dream about making the College Football Playoffs. However, the following week would be a pre-curser to those dreams being stolen from all who play and love the Seminoles.

In a meaningless game against FCS North Alabama, all of Florida State’s fear came to life. First, FSU was trailing the 3-7 Lions 13-0 at the end of the 1st quarter. Feeling a little pressure to get a stagnant offense going, Mike Norvell dialed up a read-option play in which Travis kept the ball and ran for 15 yards. However, on the tackle from behind, the LB landed on Jordan’s left ankle, snapping it in the opposite direction. Doak Campbell Stadium came to a deafening silence as a stunned crowd watched in horror as the heart and soul of this FSU football team’s career ended abruptly. FSU would go on to win 58-13, securing its 25th undefeated home season and its first since 2014.

Many wondered if the dream season was officially over without its star quarterback. Games against Florida at the Swamp and the ACC championship game in Charlotte seemed like surefire L’s now that Jordan was out. But this Florida State team wouldn’t throw in the towel on this magical season just yet. In what would later be considered one of the most dominant two-game stretches for this FSU defense in program history, FSU would walk into the swamp and manhandle the Gators, going on a 24-3 scoring run in the second half, quieting down 90,000 screaming fans. FSU would prevail 24-15, securing FSU’s sixth undefeated regular season in program history. A feat the Gators, in their 100+ year history, have yet to do.

Then, in the ACC Championship, playing with their 3rd string freshman QB, Brock Glenn – FSU found a way to score some points, and the defense dominated Louisville from start to finish as Braden Fiske and Jared Verse single-handedly whipped the Cardinal’s offensive line. FSU would go on to win 16-6, winning its 16th ACC championship and first since 2014. The euphoria of going undefeated on the season, beating all three of your rivals, and winning the ACC championship would be short-lived as FSU was about to become the first team in the College Football Playoff era to be a so-called “Power-Five” conference champion to be left out of the playoffs.

The 12-person committee, swayed by Kirk Herbstreit, Rece Davis, and most of the ESPN college football talking heads, decided two – one-loss teams in Alabama and Texas deserved to be in alongside undefeated Michigan and undefeated Washington over undefeated conference champion FSU. “The Snub,” affectionately known to Seminoles fans, was as demoralizing as Jordan Travis’s injury. We will never know, but we are indeed confident that FSU could have played tight with both Michigan and Washington based on the showings those teams put on in the College Football Invitational (I refuse to call it a playoff when teams can get in without earning it on the field).

2024 Season:

2024 Transfer Class

(QB) DJ Uiagalelei, (LB) Shawn Murphy, (RB) Roydell Williams, (DE) Soine Lolohea, (OL) Richie Leonard IV, (DB) Earl Little II, (OL) Terrence Ferguson, (WR) Malik Benson, (DB) Davonte Brown, (DL) Tomiwa Durojaiye, (WR) Jalen Brown, (DL) Grady Kelly, (DE) Marvin Jones Jr., (RB) Jaylin Lucas, (OL) Jacob Rizy

Final Thoughts

As I wrote in my article titled, We Shall Remember…

“No matter how this season ended (and it ended in a dud), no matter what the world says about this team, no matter what that four-letter, corrupt sports network has to say about this team, no matter what Another Crappy Call conference and its leeches have to say about FSU, this team shall be remembered for how it made us feel. How it brought absolute joy to the lives of the millions and millions of FSU fans around the world. We will never forget one of the most likable teams in FSUs history, their unconquered spirit, and their will-to-win mentality. We wont forget how our fearless leader, Coach Mike Norvell, and his staff galvanized this team, fanbase, and university and returned FSU to the college football elite.”

Mike Norvell has proven that “The Climb” can work, is working, and will continue to work. We are seeing more and more high-caliber transfers wanting to play for this coaching staff. We are seeing high school recruiting make significant strides year after year. Since that infamous press conference, Mike Norvell and FSU have gone 28-7 over the last two and half seasons and 23-4 over the previous two seasons.

2024 will be here real soon, and if “The Climb” continues the way FSU fans are hopeful for, the Noles will be arranging a parade to celebrate a national championship down Champions Way real soon!

“How you do anything in this world is how you do everything.” – Mike Norvell

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