6:29 PM EDT, October 22, 2013
De’Andre Johnson was feeling a big jolt of pride Saturday night while he was in the seats at Clemson’s ‘Death Valley.’
Johnson, a member of Florida State’s 2015 recruiting class, was invited as a Clemson football prospect for the Tigers’ game with Florida State. Out of respect, Johnson curtailed his enthusiasm, but the future Florida State quarterback certainly beamed with vindication.
He had a rare perspective as he watched Florida State dismantle previously unbeaten Clemson 51-14 at Memorial Stadium.
The junior quarterback at Jacksonville First Coast High, who committed to FSU’s 2015 recruiting class before his sophomore season, could have picked Clemson. The Tigers were the first to reach out to him with a college scholarship offer when he was 15 years old. They still even hold out hope they might be able to flip the 6-foot, 175-pound dual-threat star.
So, there he was Saturday, taking in the scene as Clemson players touched “Howard’s Rock” and rushed down “The Hill” descending on ‘Death Valley,’ to the roar of more than 80,000 Clemson fans.
“That was a crazy, amazing game. I loved that atmosphere,” Johnson said. “I kind of thought it would be a more exciting game, but it was the opposite.”
Johnson said the noise of boisterous Clemson fans was quickly supplanted by the constant “Tomahawk Chant” of FSU fans.
“It kinda felt like that after the first quarter when you could see the score getting lopsided,” Johnson said.
Members of Florida State’s 2014 recruiting class were energized by the super-hyped rout of Clemson, as well, putting an exclamation point on their decision to choose FSU.
“I knew they were going to win, but I didn’t think they were going to blow them out like that,” said Alec Eberle, a 6-4, 270-pound offensive lineman out of Mechanicsville (Va.) Atlee High. “I didn’t get to start watching until the second half because I had just gotten in from hunting, so when I saw the score, I was surprised … it completely caught me off guard.”
Victories like the rout of Clemson make players feel much more comfortable about their college choice.
“It definitely shows I made the right decision,” said Eberle, an offensive guard who plans to play center at FSU. “They could be playing, hopefully, for a national championship this year and that makes me real excited and happy for them this year … and I'm hopeful it will happen when I’m there too.”
Adding to Eberle’s excitement is the thought that one day he’ll likely be snapping the ball to and blocking for a Heisman Trophy contender, FSU's much ballyhooed redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston.
“It’s an honor to be one of the kids they are signing to play football there,” Eberle said. “I can’t wait. I see that O-line and the way they play together and I can’t wait to be able to snap the ball to Jameis ... that’s just awesome."
FSU commit Markel Pack, a quarterback at Purvis (Miss.) High who will play wide receiver as a Seminole, figured the game would be much closer.
"I didn't expect it to be such a big difference in scoring," said Pack, who will be in Tallahassee for his official visit the weekend of the Miami game, Nov. 2. "I expected it to be a shootout."
He too likes the thought of having Winston throwing passes toward him as he peers into his FSU future.
"Just to know that I have that high of a caliber of quarterback there for me helps a lot. Helps me stay strong [with FSU]," Pack said.
Tallahassee Godby linebacker Jacob Pugh, who gets to live amid the local hype as FSU makes its climb toward a possible national title showdown, is taking it all in.
"I was just thinking about that today in school," Pugh said Monday. "I never thought I'd be committed to Florida State ... couple years back I never even thought I'd be playing football, so it's kinda big and pretty exciting to think about."
As local residents, Pugh, as well as teammate Stephen Gabbard, a long-snapper committed to FSU, and running back Jonathan Vickers of North Florida Christian, get to be a part of all the hoopla that has become Florida State football this season.
They hear about it all the time at school and it's not always positive.
"I had a couple of Miami fans at school talking about this and that and how Miami is going to beat FSU," Pugh said.
Vickers said the same thing about the naysayers.
"I got a couple of friends who rival FSU and they were like, "Y'all are going to lose,' and 'You haven't played anybody good,' “ Vickers said, “and so I was like, 'Just watch.' "
Vickers said being in Tallahassee makes the experience of being committed to FSU that much more realistic.
"Yeah we get into a lot of the hype and people know us more," Vickers said of himself Pugh and Gabbard. "It's just crazy, people talking to us about FSU all the time."
Pugh also said FSU's dominance Saturday night made him feel that much more confident that he, too, can step right on the field at the next level.
"They made everything look easy," Pugh said. "It just made me a little more confident in what I can do."
Said Vickers: "Playing a game like that ... it just makes me that much more excited about being committed to FSU."
Adam Torres, a defensive tackle at Lake Mary is certainly anxious to get to Tallahassee.
"Oh yeah, definitely. The program has been on the rise and I can't wait to be a part of it," Torres said.
Houston resident Mavin Saunders, a tight end at the Kinkaid School, said he too enjoyed the beating the Seminoles put on Clemson, and he's hopeful that FSU does not stub its toe en route to a possible national-title showdown.
"I was really impressed. They went in there and took care of business," Saunders said. "I just hope they continue on and not let this get too big and stay focused and hopefully get to the championship game."
With FSU ranked No. 2 in the first BCS standings of the season, the 'Noles are on course for a possible showdown with two-time defending national champion Alabama.
"It's pretty cool," said Saunders, who is a native of the Bahamas. "They have great players and one of the best quarterbacks in the country and it's fun to watch. I just hope they can continue it so they can get a chance to beat Alabama in the championship.
"It would be really cool if they could win it all."
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting, Instagram at os_recruiting and on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.
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