If you are a college football fan and you are under 40 years of age, or so, Florida State has probably just always been there and you may just feel like they have always been a powerhouse.
But, that’s not the case at all.
There was a time when Florida State was one of the bottom feeders of college football.
Then, they hired Bobby Bowden and things haven’t been the same since.
His first season was 1976 and he guided them to a 5-6 record which would be his only losing season in Tallahassee.
Bobby Bowden’s first real recruiting season at Florida State was with the 1977 class. When a school hires a new coach it’s usually right after a season has just ended and they fired their last one. The new guy will be hired at around the first of December. The new coach has to hire a new staff and then hit the road recruiting really fast because he has about 2 months to put a class together. That’s exactly what Bowden did when he was hired and they brought in a few players.
But, after finishing 5-6, they had to sell the program to a lot of high school kids that they had been keeping an eye on all season long.
Bobby Bowden’s first really big target was a Defensive Linemen from Warner Robins, Georgia by the name of Ron Simmons.
Simmons was big time. But, like so many of these kids, he had a hard life growing up. Simmons knew more about tough times and losing loved ones by the time he was in high school than a lot of us will know in our entire lives.
His mother died when he was 13, leaving six children behind. Their father just took off after that leaving the six with their grandmother.
That was tough for the children, but then their grandmother passed away. There were six kids with really nowhere to go.
Four of the siblings went to Michigan to live with an uncle, the other two stayed in Georgia with a different uncle. Ron stayed in Georgia and went to Warner Robins High School which is one of the better high school football programs in the entire country.
Everybody in the country wanted Ron Simmons because he was a beast.
When Simmons was 18 years old, supposedly his 19 measured 19 inches. His biceps were around 20 inches and his thighs measured 27 inches each. His waist was 28 inches and again supposedly he ran a 4.6 40 yard dash. Simmons was a grown man playing with a bunch of kids.
One of Bobby Bowden’s old players back when he coached at South Georgia College happened to be a kind of mentor for thee young orphaned Ron Simmons. That’s the way recruiting works sometimes, there is some luck involved and knowing the right people.
Florida State was not even a speck on the map back then. But, with the help of the mentor and the Florida State coaches, they got Simmons to visit Tallahassee and he wound up liking it.
On national signing day, Simmons signed with the Florida State Seminoles.
This was a huge, huge win for Bobby Bowden and his coaching staff. They would have many more winning moments like the day they signed Ron Simmons. But, Simmons may have been the best player they ever signed because he was kind of the one that helped turn the program around.
Simmons turned out to be everything that everybody thought he was going to be. He was so good that he was the starter at Nose Guard in about the first or second day of practice. He was a difference maker in his first game.
The Seminoles showed in their first game, which was a big win over Southern Mississippi, that they were on the road to becoming a force in college football.
Ron Simmons was the biggest name recruit that they signed that season, but there were plenty of others in that Florida State recruiting class that changed the game for the Seminoles.
These recruits went 10-2 in 1977, 8-3 in 1978, 11-1 in 1979 and 10-2 in 1980. They were 39 – 8 in 4 seasons and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Here are some of the other players in that class:
Monk Bonasorte – Pittsburgh, Pa: He was a 2 time All American at Safety and was instrumental in Florida State’s improvement. It’s like the qb that gets all of the credit on offense, how much of Bonasorte’s success at safety with his 15 career Interceptions were due to the pressure that Simmons put on the Quarterback? Or, the thought of pressure coming from Simmons? Bonasorte was undersized and under recruited coming out of Pittsburgh but that didn’t discourage either the Seminoles or Bonasorte.
Tom Brannon – Albany, Georgia: Brannon played Offensive Tackle for the Seminoles, he was not one of their better ones. But, he did contribute.
Bobby Butler – Delray Beach, Florida: Butler was a starting Cornerback and he was really good. He was an excellent cover corner and teams avoided him, like they did Deion Sanders later on. Butler had 11 career Interceptions and he was a 3rd team Associated Press All American as a senior. He was also a 1st round pick by Atlanta Falcons and played 12 years in the NFL, all in Atlanta.
Bill Capece – Miami, Florida: He was the place kicker for the Seminoles and then a 12th round pick by Tampa Bay and kicked for them for 3 seasons. Tampa Bay coach John McKay is famous for saying Capece is Kaput when Capece started struggling and then he was cut.
Mitchell Chuvalo – Toronto, Canada: Even though Chuvalo didn’t stay around Florida State for long, he was still an interesting character. He was the son of Canadian boxing champ George Chuvalo who fought Heavyweight Champion Ali two times. Chuvalo was best known in that he was never knocked down in his entire career. Many boxing historians think that Chuvalo had the best chin in boxing history.
Mike Coleman – Savannah, Georgia: Coleman was a Defensive Tackle and moved to the Offensive Line. He lettered for 3 seasons at Florida State.
Everett DeVeaux – Cocoa, Florida: DeVeaux played Running Back for the Seminoles
Greg Futch – Ocala, Florida: Futch played Offensive Tackle and Offensive Guard
Reggie Herring – Titusville, Florida: A 3 year starter at Linebacker for the Noles. He is the Linebacker coach of the Super Bowl champions, the Denver Broncos.
Homes Johnson – Lake Hamilton, Florida: Johnson was a Running Back at Florida State and he led the team in rushing in 1978 with 817 yards rushing. He kind of fizzled out and faded after that.
Keith Jones – Wildwood, Florida: Started at Defensive Back on one of the nation’s best Defenses.
Bill Keck – Newark, Ohio: Keck only really played one season at Tight End and he caught 11 passes.
Ken Lanier – Columbus, Ohio: Lanier came in as maybe the second best recruit in this class behind Ron Simmons and he was moved to the Offensive Line where he excelled. He developed into one of the program’s best of all time and the Seminoles had some kind of connection in Columbus as they brought in several from there back in those days.
Mark Macek – Wyandotte, Michigan DT: Was a multi year starter and an Honorable Mention All American on the nation’s #1 defense in 1981.
John Madden – Fort Walton Beach, Florida C: Madden married Bobby Bowden’s daughter and he was very tragically killed along with his son and BB’s grandson in car wreck. Bowden Madden was kid’s name
Paul Piurowski -Sarasota, Florida: He was maybe Florida State’s first great Linebacker. Led the team in tackles for several seasons.
Sam Platt – Jacksonville, Florida: He was their leading rusher in 1980 with 983 yards. He finished his career at Florida State with 1,035 rushing yards.
Ernie Sims – Tampa, Florida: This Sims was a career backup, but the best thing about him was that he married a Florida State sprinter and they had Ernie Sims Jr who was a top Florida State Linebacker many years later.
Rick Stockstill – Fernandina Beach, Florida: Stockstill was the starting Quarterback for Florida State in 1980 and 1981. He is currently the head coach at Middle Tennessee State and his son is his Quarterback.
Barry Voltapetti – Miami: Voltapetti was an Offensive Lineman on these teams.
Bobby Bowden would go on to have many more great recruiting classes, but this is the one that made Florida State relevant in the college football world.
Ron Simmons was definitely the bell cow of this class.
Simmons was a great college player, but he was ‘only’ 6-2, 270 which isn’t big for a Nose Guard. He was picked in the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns in the 6th round.
He played with the Browns briefly and then the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League. Then, he played 3 seasons for the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League.
After his brief pro football career ended, Simmons became a professional wrestler which he did until recent days.