Saturday will be the final game inside Doak Campbell Stadium for 17 scholarship seniors as No. 10 Florida State hosts No. 4 Florida at 3:30 p.m. ET.
With the exception of a handful of guys who could be back next season as fifth-year seniors, this will be the final senior class that has played for both Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher at FSU.
When this senior class arrived in Tallahassee (in either 2008 or 2009 depending on if they redshirted or not) it signed up to be the class that turned the FSU program back around. The senior class of 2008 was a combined 31-21 in its four-year career, while the 2012 senior class enters Saturday with a record of 36-15.
The perception of the program is vastly different now than when this class arrived, as the Seminoles have a 10-win regular season for the first time since 2003 and will be heavily favored to win the school's first ACC title since 2005.
"It's been a journey," said defensive end Brandon Jenkins, who has missed tall but one game this season with a lisfranc injury. "It's been a long journey. I had an opportunity to play for Bobby and Jimbo. It's different styles of football, but it's been a long journey. We came a long way with great leadership and hard work. It works out. We're 10-1. I don't know when the last time we've been 10-1, but hard work has paid off."
Of the 16 scholarship seniors, five are fifth-year seniors who spent all five seasons at FSU. When the 2008 signing class arrived on campus linebacker Vince Williams had shirts made for the group that read 'It starts now' in reference to turning the once-storied program back around.
"Ever since then you've seen improvement," fifth-year defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. "When the '08 class started taking bigger roles on the team, and then you had the young guys come in
you just seen those players start new trends. Winning, not just being mediocre or whatever. I think that's something we definitely talked about and if you look back on it we've done a great job."
The next three games will go a long way in cementing the final legacy in FSU history for the group of seniors. A win on Saturday would finish their careers with a three-game winning streak over both in-state rivals Miami and Florida. A victory the following week over Georgia Tech would secure an ACC championship and give FSU a shot at its first BCS Bowl win since the 1999 Sugar Bowl.
Regardless of what happens on Saturday, Fisher thinks this senior class should go down as one of the best in school history because of the way it's helped make the transition from Bowden and his staff to his a successful one.
"I think it's brought back the credibility," Fisher said. "I think it's put us back in the national spotlight and it's given us our first 10-win season in nine years, you're playing for another championship, when we're playing Florida we're both top five teams, six teams in the country in what you're doing. The adversity they've fought through, all the things when they came here, to trust in us and where we're going to go with the program. I think this senior class needs to be remembered very well for getting Florida State back in the limelight, making it significant again in college football and in the upper echelon of those conversations."
Fisher also gushed about the way this senior class has handled things off the field as well.
"You're going to look down the road and look at that team picture and say 'Man that guy's good, that guy's successful, that guy's successful.' In whatever they're doing," he said. "You'll point across in my opinion and say that about them. Tremendous young guys, young men who have become men here. Have grown up from young men to men and represented our University well, and our organization and done a tremendous job."
Williams said the biggest thing he and the senior class did to help turn the program around was create great camaraderie on and off the field. Once the team really gelled he said it was easier to get everyone to buy into what Fisher and his staff were preaching each day at practice.
His hope now is that future senior classes won't have to worry about things like team chemistry and buying into the program, and that winning football games will be the biggest adversity they'll have to overcome in their Florida State careers.
"I feel like this will be the class that got it back on track," the fifth-year linebacker said. "That got it back rolling. That's our goal. It goes in spurts; you just need to have on successful season and then the younger guys coming in that's all they really know. So you'll get guys like Reggie (Northrup) and (Ronald) Darby and their mindset will be 'All we do is win'. They'll be focused on winning, they won't ever have to overcome as much adversity as we did."
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