Players are showing more speed, and an affinity for Florida

November 17, 1991|By Gerald Ensley | Gerald Ensley,Knight-Ridder News Service

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Lee Corso laughs at the idea that speed is a new ingredient in college football today.

"I just read an article by Grantland Rice from back in the 1920s, and the whole thing is about how fast those Army teams were," said Corso, an ESPN broadcaster and former Florida State quarterback/defensive back. "Speed has always been there in college football."

But Corso does believe this:

There are more fast players in today's college football, and lots of them are in Florida.

"There are several reasons. But basically, there is more speed out there because there are more people out there," Corso said. "And when a recruiter goes looking for that kind of athlete, he goes to California, Texas and Florida."

As Miami and Florida State moved toward their showdown yesterday in Tallahassee, there was a consensus that if you go looking for the fastest teams in the nation, you will find them in Florida. In a season that finds them ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation, Florida State and Miami are considered the fastest two teams -- with No. 5 Florida not far behind.

California and Texas may be equal breeding grounds for speed. But in 1991, the three Florida schools have harvested it best.

"I haven't seen [No. 3-ranked] Washington play, and I would suspect they have great speed," said Louisville coach Howard Schnellenberger. "I can't imagine, though, that anyone has anymore speed than the Florida schools."

Know, of course, that ranking speed in football is a subjective exercise. It differs in its various adjectives -- mobility, agility, quickness. It prospers in the face of a few spectacular examples.

Take Miami. The Hurricanes' fastest player is Kevin Williams, a kick returner-receiver who runs the 40-yard -- in 4.28 seconds. Williams is second in the nation in punt returns, and has broken three for touchdowns.

Or take FSU. The Seminoles' fastest player is Terrell Buckley, a defensive back-punt returner, who runs the 40 in 4.34 seconds (wide receiver Shannon Baker also runs a 4.34). Buckley leads the nation in interceptions (9), and last year was sixth in punt returns.

"We got beat by punt returns both times," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, whose team lost to FSU in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl and to Miami earlier this season. "Buckley ran one back to set up Florida State's first touchdown. Williams ran one back to put Miami up by two touchdowns.

"Each time, we had them cornered. Each time, they got away. That was sheer speed."

But the reputations for speed of Miami and FSU rest on more than any single individual.

Both teams have speed at what used to be considered unlikely positions -- linebacker, defensive line and fullback -- as well as the conventional "speed" positions of running back and wide receiver.

Consider that Miami's top three linebackers are faster than all but one of the Miami running backs. Consider that FSU fullback William Floyd spotted an LSU defensive back 20 yards, yet tackled him before he could carry an interception into the end zone. Consider that each team has at least one defensive lineman (FSU's Dan Footman, Miami's Anthony Hamlet) who runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds -- which was once good speed for a running back.

"Speed is the key to what we do on both sides of the ball," said Miami head coach Dennis Erickson. "We might take a linebacker with good 4.8 speed and convert him to a defensive end. Now, he's got great speed."

So know that when football observers talk about the speed of the Florida schools, they are marveling at a team-wide characteristic, fostered by several statewide characteristics that produce fast players.

"The difference I see is that a state like South Carolina may produce 35 to 50 Division I players a year; Florida will produce 250," said Clemson quarterback coach Rick Stockstill, a former FSU quarterback. "In South Carolina, 10 of those recruits will have great speed. In Florida, 50 of them will."

And why is that? In talks with various football people these reasons come up repeatedly:

Population

With Florida's population approaching 13 million, making it the nation's fourth largest state, there is a larger pool of athletes to draw from than most states.

"People are moving to Florida all the time, lots of times because the economy got tough in the North and they moved south to find jobs," Corso said. "Everybody who comes has two kids --

and one of them is usually a football player."

Warm weather

As any tourist will tell you, Florida is the place for outdoor activities -- year-round.

"I just feel when you're down in Florida, with the sunshine, a kid that's 13, 14 years old is more apt to go swimming, throw the ball around, sweat, exercise," said Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe. "I know myself, growing up in Philadelphia, when it's cold and freezing out, I want to go home, cook some popcorn and watch some tube.

"I think that other kid [in Florida] is more apt to go out and develop his motor skills and coordination."

Spring football

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