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Senate President denies ‘moving goal posts’ regarding USF’s drive for pre-eminence

Florida Senate President Joe Negron is firing back at University of South Florida supporters who claim the Legislature “moved the goal posts” when they reverted language in an education conforming bill.

The bill, they say, would prevent USF from reaching the 11th of 12 pre-assigned benchmarks which would qualify them for “pre-eminence,” a status that would have qualified them for millions of dollars in state funding.

“This allegation is incorrect and entirely unsupported by the facts,” Negron says in a statement released Monday morning.

“There is one, and only one, reason USF Tampa narrowly missed pre-eminent designation this year: the university did not reach the current metric of a 70 percent six-year graduation rate,” Negron says. USF came up short on that metric, at 67 percent.

The original bill included language that a university had to achieve a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF has exceeded, qualifying them for ‘pre-eminence’ by reaching 11 of the 12 benchmarks previously established to be eligible for that ranking.

However, in the conforming bill — written after the budget was finalized Friday — the benchmark was amended to what it was previously: a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time, in-college students.

“Upon further reflection and in consultation with the Florida House, we decided it was more equitable to apply this new standard prospectively and not retroactively,” Negron says about the late hour change. “We also raised the qualifying four-year graduation rate to 60 percent. I stand by both of those decisions and would make them again.”

Over the weekend, USF officials rallied their community, making overtures to alumni, business officials and anyone else with any connection to the university to contact their members of the Legislature and call on them to “fix” the change when they returned to Tallahassee to vote on the budget Monday.

“At the last minute, the legislature is planning to make a change — taking away millions of dollars of funding for USF meeting pre-eminent University metrics,” reads the action alert sent Saturday. The alert can also be found on the USF alumni website.

“This late change excludes SOLELY the University of South Florida from qualifying for pre-eminence AFTER the Board of Governors had certified USF met the necessary criteria that had been in the proposed language since January. This change also will badly hurt our downtown Tampa medical school and heart institute as well as other USF Colleges.”

Despite the loss of pre-eminence status, USF fared well in the budget about to be signed by legislators.

Negron shot back, calling it a “banner year” for the university. USF received an increase of approximately $42 million in operation funding, he says, as well as an additional $12 million for the Morsani College of Medicine in downtown Tampa, leading

The University of Florida and Florida State University are the only two Florida universities to have achieved pre-eminent status.

Mike Griffin, the greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce president and a USF alumnus, has been explicitly claiming officials from one of those two universities successfully lobbied legislators to change the language in the bill, shutting out USF.

Deceased FSU player’s brother says bill provides closure

Devard Darling said his family can finally feel closure after the Florida Legislature passed a bill on Tuesday to compensate his parents $1.8 million for the death of his twin brother, Devaughn Darling, a Florida State football player who died during team drills.

The bill’s passage comes more than 16 years after Devaughn Darling’s death. It’s been nearly 13 years since Florida State agreed to the cash settlement, but Florida law prohibits the university from paying more than $200,000 without legislative authorization.

“It is something we have been looking forward to for a long time,” Devard Darling said. “My mom has wanted to see this all the way through. Finally, we can move on.”

The House approved the bill 112-4 on April 26, and it passed the Senate by a 34-2 vote Tuesday. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

Devaughn Darling died on Feb. 27, 2001, after doing indoor drills during offseason training. He had the sickle-cell trait, which can make people vulnerable to illness from exertion.

His parents, Wendy Smith and Dennis Darling Sr., filed a lawsuit against Florida State in October 2002, alleging negligence by trainers. The university agreed to settle in June 2004, for $2 million.

This was the 13th consecutive legislative session in which a claims bill was filed on behalf of the family. From 2005-14, it was not heard in a committee in either chamber. In 2015, it was heard in one committee in the House and Senate. Last year, the family and Darling’s former teammates held a press conference in front of the Senate chamber to bring more attention to the bill. Coincidentally, it was held on Florida State Day at the Capitol.

The bill got through two of three Senate committees but was heard in just one in the House. Devard Darling said they decided against another press conference this year because of the emotional strain it caused the family last year.

He said he started to feel hopeful the bill would pass this year when it got through all three House and Senate committees to reach the chamber floors.

Senate Democrat leader Oscar Braynon, who was one of the sponsors of the bill, is a Florida State graduate and said getting the claims bill passed has been a long time coming.

“The whole time I’ve been in the Legislature we’ve been pushing for it. When it comes down to school claims bills, it can be tricky, but it’s about time we finally passed it,” he said.

The $1.8 million will come from FSU, which has denied any negligent conduct but supported passage of a claim bill. After attorney and lobbying fees, the family will receive at least $1.3 million.

Devard Darling also had the sickle-cell trait and was not cleared by FSU trainers to return following Devaughn’s death. He subsequently transferred to Washington State University before being drafted as a wide receiver by Baltimore in 2004. He played six seasons in the NFL for the Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs.

Devard Darling said he hopes his family can have better relations with Florida State. Devaughn Darling was buried in his FSU uniform, and there is a plaque honoring him near the practice fields.

“The university is a huge part of our lives. Everything is always bittersweet when I return to Tallahassee. Hopefully, we can mend our relationship,” Devard Darling said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Several FSU players have highlights in Seminoles’ spring game

It left you wanting more. In a good way.

More points. More speed. More Cam Akers. More Derwin James. More Brian Burns.

The FSU Seminoles’ spring practice Saturday was largely a tease, a hint of the big plays to come. The Gold team beat the Garnet, 17-7, in a game that that looked very much like a highlight film.

For instance:

There was Akers, the five-star recruit who stepped in like he had been on campus all along. He had 87 yards rushing on 10 carries and caught two passes for 15 yards, and by the end of the day, his teammates were comparing him to the departing Dalvin Cook.

There was James, who missed most of last season with an injury. But James roared back with seven tackles, including three for losses.

There was Brian Burns, the rising sophomore who had three sacks and seems as if he will be able to replace Demarcus Walker.

There was defensive back Kyle Meyers, who returned an interception 28 yards for the only touchdown by the Garnett team.

There was punter Logan Tyler, who punted 13 times and averaged 43.5 yards per kick. He had five punts inside the 20.

There was quarterback Deondre Francois, who threw for 133 yards and a touchdown.

Except for that, there were the defenses, which combined for 12 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and an interception.

“I liked the scrimmage today from a standpoint of it was very physical,” Fisher said. “Guys tackled well, played well. … Even though there wasn’t a lot of scoring, there wasn’t a lot of missed assignments. Guys just really beat a block or made a play. …

“I’d much rather be ahead on defense right now, which I think we are.”

Jacques Patrick added 64 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries for the Gold, while fifth-year senior Ryan Green led the Garnet by carrying six times for 36 yards.

“It’s hard when there’s a lot of guys that you’re not used to, and I didn’t have the receivers that I usually have,” Francois said. “So, it was good to work with some guys who I’ve never worked with before, but there are pros and cons that come with that.

“But it’s all good, and I feel comfortable with how the spring ended.”

Can the FSU offensive line protect Deondre Francois in Spring Game?

Five things to ponder while watching the FSU spring game.

1. The kids are all right: A lot of eyes will be on freshman running back Cam Akers as he tries to relieve much of the loss of all-everything Dalvin Cook. Akers is one of several Seminoles who have enrolled early, giving a chance for immediate help. Can Akers, a high school quarterback, be an instant success? Isn’t that the best kind?

2. The James Gang rides again: Safety Derwin James returns after missing most of last season due to injury. James was considered the best Seminole defender when he went down, and it took several games for the Noles to adjust.

3. The quarterback attack is back: Quarterback Deondre Francois won’t have Cook behind him, but on his own, Francois led five FSU comebacks last year. He’ll have to be very good very fast with Alabama looming in the opening game.

4. The Great Wall: Last year, FSU’s offensive line was sketchy. This year, it needs to protect Francois early. It was 58th in the NCAA with 26 sacks allowed last year, and Francois took a beating even when he got passes away. If the Seminoles’ young backs have a chance, they’ll need holes.

5. Is anyone open?: Who is Francois going to throw to? FSU lost its top four receivers from a year ago. Are Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate the answers? We’ll see.

FSU quarterback Deondre Francois hopes to play well in spring game

A year ago, he was the new kid in the huddle. This year, he’s the leader of it.

FSU quarterback Deondre Francois is the proven commodity to the Seminoles’ offense after a year in which he threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns. But three of his receivers have graduated, and Dalvin Cook is no longer in the backfield. That means Francois will need help.

“The year he had, this guy is a big-time player,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel. “He can play, he can lead, he’s tough, he’s accurate, he can throw the ball. He will make a lot of money in this game one day. He’s getting better and better. That’s the thing at quarterback. You get all the glory, all the blame.”

Fisher said it is imperative for the other Seminoles to progress.

“It doesn’t matter who you play at quarterback if those guys don’t do their job,” Fisher said. “I don’t care if you have Joe Montana or Tom Brady back there, he’s not going to do it. There’s a standard they have to hold onto.”

Francois has a chance to show off his progress Saturday at 3 p.m. In the team’s spring game.

“That guy took you on five game-winning drives as a freshman,” Fisher said. “In big-time games, he competes and plays. You can go to another level, but it’s not always about the numbers. It’s about making smart plays and big plays.”

FSU’s Dalvin Cook hopes his Pro Day will help him be drafted higher

Former FSU running back Dalvin Cook, for once, has been going in the wrong direction.

He’d like to reverse his field, if you don’t mind.

If you believe the consensus, Cook has been dropping in draft expectations since having a poor Combine last month. He hopes that his Pro Day will help establish himself as “today’s” back.

Cook, who is widely considered a first-round prospect, ran the 40-yard dash and performed numerous position drills and simulations during Florida State’s pro day event on Tuesday.

Unofficial times had Cook running between 4.40 and 4.43 seconds, short of the 4.49 time he posted during the Combine last month.

Cook hopes to show that he can be a pass-catching back.

“I feel like I came out here today, ran the routes they wanted me to run and caught every ball,” Cook said. “I’ve done everything they wanted me to do so far.

“I’m just working hard so my name can be called pretty early,” Cook said. “I got to put the work in right now, and just give everyone a good impression of Dalvin.”

Cook said he would love to join Jameis Winston with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

“Jameis is a player that I look up to as a role model,” Cook said. “To be in the backfield with him, it would be something special.”

Cook was acquitted in August 2015 after being charged with striking a woman at a Tallahassee bar.

“Look at the situation,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He did nothing wrong. He was actually defusing a situation. That’s him. You’re never going to have those issues with him. He’s a great guy, and I never had anything with him. … He was tremendous for us.

“He’s in tremendous shape. The things he does at the beginning of the game, he does in the fourth quarter. He takes himself to levels because of his competitive drive. It means something to him.

“We knew if we gave him the ball, good things were going to happen.”

Cook said he hopes to go as high in the draft as possible.coach

“Every time I step on the field, I feel like I’m the best player,” Cook said. “That’s just my confidence. I just feel I put the work in and put the time in to feel and think that way.”

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher says his football team lacks leadership

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher says his team needs leadership.

Soon would be good.

After the Seminoles first scrimmage of the spring, Fisher talked about the lack of leadership from his squad.

“We need more of it,” Fisher said. “I’m not mad about it. It’s just kind of the personality of this team. It’s needs more of that. We’ve got a bunch of good guys. They’re good kids. They really are. They need to be more exuberant and dominant personalities and stuff.”

The Seminoles started last season poorly, and part of the reason was attributed to a lack of leadership.

“You can’t make guys do that,” Fisher said. “They either have it in their personality or they don’t. That’s the personality of the team. Some guys like doing it and some guys don’t. It’s just not a lot of those vocal, vocal guys on this team. There’s a lot of good players. They play hard. They play good. You don’t need a lot. You only need one or two.”

FSU running back Jacques Patrick a bridge between star runners

He stands between the Best One and the Next One. For FSU running back Jacques Patrick, it’s a special place to be.

A year ago, he supported record-setting Dalvin Cook for the Seminoles. Now, he is grooming Cook’s eventual replacement in Cam Akers.

For now, however, the job belongs to Patrick.

“It gets you excited and gives you a rush, knowing a guy like that is going to be a first-round pick in the [NFL] draft, and he’s blocking for me,” Patrick told the Orlando Sentinel.

“It was a great feeling, and we’re trying to do the same thing out here. I know these guys look up to me, so I’m doing it for the group.”

Patrick, a former five-star recruit from Orlando, headlines FSU’s deep running back group that features sophomore Amir Rasul, freshman Cam Akers and seldom-used backups Ryan Green and Johnathan Vickers.

“All of them do a lot of things,” Fisher said of his running backs. “It’s not like you have to put one guy to do this, and one guy to do that. They have a very wide range skill sets.”

Patrick has rushed for 664 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career.

“It’s pretty cool because we have a lot of things we can relate to coming out of high school,” Patrick said of Akers. “Cam has been improving, and you can see the improvements each and every day. I’m happy for him. That guy is going to be really good.”

FSU defensive end Josh Sweat has learned his lesson for Seminoles

For Josh Sweat, there wasn’t enough sweat.

Sweat, the defensive end of the FSU Seminoles, looks back at a year ago and remembers being called out for loafing in a loss to North Carolina. He seems determined that it will not happen again.

“Everyone knows I had that one bad game,” Sweat told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’m not going to let it bother me anymore. I felt like my last six games after that, I definitely turned it around. I’m not worried about that anymore, and nobody is going to get me down from that.”

Sweat has turned himself into an example for his teammates.

“I came out here the first day (of spring practice) and started to run to the ball,” Sweat said. “Everyone just followed.”

Last season finished like that for Sweat. His last three games included 4 1/2 sacks.

“We lost by a little bit,” Sweat said, “and sometimes a lot. But when it really mattered, we didn’t pull through. Some of the bad habits started in practice. It’s easier to say it, but we need to work on those things.”

The work will have to come quickly. FSU opens its season against Alabama. Sweat will be counted upon to help replace Demarcus Walker, who was second in the nation with 16.5 sacks.


FSU Safety Derwin James comes back strong from knee injury

For so long, he watched. He waited.

FSU safety Derwin James had become a memory. The former star for the Seminoles, perhaps one of their best defensive players, waited for 176 days – and 11 games – as his left knee healed.

Now, James is back.

And, yeah, it was worth the wait.

“I remember the long days, it was like an everyday thing, where they would tell me, ’no no no, just take it day by day’” James told the Tallahassee Democrat.

“I’m happy I’m back out here now, though.”

Going into last season, James was expected to be the best player on the FSU defense. But he tore ligaments against Georgia Southern and was unable to come back.

Throughout his journey, James said he has learned something.

“Don’t take nothing for granted,” he said.

“Football is a gift. I learned a lot just by watching it. I just take everything even more serious now. Working harder.”

He has also picked up a new role for the Seminoles, lining up to return punts on special teams.

“We put the ball with the guys that have the best hands, and the best ability to run with it,” Jimbo Fisher said. “There are not many positions he can’t play.”

Said James: “I like the ball in my hands. I joke with Coach [Fisher] all the time like ‘Coach, I can do something for the team that could help us.’ Coach is just giving me the opportunity.”

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