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October 25, 2013

Bowden's last class remembers

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For 33 years, Coach Bobby Bowden built Florida State football from the ground up. Now almost four years after his final game Bowden is coming back. This Saturday he returns to Doak Campbell Stadium for the first time since Nov. 21, 2009.

Coach Jimbo Fisher has led the program back into the spotlight - providing a poetic bookend for Bowden's return to Florida State - but Fisher credited Bowden with laying the foundation.

"He made Florida State," Fisher said. "He was Florida State. That's why we have this stadium, the facilities. That's why we have academics, that's why we have the school. That's why we have everything."

On Saturday, more than 300 of Bowden's former players will be in Doak Campbell Stadium to greet him. There's also the statue and giant stained-glass window with his likeness on it, just in case anyone forgets Bowden's legend. But to most of the current roster, Bowden is just that: a legend. Only five players are left who Bowden recruited to Florida State. And they're well aware of their connection bridging the program's past and present. Bryan Stork, Demonte McAllister, Dan Hicks, Gerald Demps and Jacobbi McDaniel are all that's left.

"After the five of us are gone nobody has any association with Coach Bowden," Stork said. "We're the last of that recruiting class."

McDaniel was the star of the class. A five-star recruit from Madison, Florida, he was ranked the 14th best player in the country by Rivals and the top defensive tackle in his class.

"He [Bowden] made it plain and clear at the time that I was the first recruit that he came and saw," McDaniel said.

McDaniel grew up less than an hour from Tallahassee in a town dominated by FSU fans. He had offers from schools across the country, but the overwhelming local fan base - combined with the towering legend Bowden built - had its effect on him.

"I could have gone anywhere," McDaniel said. "But I just wanted to come to Tallahassee, because the majority of people in Madison including my family was all fans of Florida State."

Stork was less heralded. A three-star recruit as a high school tight end, Stork switched to offensive line at the beginning of his college career. Stork said he wanted to play for a legend and had wanted to play for FSU since he was 12. Bowden's pull was strong enough that Stork committed before even visiting FSU.

"They didn't have to recruit me too hard," Stork said. "I came here to play for coach Bowden first. He's a legend."

Bowden did fly up to Vero Beach to see Stork. Stork was so excited he met Bowden at the airport.

"After seeing him get off the airplane I was like, 'Wow, Coach Bowden just flew into Vero Beach just to see me on a Sunday when he could be at home with his wife,' It meant a lot."

McAllister was the No. 4 rated srong-side defensive end in the country and a four-star recruit. Demps came in as a three-star recruit at safety. Hicks was a two-star recruit as a tight end but moved to defensive end at Florida State.

Their first year at FSU proved to be a year that not even a legend could survive: losses to USF and Boston College, a blowout setback at Florida, and a 6-6 regular season record. Stork redshirted that season, but said he could remember feeling that Bowden would step down.

"I wanted to play for a legend, and I was lucky enough to be on the team for a year," he said.

The team limped into the Gator Bowl against West Virginia. After 33 years at the helm this would be Bowden's final game. Before the game Osceola handed his flaming spear to Bowden who planted it in the ground. Stork said he will tell his grandkids about that day.

"It brought tears to my eyes because I knew that was the last time he would ever coach Florida State," said Stork.

The team won that game defeating West Virginia 33-21 to send Bowden out with a win.

"It rained for three days straight in Tallahassee," recalled Stork. "He never came around after that and I haven't seen him in a long time."

That will change this Saturday. Almost four years after that final win in the Gator Bowl, the coach that built the program will return. He'll plant the spear just as he did in his final game. And at the end of the season, when the last five players he recruited play their final game, it will mark the end of an era.

NOTE: Bobby Bowden will be joined by over 300 of his former players prior to the game and will plant the spear at midfield. Be in the stadium by 2:45 p.m. to make sure to catch this historic event.



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