'Part of your blood' ... FSU alumni help out at South Florida youth clinics
MIAMI -- For some, the only familiar face was longtime defensive line coach Odell Haggins.
For others, it was Haggins and wide receivers coach Ron Dugans.
But it wasn't necessarily the coaches wearing the colors that drew several former Florida State football players out to support the Seminoles' free youth football clinics in South Florida the past few days.
It was the colors themselves.
At each of the first four locations -- in Palm Beach County on Thursday, in Broward on Friday and in South Miami and North Miami on Saturday -- notable Seminole alumni turned out to speak to the youths in attendance, to meet Mike Norvell and his assistant coaches, and to support the garnet and gold.
"Any time you get Florida State in South Florida, I think it's a great opportunity," former FSU and NFL quarterback EJ Manuel said after he visited the clinic Friday in Lauderhill. "Once Coach Haggins told me they were going to be down here, I made sure I could come through."
Manuel, who now serves as an analyst for the ACC Network, actually moved to South Florida this past fall and has communicated with Norvell numerous times by phone and in television interviews. But this was his first chance to meet Norvell, offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham and others on the staff in person.
Manuel said he was very impressed by those conversations, but that didn't surprise him. He said Norvell made a strong impression right after getting the Florida State job in December 2019.
"When he first got hired, I shot him a text saying congratulations," Manuel said. "And he called me right back. And to me, that meant a lot. He didn't have to do that. This is like a day after he got the job, so that right there said what kind of guy he was.
"But it's good to meet Coach Norvell in person and to talk with Coach Dillingham and some of these guys."
Manuel's first center at Florida State, Rodney Hudson, came out one day later for the Seminoles' camp at Tropical Park in South Miami.
The three-time NFL Pro Bowl offensive lineman, who recently was traded from the Las Vegas Raiders to the Arizona Cardinals, also lives in the area during the offseason. Hudson came early to the Saturday morning camp, stayed the entire time and gave a motivational speech to the campers when it was over.
"My football journey came through here (FSU)," Hudson said, when asked why it was important to support Norvell's clinic. "I thought it would be cool to come out and meet the new coaches and have fun with the kids too."
The youths in Broward County heard a strong message from Marlin Green, who played defensive back for FSU in the mid-1990s.
Green, who now is a South Florida attorney specializing in commercial litigation, brought his 10-year-old son, Makhi, to participate in the clinic. He then spoke to the young football players about how he has applied the lessons he learned on the football field in his professional career.
Green, whose brother Jermaine also played at FSU, not only did his undergraduate work at Florida State, but he also was an honors graduate of FSU's College of Law.
"You're married to the program," Green said. "The program is going to go through coaches and changes and everything else. But if you're married to the program, if it's a part of your blood, it's always important to come back. And any time they ever ask me to come back and participate or be a part of it, I'm going to do that.
"Florida State still feels like home to me. And if you're interested in the outcome, you need to participate in the process. Events like this are part of the process."
Norvell seemed genuinely touched that the former players, several of whom he had never met before, were willing to take their personal time to support the cause.
"It means everything," Norvell said. "Once a 'Nole, always a 'Nole."
Former FSU and NFL wide receiver Marvin "Snoop" Minnis was among the former players who attended the North Miami camp Saturday afternoon. He also brought his son to participate.
And the Palm Beach County camp brought out several more former Seminole stars, including tight end Nick O'Leary and defensive end Markus White.
White, who has been coaching high school football since finishing his playing days in the NFL and CFL, said he hasn't been able to visit FSU as much as he'd like recently. But after meeting Norvell and his staff, White said that will change in the near future.
"I'm definitely going this year," White said. "I'm really excited about the program. I've been watching from afar, but I'm definitely a part of this. So I'll be there this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Norvell's gonna do."
Not everything was new for the former players. White, Green and others marveled at how Haggins brings the same intensity when working with youths in 2021 as he has with college players for more than 25 years.
"I love Odell," Green said with a smile. "Nothing changes. He's been doing this for 30 years, and it's the same guy. The only difference is he's got a little more gray in his beard. But he's the same dude."
There were some other more familiar faces among the players who turned out. Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., who started at FSU for most of the past three seasons before being drafted recently by the NFL's L.A. Chargers, came out to the clinic in Lauderhill.
And current FSU players Jordan Travis and Bryan Robinson stopped by Thursday's event in the Village of Palm Springs.
FSU's next free youth football clinic is scheduled for Jacksonville on Tuesday, followed by Melbourne, Orlando, Kissimmee and several other locations around the state. Here is the complete schedule and registration information.