Malik Henry should be in high school, back in Southern California, preparing for his senior prom.
Deandre Francois, a year older but still a novice when it comes to major college football, had never stepped on a football field with more than a few thousand people in the stands.
Yet, both quarterbacks showed the poise and patience of a certain quarterback who arrived at the Citrus Bowl a few minutes after Saturday’s kickoff, one who has Heisman Trophy, national championship and NFL Rookie of the Year trophies on his shelf.
OK, no one is saying Florida State’s two young quarterbacks are Jameis Winston, or even in the same zip code, but both showed coach Jimbo Fisher exactly what he was looking for in a spring game played in front of 49,913 fans.
With starting quarterback Sean Maguire out after ankle surgery, both young quarterbacks engineered two scoring drives in the final 5:33 as the game fittingly ended in a 24-24 tie.
“I saw a lot of resilience,” Fisher said. “Guys making plays and all of a sudden make a mistake and instead of going into a shell, come back and make another play.
“That’s part of growing up as a young player because you always want everything to be perfect when you’re young.”
Henry and Francois were a combined 15 of 21 for 226 yards and one touchdown pass each in their final four drives. Henry gave the Garnet a 17-14 lead with a six-play, 80-yard drive. Francois needed two minutes to drive 75 yards, capped by a brilliant Auden Tate catch for an 11-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining that was pure Kelvin Benjamin-esque.
Fisher then put 1:30 on the clock, and Henry was brilliant, completing four consecutive passes in 46 seconds, the first three to running back Jacquez Patrick and the dagger to Travis Rudolph for a 43-yard score
Francois came back out with 44 seconds to play and led the Gold to a game-tying field goal attempt, which incoming freshman Ricky Aguayo nailed on a low liner to end the game.
“The last five minutes of that game was epic,” offensive tackle Rod Johnson said. “Those guys were making the right reads, making perfect throws.”
And Fisher got better than a bird’s eye view of the proceedings; he got a referee’s eye view, standing behind the quarterback for every play.
“I like to stand behind the huddle,” Fisher said. “I can feel the presence, if they’re lost, if there’s no leadership. And they were both (Fisher snapped his fingers to symbolize their sharpness).”
Francois, a redshirt freshman, was 20 of 33 for 246 yards. He threw two interceptions in the first half, one of which Fisher said was “unacceptable.” Henry, an early enrollee, got off to a slow start, as did the entire Garnet team which went without a first down in the first half. He closed 15 of 22 for 205 yards. Both tossed two TD passes.
“Malik’s issues - he’s not going to know as much as Deondre - just making sure that he got the signals was the big thing. Once he got it and knew what to do he was in charge,” Fisher said. “I thought Deondre did a great job keeping his poise through the whole game.”
Henry and Francois were not the only breakout players in the game that was moved to Central Florida because of ongoing construction at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Tate, who started emerging about a week into camp, was the best receiver on the field. The rising sophomore had six catches for 100 yards. At 6-foot-5, he could change the entire complexion of the receiving corps.
“Tate is going to be a great receiver for us,” Rudolph, the former Cardinal Newman standout, said. “He makes acrobatic catches, has great ball skills and he has good body control.”
Ryan Green, who switched back to running back after one year at cornerback, looked like he never left. Green rushed for a game-high 84 yards on 16 carries.
“He’s got a chance to help us,” Fisher said. “He’s an electric guy, he’s got speed, he’s got size.”
On defense, safety Derwin James, ends DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat and linebacker Ro’Derrick Hoskins, the usual suspects, stood out.
Awards: The Seminoles award winners for the entire spring. Most improved players: Tate, OG Kareem Are, DT Derrick Nnadi, DT Demarcus Christmas. Offensive MVPs: RB Dalvin Cook (who had shoulder surgery on Tuesday), TE Ryan Izzo, Rudolph. Defensive MVPs: James, Walker. Overall MVPs: James, Walker.
Noteworthy: Linebacker VanDarius Cowan of Palm Beach Gardens has decommitted from Florida State for a second time and committed to Alabama.