- Dave George Palm Beach Post Sports Columnist
There’s just no relenting on the mystery that surrounds James Blackman’s ability to lead Florida State as Jimbo Fisher’s emergency quarterback.
The true freshman from Glades Central High School is scheduled to start the Seminoles’ next game, whenever that may be.
FSU’s game with Louisiana-Monroe, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been canceled in advance of Hurricane Irma’s approach. Depending on what happens in Miami with the storm, it may even be difficult to get Mark Richt’s Hurricanes back on campus and practicing in time to make the Sept. 16 Miami-FSU game in Tallahassee practical.
A possible makeup date on that one could be Oct. 7 but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are just too many questions unanswered, and Blackman is yet another piece of the puzzle.
Jimbo hasn’t had to start a true freshman since 1998 when he was the quarterbacks’ coach at Auburn and a poor kid named Gabe Gross was forced into action. That didn’t turn out too well, with Auburn head coach Terry Bowden resigning in the midst of a 3-8 season and Gross eventually deciding to quit football and pursue a professional baseball career that led to eight seasons with four major-league teams.
A season-ending knee injury to Deondre Francois in the Sept. 2 loss to Alabama has pushed Jimbo into drastic action, however. Blackman has lost his chance to warm up and settle in against Louisiana-Monroe. Suddenly, he’s staring directly at a starting debut against Miami, one of the great rivalry games in college football. Until then, practice reports and encouraging words from teammates are all we’re getting.
A few other options have melted away for FSU in recent years, including De’Andre Johnson. The former prize recruit was dismissed by the Seminoles over an off-campus incident and has bounced since from East Mississippi Community College, the famed “Last Chance U,” to Florida Atlantic.
Strange how it all works out. Blackman led Glades Central to a couple of playoff appearances, but he is not the most celebrated quarterback in Raiders history. That probably would be Brad Banks, who played quarterback at Iowa and was the runner-up to Carson Palmer in the 2002 Heisman Trophy voting.
Was it always rosy for Banks, though? Not hardly. He didn’t start at Iowa until his senior season and that was after a journey from Central Florida to Hinds Community College in Mississippi.
Look, too, at Anquan Boldin, one of the greatest all-around athletes in Palm Beach County history. He played quarterback at Pahokee and several other positions on offense and defense. He hoped most of all to play quarterback at FSU but wound up switching to wide receiver to get more playing time. Recently he retired after 14 NFL seasons as one of the toughest and most productive receivers in league history.
See what I mean? There are so many talented and driven athletes out by Lake Okeechobee and so many intertwining stories involving their constantly evolving careers that there simply is no way to predict how Blackman will do at FSU. He might be a natural leader and help stabilize the Seminoles right away with sound decisions and accurate passing, or he might be in over his head for a while.
Even Jameis Winston, a Heisman winner and national champion at FSU, had to wait until his redshirt freshman season to start there. Same for E.J. Manuel and Christian Ponder.
Blackman was a star for the Raiders, but his last two big-game performances were crushing losses.
In the Muck Bowl, played at Pahokee’s Anquan Boldin Field, Blackman was sacked five times in a 27-14 loss to the 10-0 Blue Devils and finished 7-for-15 passing for 96 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
One week later, Glades Central lost a first-round playoff game to Miami’s powerful Booker T. Washington High School to finish 6-5. The Raiders moved the ball well, with Blackman throwing for 195 yards and two touchdowns, but lost 47-30.
The kid has such confidence and quick-learning ability, however, that Jimbo wants him in the huddle rather than redshirt junior J.J. Cosentino or true freshman Bailey Hockman, who was ranked higher than Blackman by scouts on national signing day.
Palm Beach County players never back down from a challenge. Jacoby Brissett is an example of that. The former Dwyer High star got a scholarship at Florida in 2011 and, because of injuries, was forced into the starting lineup against No. 1 LSU. The result, a 30-point loss, wasn’t pretty, but Brissett went on to start at North Carolina State and filled in for the New England Patriots during Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension last season. Today, following a trade, he’s on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster and looking for another chance to compete.
That’s all Blackman wants, and he’ll likely be just fine.