NCF Nation: Dameyune Craig



When Dameyune Craig left Florida State to return to his alma mater, he was leaving behind a national championship contender and a potential Heisman Trophy quarterback in Jameis Winston. It’s no wonder Craig turned down Auburn the first time they offered.

[+] EnlargeDameyune Craig
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDameyune Craig's return to Auburn helped the Tigers land Nick Marshall and develop their receivers.
But it wasn't the talent and future success that made it such a difficult decision. It was his relationship with Winston, the quarterback he was responsible for bringing to Tallahassee. Craig had served as a mentor, a father figure and a friend to the Seminoles’ redshirt freshman.

“Without Coach Craig being in my life -- he was a good reason why I came to Florida State,” Winston said. “He kept me on the right path. He used to call me every morning. If he had one of his visions or something, 5 in the morning he’d call me and let me know, ‘Aye Jaboo, don’t do this.’ Coach Craig’s got a lot of visions.”

The relationship began when Winston was a sophomore in high school. Craig had just become the new quarterbacks coach at Florida State, and it didn't take long for him to make Winston a recruiting priority.

It helped that Craig could relate to Winston. He, too, was a star quarterback from the state of Alabama. While at Auburn, he set numerous passing records, including completions (216) and passing yards (3,227) in a single season. He led the Tigers to 10 wins in 1997. He was who Winston wanted to be at the next level.

“Just talking to him, meeting his family and everything, I see him as me,” Winston said at Saturday’s BCS media day. “When I grow up, I want to be like him.”

Craig also made an impact on Winston’s family. He was the first recruiter to bypass the high school coach and talk directly with Jameis’ father, Antonor Winston.

“He was willing to break through the walls,” Antonor said. “Coaching-wise, you never go to a school for a coach because they could be a dime a dozen. As a mentor, Dameyune just understood Jameis. He said some stuff that nobody would think about saying about Jameis, and it came to pass.”

According to Antonor, Craig told his son that if Jameis went to Auburn, he would start as a true freshman. If he chose Alabama, he might make some people mad because he would take AJ McCarron’s spot. But at Florida State, he could redshirt his first year, learn from future NFL quarterback EJ Manuel and focus on his baseball career, too.

That’s what the family wanted to hear. It was a win-win situation. So Winston, the No. 1 quarterback and No. 14 prospect in the 2012 ESPN 300, signed with the Seminoles.

“Coach Craig doesn't get enough credit for bringing Jameis there,” Antonor said. “Their relationship -- Jameis knew leaving home, Dameyune was going to make him do right. He got recruited by a lot of schools and a lot of recruiters, but I don’t think anybody came in and cared about Jameis’ well-being the way he did.”

It couldn't have worked out better for the prized recruit. Jameis redshirted his first year with football. In the spring, he started 30 games for the baseball team that ended up reaching the super regionals. And this season, with expectations high, he took over as Florida State’s starting quarterback and led the Seminoles to an undefeated season and a spot in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJameis Winston spent his redshirt season under Craig's tutelage.
The only downside? Craig wasn't there to be a part of it. He left after Winston’s freshman year, a decision that was difficult for Winston and his family.

“It hit me pretty hard,” Jameis said. “I didn't really express that because I had to talk to Coach [Jimbo] Fisher about it. I was sad when Coach Craig left because it was unexpected. I had talked to him about it, and I knew he had done the right thing for him. I trusted him and told him I supported him the whole way.

“I told him, ‘Coach Craig, if you gotta go, then go. Because I’m going to be with you no matter what.’”

Little did Winston know, he’d be going against his former mentor and coach in Monday’s national championship game.

The decision to leave Florida State for Auburn worked out for Craig, too. He works with the wide receivers now, but he helped recruit quarterback Nick Marshall, who has been instrumental in the Tigers’ miracle season. The two have already developed a relationship similar to what Craig had with Winston.

“He’s the same type of guy,” Marshall said. “He doesn't let anything change. What’s his is ours. That’s with all the coaches. If we have anything to talk about, we can call any one of our coaches on the coaching staff and just talk to them about it. It’s like another dad to us.”

However, Craig will always hold a special place in his heart for Winston and his family. It’s the reason Winston mentioned Craig in his Heisman Trophy speech. It’s the reason Winston deleted Craig’s number from his phone -- he was afraid he’d be tempted to call his former coach. It’s the reason why Monday’s game won’t affect their relationship.

“I don’t think he’s concentrating on beating me,” Winston said. “He’s concentrating on beating Florida State. It’s just like I’m not concentrating on beating him, because at the end of the day, win or lose, me and him are going to remain the same. He’s going to be happy for me if we win. I’m going to be happy for him if they win.”

Louis emerges as playmaker for Auburn

November, 19, 2013
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AUBURN, Ala. -- It was late in the fourth quarter, and Georgia had just taken the lead. Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis was having a career game with 58 yards receiving and 66 yards rushing at that point, but there was one play that he was going to be remembered for. It was a play he would rather forget.

[+] EnlargeRicardo Louis
AP Photo/Dave MartinBesides his big catch, Ricardo Louis chipped in with career games receiving and rushing against Georgia.
The Tigers faced a 3rd-and-3, leading 37-24 and trying to put the game away. Louis came in motion at the wrong time and basically tackled Tre Mason as soon as the Auburn running back took the handoff. The play resulted in a loss of three and forced his team to punt.

“The timing on that play was messed up,” Louis said “I was a little too far, I came too quick and ran into Tre. That was on my mind the whole game.”

Louis knew he had to redeem himself. He had to make a play. A first-down catch would’ve done just fine, but instead, he decided to reel in a 73-yard touchdown off a tipped pass to win the game for Auburn.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” Louis said after the game. “This is like a dream. This is a dream come true. I always dreamed about making a big play in a big game. Coach [Gus] Malzahn said in the beginning of the week, ‘Ricardo’s due for a great play in a big game.” He was right.”

Still, Louis was an unlikely hero for the Tigers.

In high school, Louis was a running back. He spent time at quarterback, wide receiver and everywhere else the team needed him, but he was primarily used out of the backfield. As a senior at Miami Beach High School, he rushed for 765 yards and 13 touchdowns.

When he arrived at Auburn, it was quite an adjustment when the coaches asked him to play wide receiver. He struggled at first, catching just three passes for 36 yards his freshman year, but the addition of co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig in the offseason was just what he needed.

“When we recruited Ricardo Louis, we felt like he could be an unbelievable impact player, and Coach Craig’s done a great job with him,” Malzahn said. “Each week, he’s gotten more and more confidence.”

This season, Louis is second on the team in receiving with 291 yards and has added another 161 on the ground. Louis credited his position coach for making the miraculous catch Saturday.

“It was unbelievable,” Louis said. “I thought I was going to drop it for real. Coach Craig always tells us to look the ball all the way in. He’s the reason I caught that ball.”

Louis will now be remembered for that final catch -- a catch that will go down in SEC lore -- but it shouldn’t take away from the impact he had already made in the game. He had career highs in both receiving yards and rushing yards long before that last drive.

Auburn had been looking for a wide receiver to step up opposite of Sammie Coates all season, and Louis had finally answered the call.

“Ricardo’s a great player,” Coates said. “With him, he’s always down to make a play when we need him, and he did real great [Saturday]. We’re proud of him. He kept fighting and made big plays when it was presented to him. He’s a playmaker.”

But despite his breakout performance through the first three quarters, Louis still needed that last catch to make people forget about his earlier gaffe. And that play might be just the thing to give him confidence for the rest of this season and beyond.

“It can really propel you,” he said. “The fact I’ve been working hard, playing wide receiver after playing quarterback in high school, it’s a big move. It’s all about working hard. I look at a lot of receiver film to see what I can do to become a better receiver.”

On Saturday, Louis gave a glimpse at his potential, but to his head coach, the young wide receiver can prove to be much more than one big catch.

“He’s got a chance to really be special, and I think this will kind of put him in the right direction,” Malzahn said.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Over the past four months, Florida State won an ACC championship, a BCS game, reeled in another top-10 recruiting class and sent a handful of players into the NFL draft with first-round promise.

Given the recent spate of unsightly 7-6 seasons, Florida State seems to be in pretty fantastic shape. That, of course, is not the storyline that has taken shape since December. No, the convenient storyline has focused mainly on the coaching turnover that has left the Seminoles with six new assistants heading into the 2013 season.

What does the unusually large turnover say about coach Jimbo Fisher? What does it say about the program itself?

At this point, the storyline has become rote. Fisher already has his answers before the questions are asked, prepared to bat down the notion that this very strange offseason has been, well, strange.

He begins.

“You know,” he says, “we were one of four teams in the entire country that did not lose a single assistant in my first two years here.”

Pretty astounding, when you consider just how frequently assistants change jobs year to year. But what is more astounding is hiring seven different assistants in a two-month span. One of those assistants, Billy Napier, lasted a handful of weeks before moving on to Alabama.

As Fisher tried to defend the staff turnover, he proved the point others have made. Coaching change is common in this profession, especially at winning programs. But the type of coaching change Florida State just experienced is as rare as scoring a safety on consecutive plays.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesFSU coach Jimbo Fisher says he wasn't surprised by the amount of staff turnover this offseason.
Among programs that did not have a head coaching change, only Marshall had to replace more assistants than Florida State this past offseason. Point this out to Fisher and he shrugs.

“We took the attrition of three years and put it in one,” Fisher says simply.

Was he surprised that he lost so many assistants?

“Not really. Last year was a big year,” Fisher begins. “You go back and look at all the major jobs. When’s the last time you saw four major SEC schools open?”

Not since 2004. His defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops, got the head coaching job at Kentucky and took assistant D.J. Eliot with him. Another assistant, Dameyune Craig, left for a co-offensive coordinator job at Auburn. Counting Napier, four assistants left for the SEC.

Fisher continues.

“The NFL has nowhere else to draw coaches from,” he says. “And we had a lot of success. We’re graduating players. Guys aren’t getting in trouble. People want to know how you’re having success. We had to have a proven commodity.

“We’re the eighth-winningest team in the last three years. We were 30th the previous three years. We’ve jumped more than any team in the country. So people say, ‘Wait a minute.’ We all do research and look at who’s doing good and ask, ‘Why are they doing good? Are they doing something we’re not doing?’ People are saying, ‘Let’s get some of those guys and see why they’re having success and are able to change the culture and change a program.”

The other three coaches who left -- Eddie Gran (Cincinnati), Greg Hudson (Purdue) and James Coley (Miami) -- took coordinator jobs as well. Fisher points this out, too, and makes it clear he has never stood in the way of an assistant getting another job. After all, he allowed Stoops to interview at Kentucky in the middle of the season.

While all of the change may not look so great on the surface, the staff Fisher has assembled may in fact be better than the one he had his first two seasons with the Seminoles. When asked what he likes most about this staff, Fisher says, “No. 1, the experience. No. 2, their undaunting ability to work and put in hours. A lot of staffs you get recruiters or coaches. I think everybody on our staff can do both. We have a staff that’s very solid recruiting and very solid coaching. It’s hard to find nine guys capable that way.”

Perhaps that is a slight dig at his past staff. But there is no questioning the credentials of the men tasked with elevating Florida State from ACC champ into yearly national title contender. All of them have won conference titles; three have won national titles.

Fisher keeps a running list of potential candidates with him, so he knew exactly whom to call when all these jobs came open. How they arrived in Tallahassee plays like a game of Six Degrees of Jimbo Fisher.

  • You have quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders, who crossed paths with Fisher when both were assistants in the SEC some years ago. He also coached new running backs coach Jay Graham at Tennessee in the 1990s. The two have known each other since Graham was 17.
  • You have defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who come from the Nick Saban tree that also produced Fisher. Sunseri and Fisher were on the same staff at LSU in 2000.
  • You have recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach Tim Brewster, who never worked with Fisher but recruited against him when he was at Texas and Fisher was at LSU.
  • Then you have special teams coordinator, linebackers coach Charles Kelly, who was a graduate assistant at Auburn in 1993 when Fisher was there. Kelly also played against Fisher the past several seasons while working at Georgia Tech. When Kelly was with the Jackets, and Pruitt with the Tide, the two shared ideas.

“Florida State has always been one of the schools I’ve always wanted to work at,” Sanders said. “When I first got married and was first coaching, my wife asked me. I said this was one of the four schools in the country I’d love to work at some day. When the opportunity came along, I was excited to come to Tallahassee.”

He echoed what all the other assistants said during their only media availability this spring: the desire to win a national title. Indeed, the intensity during spring practice seemed to be turned up a notch. Both Sunseri and Pruitt are quite boisterous and have no qualms about getting up close and personal with their players -- face to face mask.

On one particular afternoon last month, Sunseri kept getting after defensive end Giorgio Newberry. At one point, Newberry just slung his big arm around Sunseri’s shoulder and chuckled.

“I give him a hug every once in a while,” Newberry said. “I love Coach Sal. I love how he coaches me. He doesn’t let us take plays off. We have to go hard every time, and we’ve got to do it his way. I like that. He’ll chew me out and I’ll be like, 'Yes sir' and I try to fix it.”

Graham is not as in-your-face, but he demands excellence. That was not so easy to get adjusted to for some of the backs.

“He wants you to be great, so he has very high expectations,” James Wilder Jr. said. “It was hard getting used to it at first. He wants everything perfect.”

Fisher has described the staff transition as seamless. He has veteran coaches that share his same philosophies and players who have embraced the changes. But the questions will linger on until kickoff in Pittsburgh on Sept. 2.

Perhaps even longer.
1. Bill O’Brien owed it to himself and his family to listen to the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Bill O’Brien who pulled Penn State football out of the ditch this year and drove the Nittany Lions to a memorable 8-4 season would never leave after one season. The coach who preached loyalty and commitment and convinced a fractured community to come together behind him decided Thursday he couldn’t leave. And you thought he couldn’t endear himself any more to Penn State.

2. Given everyone who is leaving Florida State -- defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig and two other assistants, All-ACC defensive end Bjoern Werner and All-ACC corner Xavier Rhodes -- the news that safety Lamarcus Joyner will return for his senior season should calm a lot of Seminoles nerves. At 5-foot-8, Joyner might not be made for the NFL combine. But he is the glue that holds the secondary together. Amid all the change, that’s more important than ever.

3. NFL scouts measure physical attributes. Writers can tell when a college star is ready for Sunday football when he conducts an interview with a glaze of boredom descending over his eyes. Even the friendliest, most thoughtful players reach their limit. I saw it last season with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, and again Thursday with Alabama center Barrett Jones, who would make anyone’s All-Decade Interview team. Then again, if I had to answer the Dynasty question as often as Jones has, I would go robotic, too.

Weekend rewind: Scrimmages

August, 23, 2010
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Here's a quick look back at the weekend scrimmages, thanks to reports from the schools' sports information offices:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Sophomore quarterback Mike Marscovetra was perfect, going 12-for-12 for 90 yards and a touchdown. Dave Shinskie went 14-for-19 for 116 yards, but threw an interception. True freshman Chase Rettig was 2-for-4 for 13 yards.

Sophomore Clyde Lee and true freshman Bobby Swigert led the receivers with five catches each. Lee had a game-high 43 yards, and Swigert went for 29 yards and a touchdown.

Redshirt freshman kicker Nate Freese made a 51-yard attempt that hit the crossbar and went through, and he made another from 39 yards. He missed a 47-yarder that hit high off the left upright.

Sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly led the defense with six tackles, and junior safety Dominick LeGrande recorded five tackles and an interception.

FLORIDA STATE

The Seminoles went through what amounted to a full-scale dress rehearsal, as they did their pre-game routine, returned to the locker room, then returned to the field for a three-hour scrimmage. Offensive coordinator James Coley and quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig were in the press box, along with defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot and a graduate assistant. They helped call the plays on headphones, and there weren't any personnel or clock-management issues.

Junior college transfer Mike Harris earned some high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher:

“Mike’s a good player; he’s a real good player,” said Fisher. “He breaks on the ball. He’s almost like a quiet assassin. You never hear him out there, but he’s always in the right place."


Statistics weren't included in the team's scrimmage report, but sophomore Willie Haulstead played well, and Fisher used a tailback-by-committee approach with Jermaine Thomas, Ty Jones and Chris Thompson. Defensively, former cornerback Ochuko Jenije started at safety.

VIRGINIA TECH

First, the injury report: Backup receiver Xavier Boyce sprained his left MCL and will have an MRI, backup linebacker Lorenzo Williams sprained his right foot and will have an MRI, and punter Brian Saunders bruised his right ankle. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, linebacker Barquell Rivers will not play against Boise State, and Bruce Taylor will start in his place. Starting field corner Jayron Hosley is still out with a hamstring injury.

Offensively, Tyrod Taylor completed 7 of 9 passes for 95 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Ryan Williams was the leading rusher with 46 yards on nine carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run. David Wilson added 38 yards on six carries and scored on a 12-yard run. Defensively, Eddie Whitley led the way with seven tackles and a pass break-up. Kicker Chris Hazley made field goals of 43 and 47 yards, but missed his first field goal in a preseason scrimmage when he was wide left on a 48-yard attempt. Cris Hill blocked two punts.

You can find more on the Hokies' scrimmage here.

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