On Tuesday, October 8, 2013, the Florida State Seminoles football program hosted a behind the scenes tour for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.
Arranged by our nonprofit organization Child Advocates II, Inc. (CAII), this special event gave program-represented children and youth an opportunity to have fun, learn about the Seminoles and see firsthand the importance of studying hard and doing well in school.
Participating children, volunteer guardians ad litem and staff first met up in the Great Hall at the Coyle E. Moore Athletics Center, situated on the north side of Doak S. Campbell Stadium in University Center Building D.
The Great Hall features tributes to student athletes, photographs and artifacts from notable and historic moments and, encased in touch-sensitive glass, the 1993 and 1999 American Football Coaches Association National Championship trophies.
See the FSU Football Tour 2013-10-08 photograph set on Flickr.
Please note that this public set is incomplete due to privacy considerations. Please contact our office if you took part in the event and would like a copy of the eighty-seven additional photographs.
Everyone had a chance to browse the collection before our guide for the day, Coordinator of Student Services Ochuko Jeniji, arrived and got things started. Before taking this role, Jeniji was himself a Seminole footballer playing cornerback and then safety between 2006 and 2010.
Our tour began with Jeniji providing an overview of FSU athletics, using several of the items in the Great Hall as examples. We next moved up to the second floor, pausing along the atrium to look down at the Great Hall from above and see the large stained-glass window.
The three-story, 30-by-20-foot window commemorates the naming of Bobby Bowden Field and was unveiled at that same ceremony, just before the FSU v. Florida game on November 20, 2004. Consisting of 112 individual panels and 8,500 pieces of glass, the window was created by Robert Bischoff, Jo Ann Bischoff and twelve FSU students in the Master Craftsman Program.
Aside: Seminoles fans will no doubt recall that particular rivalry matchup wherein the Gators — helmed by short-lived coach Ron Zook in his final regular-season game — upset Florida State 20-13, the first Tallahassee win for Florida in eighteen years.
Leaving the atrium and proceeding down a corridor, our group next arrived at the Football Projection Room, a large, cinema-style space with 156 seats and a multimedia projection system. This room is used by the team to discuss past and future performances as well as entertain groups like ourselves. Taking their seats, the participants were treated to a screening of a short film about Florida State athletics and then had an opportunity to ask Jeniji questions.
As a result, we heard about the meetings regularly held in the room and the achievement board, used by the team to track whether or not certain criterion are met (such as "no turnovers" and "average four yards per rush") during each game. The children also got to hear about Jeniji's own experience at FSU and the rigorous academic and athletic schedules each student athlete must maintain to succeed.
Curious as to its seemingly unusual presence in this locale, one youth wondered why a Clemson Tigers "tiger paw" logo was displayed on a whiteboard. The display of a non-FSU team logo here turns out to be part of a simple method to remind the Seminoles which opponent they next face.
Next, the group moved through another series of corridors leading us to the Jim and Linda Owens Multi-Purpose Room. As the name implies, this room is used for a variety of training roles but is carpeted in artificial turf for the football team. Jeniji spoke for a few minutes while students were using the room to perform calisthenics and stretching routines.
Crossing the room to exit, the group emerges on a metal stairway platform overlooking the Roger Holler Champions Training Complex. This large space with high ceilings contains rows and rows of various professional exercise and training equipment. Ceremonial banners celebrating significant wins adorn this mostly metal and cinder block facility and a television scrolls various information, including the current rankings of FSU sports teams.
Carrying on, we walked to an open-air walkway beneath the stadium and proceeded along until emerging inside the stadium itself. Walking out into the Section One seating area at the stadium's northern end zone, the group had a chance to see where a new attendance record of 84,409 would soon be set (during the FSU v. Miami game on November 2, 2013).
After posing for a group photograph, we left the stadium via Gate M and moved north toward Dick Howser Stadium, home of Seminoles baseball. Gathering around a fenced-in area outside the gates of the football practice field, we learned about a long-standing team practice: the Sod Cemetery.
Issued as a challenge to the 1962 Seminoles at practice before a game against the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, professor and athletic board member Dean Coyle Moore said to "bring back some sod from between the hedges at Georgia." Returning victorious after an 18-0 shutout with some grass from the field at Sanford Stadium, the team buried the sod at the practice field as a symbol of victory.
The plaque on display explains that "since that time, each week before leaving for games away from home in which Florida State is the underdog, all University of Florida road games and all conference championship and bowl games, Seminole captains gather their teammates at the cemetery to tell them about this tradition." Those captains who return victorious do so with some sod and add it, along with a marker, to the ever-growing tribute now fifty-one years old.
Even as we proceeded with Jeniji on the tour, the children were unaware that our ultimate destination would include a chance to watch the team practice and then meet the players and coaches. That destination awaited us just beyond the Sod Cemetery.
Advancing onto the outdoor practice fields and then into the new 92,000-square foot Albert J. Dunlap Athletic Training Facility, the group got their first glimpse of the team in person. The artificial turf of the practice fields runs continuously through the doors right into the massive building. As the group took in the size of the indoor training facility, Jeniji talked about how it will allow practices to proceed uninterrupted during inclement weather.
While there, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Vic Viloria walked over and introduced himself, interacted with the children and posed for a few photographs. He said that the team would be finishing their practice soon and that we should watch them from the sidelines; they would be over to say hello shortly.
An assistant passed out "Plant Yourself in Doak" team posters and black permanent markers to each of the children. They watched excitedly as the practice finally wrapped and the players started to come our way.
In a scene this author hypothesizes had the similitude of a Hollywood red carpet event, the excitation was palpable as the children with wide smiles each got to meet the players, shake hands, give high fives, get autographs and pose for pictures. Even though they had just completed a multi-hour outdoor practice with temperatures in the mid-eighties, the players were outgoing and eager to interact.
The players took their stardom in stride as perfect gentlemen, ensuring that the experience was fun for the kids. One of the younger children was having so much fun, he made a real impression on all of the players. One of them even gave the child his professional-looking Nike gloves!
Remembering that our program works to advocate for and provide a voice to abandoned, abused and neglected children, one can imagine the positive impact an experience like this might have. An enjoyable and memorable event like this clearly made a difference and is no doubt still being discussed by the children as the Seminoles continue this season undefeated 9-0.
We would like to express our thanks and gratitude to Florida State University, the Seminoles Football Program, players and staff, Ochuko Jeniji, Brian Sealey, CAII and our great volunteers and staff for putting this event on and making the day special for our program's children.