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Thursday, Jun 29, 2017
Sports

Jones: FSU-Bucs draft connection, coincidental or cagey?

Call them the Tampa Bay Seminoles.

Tampa Bay's NFL team has a Florida State quarterback. The kicker is a 'Nole. And if things break just right in this week's NFL draft, another Seminole — running back Dalvin Cook — could land in its lap.

"I hope the Bucs draft him," said Hall of Famer and former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks.

Of course he does, seeing as how Brooks went to, well, you know where.

Speaking of which …

"I mean, we like winning around here, so we draft winners," said Bucs/ex-FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. "I don't think you can beat that."

Does where a player went to school have any impact on how a team drafts? Or, in this case, would the Bucs take a player just because he went to college in Tallahassee? Or Gainesville or Tampa, for that matter?

"I think we have the best fans in the NFL," general manager Jason Licht said. "But we are not going to pick a player just based on how we think our fans are going to react and how we think we are going to sell tickets in the short term. It's going to be the best player to make this team better to win championships down the road."

Still, you wonder. For years, teams have acquired players from nearby schools — moves that not only were popular with fans but helped the team. The Bucs-FSU pipeline goes back to the days of Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Brad Johnson and Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson, and runs through Winston to kicker Roberto Aguayo.

Do teams consider school as much as they consider times in the 40-yard dash?

"It really doesn't work like that," former Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "You don't really pick players based on the appeal of their school."

On the other hand, Dungy tells the story about the Bucs taking former Gators receiver Jacquez Green in the second round of the 1998 draft.

"Not long after that, I was told someone had come in and bought two suites for the season because we drafted Jacquez," Dungy said. "Honestly, that's what they told me, that a guy who must have been a Florida fan told them Jacquez was his favorite player and he was so happy we had him and so he bought two suites."

It's silly to think that a player's school doesn't make a difference to fans. Maybe the football coach doesn't care where a player went to college, but the person who runs the ticket department does.

Grant Mehlich, president of the Tampa Bay Seminole Club, the local arm of FSU's alumni association, knows the Bucs are going to take whichever player helps them the most, but Cook just might be that player. And the Bucs would benefit not only on the field but off.

"Yes, I think more FSU fans would buy tickets," Mehlich said. "I have a few friends, and we've discussed it. You should draft by what's best, not by school, but Dalvin would be a pretty big cherry on top."

Said original Bucs player Barry Smith, who went to FSU: "For myself, am I more interested because we've got some FSU flavor? Sure, of course. I still don't know why Jacksonville never did some deal with (Jacksonville native and UF grad Tim) Tebow, with all the Gators up there, all the issues Jacksonville had."

Smith remembers a teammate who helped attract attention to the 1976 expansion Bucs: a QB from Florida named Steve Spurrier.

"Tampa was such a Gators bastion, (the Bucs) were new, sure getting Steve was a part of all that," Smith said. "That made a lot of sense back then. Those days are past. There's no way in this day and age that you're going to draft a guy for tickets. You draft him to win football games, whether he's from China, Russia or anywhere else."

Then again, there is something about going back to the well if you find success at a certain school. And it's not because of the school, necessarily, but because of the relationship with its coaches. For instance, when Dungy was with the Colts, they drafted tight end Dallas Clark out of Iowa in the first round.

"We built a relationship with (Iowa) coach Kirk Ferentz," Dungy said. "So the next year, he let us know that they had a safety that would be perfect for us. And that was Bob Sanders, and he helped us win a Super Bowl."

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said teams aren't going to take a player because they go to a school down the street but sometimes where a player went to school might be a factor.

"You pick from a school because you trust a school that gives you information or you don't pick from a school because you don't like the way the program is run," Mayock said. "But there's little to anything with fan appeal or anything like that. I've never seen that."

Hey, maybe we'll see it this week if the Bucs, given the choice, take Cook with their first-round pick. Cook might run for thousands of yards on Sundays and end up selling thousands of tickets the rest of the week.

"Local players selling tickets? I don't know," Brooks said. "If you're winning, you're selling tickets. If you're doing good business, it's going to be good for business. The team has to win. Team winning sells more than players winning. … Let's be honest, I got drafted here, played for Florida State, but if the team wasn't winning, there still would have been an empty stadium in '97."

But even Brooks would love to see another Seminole come to town.

"It's a pretty good legacy," Brooks said. "The history speaks to that."

Times sports columnist Martin Fennelly contributed to this report.

     
 
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