Mike Norvell grabs an ice-cold bottle of water, squeezes some into his mouth and then pours the rest down his back.
It turns the Florida State coach’s sweat-soaked T-shirt into his personal cool zone, at least for a few minutes. The respite from the sweltering summer sun is short-lived — exactly how Norvell wants it for the Seminoles.
The hotter the better during his team’s three-day, training-camp trip to Jacksonville. It’s the perfect metaphor for the intensity and scrutiny the ’Noles expect this season.
“You’re not going to be comfortable in life,” quarterback Jordan Travis said. “You got to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s what we’re focused on.”
The program’s most anticipated campaign in nearly a decade begins in three weeks against Southeastern Conference heavyweight LSU in the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando. The primetime matchup between top-10 teams will provide an early glimpse into two championship contenders.
For FSU, getting to this point happened slowly, then suddenly.
The Seminoles went 8-13 in Norvell’s first two seasons, those coming on the heels of the Willie Taggart debacle. They were embarrassed by Miami, Louisville and Pittsburgh in COVID-altered 2020 and then raised eyebrows with a stunning loss to lower-division Jacksonville State in 2021.
To outsiders, FSU was a shell of its former self. The program that finished in the top five in 14 consecutive seasons (1987-2000) under legend Bobby Bowden and then won a third national championship with coach Jimbo Fisher and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston in 2013 looked lost.
Behind the scenes, though, Norvell was navigating the changing landscape of college football as well as anyone. Simply put, he crushed the transfer portal — 16 of the team’s 22 projected starters for this season came from other schools.
Not all of them were plug-and-play stars, either. Travis (Louisville), receiver Johnny Wilson (Arizona State), running back Trey Benson (Oregon) and nose tackle Fabien Lovett (Mississippi State) made huge strides under Norvell and his staff.
Making the group even more special: most of them, including All-Atlantic Coast Conference edge rusher Jared Verse (Albany), returned to school in hopes of winning it all. They enter this season with a six-game winning streak, the fifth longest in Division I, but currently are 2 ½-point underdogs against the Tigers.
“We just knew we had unfinished business,” Travis said. “We all came back. We have goals and expectations for this football team this team.”
“It was big for everything. … All of us coming back, it brings confidence back to this football team, a lot of experience.”
Verse, widely considered a first-round NFL talent, looked like he would be a one-and-done transfer and jump to the draft after 16 ½ tackles for loss in 2022. But he and his fellow draft-eligible teammates wanted more.
“It’s huge; guys that want to be here,” Norvell said. “They’re bought into what we’re doing as a program and they also believe that they’re going to develop. These guys are great players that have had really good success throughout their career, but they want to take another step.
“And I’ve been really pleased with the work ethic, the desire. That’s encouraging to everybody. You get one chance for a career. … They all have big dreams and big goals, but they see this as a great step to where they want to ultimately get to.”
A stay in Jacksonville was part of the journey.
The Seminoles arrived at the University of North Florida on Wednesday evening for their annual three-day camp that includes dorm-style sleeping arrangements, countless team events and two practices in stifling heat and humidity.
“Sleeping in those dorms is not fun, I can tell you that,” Travis said.
Added senior safety Akeem Dent: “I wouldn’t say I look forward to it. These are the dog days of fall camp.”
Players have a lengthy walk from locker rooms to the single practice field that’s usually used for intramurals. The logistics alone make the setup tougher than any road game; FSU brings its equipment trailer and two more air-conditioned units that serve as walk-in coolers for players and staff.
The school has one portable mast cam, prompting the use of two droids to capture practice video. The footage no doubt shows a talented team — several NFL scouts were on hand Thursday and Friday to gain up-close looks at next-level players — and its most depth since Fisher’s teams won 29 consecutive games before losing to Oregon in a 2014 CFP semifinal.
“Everybody in the country right now is talking about wanting to achieve great things,” Norvell said. “You got to work for great things. … This team has trained and this team cares about each other. We’ve got great players, we’ve got a wonderful staff, but they believe in each other and they’ve built trust.”