Posted: 2:57 pm Saturday, January 22nd, 2011
By Matt Porter
Updated 5:15 p.m. | For weeks, Nick O’Leary’s family, coaches and friends asked him when he was going to commit to Florida State. So, it was no surprise that Saturday the Dwyer High senior verbally committed to sign with the Seminoles.
O’Leary, the grandson of golf legend and North Palm Beach resident Jack Nicklaus, is considered the top tight end in the country.
“He’s finally made up his mind and he’s ready to move on,” his father, Bill O’Leary, said.
Before choosing the Seminoles, O’Leary narrowed his list to Alabama, Louisiana State and Georgia and was also heavily recruited by Miami and Wisconsin. He’s now one of the jewels of what could be the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.
After O’Leary’s commitment, Rivals.com placed FSU’s recruiting class third in the country, ESPN had FSU first overall, and Scout.com had the Seminoles second.
FSU now has verbal commitments from 23 seniors, including two five-star recruits, Tampa-Plant running back James Wilder Jr. and Davenport-Ridge defensive back Karlos Williams. Area standouts committed to the ‘Noles include defensive end Giorgio Newberry (Fort Pierce Central), defensive backs Keelin Smith and LaMarcus Brutus (Treasure Coast) and 6-foot-6 Glades Central wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
The Seminoles are also on the short lists of South Carolina defensive end Javedeon Clowney, considered the top recruit in the nation, and St. Augustine-Pedro Menendez linebacker Tony Steward, the nation’s stop linebacker according to Rivals.com.
O’Leary, at 6-foot-4 and a thick-boned 230-pounds, led the area with 875 yards and 12 touchdowns on 51 receptions. His father said he is back to working out after a shoulder injury he suffered in Dwyer’s playoff loss in December.
He’ll enter FSU with a chance to play. The ‘Noles have one tight end that returns with experience, Beau Reliford, a rising senior who caught 17 passes in 13 games. He was academically ineligible for the Chik-fil-A Bowl and his status is uncertain. Rising senior Ja’Baris Little had one catch in 12 games.
Since Jimbo Fisher took over the offense, FSU has used tight more than they have since the days of Melvin Pearsall in the 90s. Caz Piurowski was one of Christian Ponder’s favorite targets before his season-ending injury in 2009. Last year, Fisher employed double-tight-end sets in goal-line situations.
Returing quarterback E.J. Manuel started six games last season and led FSU to a win over South Carolina in the Chik-fil-A Bowl.
“They have a lot of great receivers coming in,” Bill O’Leary said. “I think [Nick] needs to focus on being able to contribute on special teams and any way he can. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him this summer.”
O’Leary first visited Tallahassee last summer and took an official visit last weekend. Like coaches from many schools, FSU offensive coordinator James Coley, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and head coach Jimbo Fisher were regulars on Dwyer’s campus this fall. They’ll visit O’Leary one last time this week.
“They’ve probably got the most stable staff of anyone that’s been recruiting him besides [Alabama's Nick] Saban,” Bill O’Leary said.
O’Leary has both an athletic pedigree and family ties to Florida State.
O’Leary’s uncle, Steve Nicklaus, lettered as a receiver at FSU in 1983. Jack Nicklaus, a legend at Ohio State, has rented a luxury box at Doak Campbell Stadium for the past few seasons. O’Leary also has other close relatives at the school. Bill O’Leary played football at Georgia (1984-85) and his mother, Nan (Nicklaus’ daughter) played volleyball for the Bulldogs.
O’Leary transferred to Dwyer from Benjamin after his freshman season and helped the Panthers to the 2009 Class 4A state title. Last season, Dwyer coach Jack Daniels used him at nearly every position on the field, including fullback, safety and punter. Last spring, O’Leary led Dwyer to a state title in lacrosse last year and in the winter, played goalie on the soccer team. O’Leary also breaks 80 on the golf course.
“His hands and body control are incredible,” Daniels said. “If there’s a ball involved, he’s going to be as good as there is.”