Born a Seminole: Why Amari Gainer was destined to play at Florida State

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The term “Nole Blooded” takes on a deeper meaning for Amari Gainer.

To Florida State coaches and players, it is a phrase used to represent the feeling of loyalty and pride to the university. But for Gainer, the love for all things FSU wasn’t something that he chose.

He was born a Seminole.

His father, Herb, played receiver for the Seminoles from 1983-87. His mother, Blond, graduated from FSU. So did his older brother Terrell.

But he didn’t quite understand what it all meant.

When the family moved from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Tallahassee when Amari was in the second grade, only then did he begin to grasp his family’s ties to the university.

So as he came up playing football in youth leagues and into high school at Lawton Chiles, a dream began to materialize.

“My goal growing up is to play for Florida State,” Gainer told Florida State DieHards. “My mom graduated from Florida State. My dad played there. That was always my dream was to play at Florida State.”

Herb coached his son when he started playing flag football as a youngster. Amari played receiver and running back.

But in the back of his mind, Herb knew his son’s future was on the other side of the ball.

“The way he would chase kids down with the flag, he could take over the whole game,” Herb recalled. “He could chase plays down from sideline to sideline, and he seemed to have more fun doing that than scoring touchdowns.”

Still, when he would take Amari out of the game when his team was close to scoring touchdowns on offense, Herb admits that didn’t go over well with his mother. But it was a part of his plan. He didn’t want his son to get too comfortable with the idea of being a playmaker on offense because he thought his highest potential was on defense.

“I told her that I wanted him to play defense. The touchdowns are the glory part, but he has to learn to stop people. We had a few heated discussions about that, but I just liked the way he chased people down,” Herb said, laughing. “He was relentless at that age. In the back of my mind, I’d say to myself he would be a heck of a defensive player.”

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Amari starred on offense in youth leagues when his family moved to Tallahassee. (Gainer family/courtesy)

For his part, Amari said the move to defense was easy.

“I feel like it was pretty natural for me, switching from offense to defense, because I’ve always been physical and gotten after it. For me, initially, it was just run and hit whoever has the ball, so it was pretty simple from that standpoint.”

Herb recalled a flag football tournament that came shortly after the family moved to Tallahassee when he knew his son could be a special athlete. Then, Amari was a newcomer who was long and athletic, but he wore goggles.

“He wore goggles until he was darn near in the eighth grade,” Blond said with a chuckle. “That’s what people in town related Amari to because he wore them.”

After he helped dispatch a local team that hadn’t lost in two years, the buzz began to grow.

Herb didn’t know that was the case until a chance encounter with then-Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher happened shortly afterward.

Herb would take the family, which also consists of two other siblings — daughter Amaya, now 16, and son Ashton, now 12 — to the baseball fields to hit balls.

Alerted that Fisher was nearby watching his sons play, Herb went to introduce himself. Fisher, a noted historian of Seminoles football, knew of Herb’s exploits in the mid-1980s. After that meeting, Amari and Fisher’s oldest son, Trey, would start to play together and develop a friendship.

Blond notes that Fisher told them he saw “something special” in Amari as an athlete even at a young age. Later, the two boys would play against each other in football. After Amari scored 3 touchdowns in that game, Fisher delivered a message that stuck with Herb.

“Jimbo came up to me and said, ‘I see it now. That kid is special. He makes ‘God plays.’ I asked him what is that? He said, ‘Only God gave him the gift to make those kind of plays.’ So we always laughed about that all the time. After that, he kind of fell in love with Florida State and Jimbo and the whole thing.”

It wasn’t uncommon for Amari to be inside the coaches offices or the weight room or even at Fisher’s house playing with Trey. That gave him a unique view of the program over the next few years.

“We kind of kept in touch that way,” Blond said. “Amari was so young. It never even dawned on him that Jimbo was the head coach at Florida State. It was more of a friendship that developed over time.”

Amari echoed that sentiment.

“I was always close with Trey [Fisher], so I would always be around inside the offices and in the weight room, and I saw the changes when it got rebuilt and everything,” Amari said. “I’ve seen it since before we had everything.”

When he got to high school, Amari began to blossom at linebacker. The interest from colleges grew after his sophomore season.

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Amari grew close to former Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher after becoming friends with his oldest son, Trey. (Gainer family/courtesy)

While Herb admits that the family rooted for the Seminoles and watched every game on Saturdays, he says he and Blond encouraged Amari to have an open mind with respect to other universities during the recruiting process.

He earned a Seminoles offer at Fisher’s summer camp just before his junior season, but he resisted the urge to jump on it and commit on the spot.

His reasoning was simple.

“I just wanted to see all of the other schools and see what it was like at different programs and different places and atmospheres, so I won’t end up regretting not visiting there and then think, ‘If I would have visited there, I might have flipped’ or something like that,” Amari said. “So it’s just good to see all of my options and make sure that FSU is actually the best fit for me game plan-wise.”

Still, as great of a relationship as Amari had with Fisher — he often would spend the night at his home because of his friendship with Trey — Herb cautioned his son to “marry the school and not the coach.”

He was talking from experience.

“I was recruited by the same guy for three years, and when I got to school, he had taken the job with Jacksonville’s USFL team as the general manager, so I never got to see him when I got to Florida State,” Herb said. “When I got there, he was gone.”

Little did he know what he was in for with Amari’s recruitment. After Fisher took the Texas A&M job, Amari began to look around and schedule visits.

But word got out about potential successors for Fisher, and Herb immediately gravitated to one name.

About 25 years ago, back when he was living in Manatee County and working as a counselor for a summer youth program in the area, Herb ran a program that gave high school students jobs in the area at local businesses. He hired 60 kids to work for him, and he remembers one kid in particular who was on his list.

“I would go around and put them in different jobs and check on them, and Willie [Taggart] was one of the kids in that program. Peter Warrick was another one at that time. It was a long time ago, so my contact with him was when he was a youngster. I didn’t know he was going to be coach Willie Taggart. He was just another kid in the program.”

So it was ironic that on Dec. 6, hours after he was introduced as Florida State’s coach, Taggart’s first in-home visit on the job was at the Gainer household.

Herb, Taggart and interim coach Odell Haggins — a teammate of Gainer’s when he was at Florida State — laughed about old times back home, and in the process, Amari’s future at Florida State was sealed.

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Amari Gainer grew up playing football and baseball in Tallahassee’s youth leagues. (Gainer family/courtesy)

Little did Taggart know that he also found an unofficial recruiting coordinator that night.

During their conversation about the future and the Seminoles’ 2018 recruiting class, Taggart mentioned to the family that he was trying to get in touch with 5-star Kennesaw [Ga.] Harrison quarterback Justin Fields. Admittedly, he was having some trouble with that task.

Amari, who has been friends with Fields since meeting him during the recruiting process and keeps in touch with him frequently, spoke up.

” ‘I can do that in 2 seconds, Coach,’ ” Herb recalls Amari telling Taggart.

Within seconds, Amari called Fields via FaceTime and handed the phone to his future coach, who engaged Fields for a few minutes. When the conversation ended, Taggart quickly came to a realization about Amari.

“After they finished talking, Coach Taggart looked at Amari and was like, ‘Man, I need to hire you,’ ” Herb said. “Odell started laughing and said, ‘I told you that’s why we had to come here first!’ ” 

But Fields is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Gainer’s recruiting efforts. Any new offer that is being handed out or any player who has any type of interest in the Seminoles, chances are Amari has communicated with them already.

A glimpse at his Twitter account could be an unofficial recruiting board for Taggart’s new staff when it finally is assembled.

Amari has accepted being a player-recruiter, but it’s clear his approach is more about having fun than pressuring his peers and good friends. He has a simple explanation why he has willingly taken on the role of being an ambassador and a leader for the Seminoles’ 2018 class.

“I feel like I’m a pretty good player, and I like to be surrounded by other good players so we can end up winning a national championship one day,” Amari said. “I know you can only do your job. Like if I got other great athletes like myself to come in with our class, I feel like we can really build something special. Just letting them know the dream and a lot of them are buying into it, so I just want to have our class back up there to the top.”

Herb initially was surprised to see his son open up and take on the role considering he was shy growing up.

“I remember when we could never get two or three words out of him,” Herb said, laughing. “By him knowing the program and being familiar with the people over there, I think that helped him kind of take on that role.”

Time will tell if he is successful in his pursuits, but don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon.

After all, the moment he has dreamed about since he was a kid is weeks away.

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Blond, Herb, Amaya and Ashton are all happy that Amari will stay home to play his college football. (Gainer family/courtesy)

Amari will step onto Florida State’s campus for the first time as a student-athlete representing the school in January as an early enrollee.

For his family, the moment also will represent a dream come true.

Amari could have gone elsewhere, and the family would have supported his decision. But in their hearts, they finally can admit they never wanted him to leave the city limits.

“[Blond] would say, ‘I want my baby home. I want him home where I can go and see him and we don’t have to drive around. We can drive right down the street to watch him play.’ The rest of his siblings, they are excited, and they are a part of this experience, too. They are as excited as we are to have him here.”

To illustrate that point, Herb tells a story about Amari’s recruitment when he would keep his parents abreast of pitches from other coaches and schools through a group text.

Anytime Amari would speak about another school in the text that wasn’t Florida State, his mom, albeit jokingly, always would have the same response.

“Noles Nation!”

The post Born a Seminole: Why Amari Gainer was destined to play at Florida State appeared first on Diehards.

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