Lamarcus Joyner says his decision to return to Florida State for his senior season was never that difficult. While he freely admits he enjoyed having the option to make the jump early and have a shot in the NFL, ultimately his decision to come back to the university he grew up rooting for was an easy one.
"I felt unaccomplished, I didn’t get a degree," said Joyner. "I came to college to accomplish more than going to the NFL."
The amount Joyner had to overcome just to get to Florida State is a story in and of itself (but one for another time). Come this December the 5-8 defensive back from Liberty City will graduate. The following April he'll likely be drafted and will start his NFL career.
That's why when Spring practice started this year, Joyner was lining up at corner in Jeremy Pruitt's new defense. Not as a safety where he'd been for the past two years under Stoops. Joyner would have been fine going into the NFL as a safety after his junior season, but undersized as he is, another part of his decision to return for his senior season was to help his draft stock.
"I wanted to finish up college and get a degree but I also wanted to do something that would help me for the next level," said Joyner. "It shows versatility, you play some corner your freshman year, move to safety, have some success and then you go back to cornerback and it also opened up room for young players like Karlos Williams to get on the field and have an impact for this team, so it was best for the team."
“It’s an experiment. He wanted to do that," said Jeremy Pruitt at the start of Spring camp. "It was as much his idea as it was anybody’s. He can market himself a little better. He’s been a good player at the safety position but he was a high school corner, him choosing to come back for his senior year, showing that he can play out there on the perimeter plus at safety, in the NFL the more positions you can play the more valuable you create yourself.”
So far the early returns on Joyner's move back to corner have been good and they need to be. With Nick Waisome, Tyler Hunter and Ronald Darby all out for Spring, the rest of the young defensive backs will be looking to Joyner for his example even more.
“He is so competitive," said Jimbo Fisher. "Every time someone would catch the ball ‘coach he pushed.’ He never gets beat. I love him. He’s the ultimate competitor. For a little guy, he’s so powerful."
Joyner prefers not to be a vocal leader, he isn't the rah-rah sort of guy who is going to chirp at his teammates for a whole game. He'll tell you that the team has Christian Jones and Telvin Smith for that.
Joyner leads with his example. Last year that was by playing safety like a heat-seeking missile. This year, as he describes it, it's in a single combat scenario where he plans to use his physicality to battle a receiver for a full 60 minutes and shut him down.
But make no mistake about it he classifies himself as a "defensive back." Because he's going to line up wherever the Seminoles need him, which means back at safety should injuries or inconsistency dictate it.
"Now I get to be a leader for this team," said Joyner. "The weight really falls on my shoulders.
"It’s a special feeling because you know you had guys like EJ, Xavier Rhodes, Werner that you looked up to yourself but now you got a bunch of young guys looking up to you."
For Joyner, that leadership all boils down to one concept, be a man.
And that will be important because he's without the coach he admits cast that example and became like a father to him in his first three years as a Seminole.
"I feel like I’m on my own now," said Joyner, who's mentor, Mark Stoops, left to take the head coaching job at Kentucky this past December.
Stoops took Joyner under his wing while he was in Tallahassee, advising him on all things life and football. His departure had many fans scared Joyner would not be far behind on his way to the NFL draft.
But Joyner had other ideas. Things left to accomplish. There was the business of finishing his degree, helping his draft stock and then there's the challenge of growing up into the leader of the 2013 Seminole defense.
"I mean I can use those three years that Coach Stoops used to mentor me and show me the way and do things the right way," said Joyner. "You’ve got to be a grown man. Coach Stoops always told me two things, you’ve got to be a grown man and it ain’t easy. So with all the things he taught me I’ve got to see how I can handle this thing with him gone, I’m on my own now.”
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