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Sal Sunseri Bringing Blue-Collar Approach to Florida State Defensive Line


Florida State overhauled their coaching staff this past offseason when the rest of the nation made a run on Jimbo Fisher's assistants. 

After three years of continuity, schools like Kentucky, Cincinnati and Miami came after the Seminole coaching staff hard and Fisher was left trying to hold together a recruiting class while cobbling together a talented group of coaches to help run his program. 

It went pretty well by all accounts. 

“I’m extremely excited to be here at Florida State," said new D-Line coach Sal Sunseri. "I had the opportunity to be down here during the bowl practice and these young kids work hard. Jimbo does a great job with them. They’re finding out what it takes to win, and they did win last year and they have high expectations. We just have to teach them to get to those high expectations.”

Sunseri is just one in a group of coaches new to the program this Spring as the Seminoles kick off practices. Sunseri spent last season at Tennessee where he admits he learned the hard way that, "you need good players."

Sunseri joined the staff as DJ Eliot's replacement and helped coach before the Orange Bowl. That gave him a chance to get to know the players a little bit it still probably didn't prepare them for what to expect once the Spring rolled around.

“I think they’re in a little bit of shell shock right now," said Sunseri after the team's first practice. "They’re probably in there saying ‘boy the man is crazy.’ But I want them to think that because the thing is that every time I go out on the field, it’s like if I was coaching my own son. I am going to demand him to do it right. First of all, for protection. Because if he doesn’t do it right and he gets lazy, to me that’s the most important thing.

"And if they play with the technique and they do what they’re supposed to do, someday they’re going to have the opportunity to fulfill a dream that they’ve been waiting to do for a long time. I’m excited about it. I think they got an idea of what I am going to ask for, so tomorrow will be another day. Hopefully, we get better and they’ve got to learn. They’ve got to understand not just assignments, they’ve got to understand concepts of what’s going on out there.”

That's a big part of this year's new defense, learning the concepts and not just the assignments. It's something that should give everyone a better chance in the NFL where the defenses are even more complex than what Jeremy Pruitt is implementing in Tallahassee.

One thing the guys can expect along the defensive line is that if they aren't learning the concepts they'll hear about it.


"[He] coaches the way that I like to be coached, hard-nosed, they coach with their hair on fire," said DT Tim Jernigan. "He makes sure things get done the way they’re supposed to get done and he lets you know when you’re not doing something right. He don’t care who you are, they let you know.”

"If he's on you and yelling at you it's because you know he cares about you and he's trying to coach you for the player you could be and not the player that you are," added DE Mario Edwards.

So far Sunseri has already told Edwards he needs to get in shape in about as many words. It may be jarring but it's the kind of tough love a lot of players need. 

Sunseri has an extremely impressive resume, he's coached some very good players like Julius Peppers for instance and given the NFL ambitions of most of the team's defensive linemen, this group has figured out that Sunseri is a good guy to listen to.

Guys like Edwards and Casher both point to the pros Sunseri has helped create before admitting they need to take in all the coaching Sunseri can give.

Even if it's a bit harsh.

"I was always taught to listen to the message, not how it's delivered," said DE Chris Casher.

“Oh I love it, I came up playing football you know, you understand that they’re just trying to get a point across," said Jernigan. "They’re just trying to get you better and it’s only going to set you up for life after football, it’s going to make you a tougher person and make you be able to adapt more easily to certain situations.”

That blue-collar, lunch-pail approach is exactly what the Seminoles defensive ends need. Florida State's defense will need to be nasty next season to compensate for breaking in a new quarterback. That all starts up front in the trenches where Sunseri is installing a workman-like ethic and trying to elevate the level of play of the whole unit.

"I’m going to demand and they’re going to be relentless competitive people," said Sunseri. "I’m going to push them to the ultimate. They’re not going to have a chance to relax because this game is very physical and you’re playing a four-three and two defensive ends, you have to be dominating, you have to rush the passer and stop the run. When fatigue sets in, most of us turn into cowards, so what I try to do is work them as fast as I can and as hard as I can to get them to play with the best technique because that’s what’s going to happen in the game.

"Technique ultimately wins on the field.  If you have technique and you have smarts, you’re going to be a good football player.”


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