Mario Pender arrived in Tallahassee a semester early looking to make his mark from day one.
The 6-0 190-pound redshirt freshman chose to forgo his final semester of high school, trading in a tuxedo and prom photos for shoulder pads and a playbook. But it didn't go as planned, Pender had to redshirt and miss his first season on campus with a sports hernia.
It was hardly the way the story was supposed to be written.
“It is pretty tough, but it’s all mental, I believe it’s all mental," said Pender. "Once you get your mind right I believe you can do anything you want to do. College football it really is tough, but once you pick up everything you’ll be alright.”
It took Pender a while to arrive at that conclusion though. And he didn't do it alone.
“I believe when I had that injury it just kind of set me back off for a second," admitted Pender. "But now I’m getting back into the roll of things I feel a lot more comfortable and a lot more part of things."
A big part of that for Pender came from the advice and mentorship he received from Chris Thompson, as well as Devonta Freeman and James Wilder. All three have dealt with injuries and issues that kept them from the field. So when Pender started to get down they were there to pick him up.
“Me and Chris talked about that injury a lot," recalled Pender. "He told me just to stay in treatment, get treatment whenever you could, get good treatment, always.”
In turn, he was able to gain something from his time on the sideline. Something he wouldn't have been able to do without their example.
"I was able to take mental reps at that time and watch the three backs run the ball so I beleive it really did help me being able to sit back and watch those backs do what they can do.”
But now it's Pender's turn and he's ready to show off some of his blazing speed as well as a few of the new skills he's picked up in his time at FSU.
Pender got healthy last season late in the year but the team didn't want to waste a year and burn the redshirt so he continued to sit. But this season they're counting on him to use his speed to replace Thompson as the team's homerun threat. In high school, Pender averaged 11.9 yards per carry his senior year, he was the fifth-rated running back in the country.
In college, the Seminoles feel he can continue to be dominant. But in order to do that Pender will also need to display his toughness. All Spring Jimbo Fisher has preached the need for toughness to his entire team, Pender for one seems to have gotten the message.
He's been seen trucking corners in practice.
“I’ve been pretty much all my life I’ve been a speed back because I’ve never had to come into contact with anyone," said Pender. "But since I’ve gotten to college I’ve realized that this is more than just a speed game, everyone can be fast and I’ve got to show some toughness sometimes.”
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