Andre Wadsworth, DE, 1993-1997
Inducted into the Florida State University Hall of Fame in 2004
Andre Wadsworth is a bit of a controversial figure because his NFL career fizzled. That's not to say it was all his fault– injuries and a rookie holdout played a big role in that– but being considered an NFL bust is a bigger deal when you're the highest drafted player in the history of a program.
As the third pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, that's exactly what Andre Wadsworth is: is the highest drafted player ever to come out of Florida State.
That's an impressive honor considering the number of players FSU has put into the NFL, but also a dubious one considering Wadsworth played just three seasons before his professional career ended.
Wadsworth was taken with the draft pick immediately following Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf's selections in the '98 Draft, third overall. In an ill-fated decision Wadsworth and his agent opted to hold out for quarterback money and as a result Wadsworth signed his rookie contract the night before Arizona's first game of the regular season.
Then the Cardinals played him in all 16 games of his rookie season– starting him in 15 of them.
So without the benefit of training camp or even getting to see the speed of the game in a preseason exhibition, he got tossed into the NFL fire. Sign on the dotted line, suit up tomorrow. That works in movies and videogames, usually not in real life.
He finished the season with five sacks and was selected to the NFL All-Rookie team.
But in the two seasons that followed he had four knee surgeries over the course of 15 months, one of which was a micro-fracture procedure. That was back when microfracture surgery was still in its infancy and the procedure had not evolved into what it is today. It's not a slam-dunk in 2013, it was career threatening back in 2001.
Wadsworth never played in the NFL again.
I lead off with Wadsworth's NFL career for a reason. To the casual fan, the forgetful fan or fans of pretty much any team other than Florida State the name Andre Wadsworth is forever stained by what happened after FSU. That may be fair to some extent, but it also tends to make people forget what an amazing story Wadsworth was when he was a Seminole.
Andre Wadsworth was born in St. Croix on the US Virgin Islands, he moved to South Florida when he was five years old. He grew up and took a liking to football, eventually starring as a tight end at Olympia Heights Florida Christian. But he was only offered by non-D1 schools. So he chose to accept an invitation from Chuck Amato to walk on at Florida State.
After sitting out the Seminoles' national title run in 1993 with a redshirt he made it onto the field in 1994 as a defensive lineman.
Throughout Wadsworth's Seminole career he was a whatever-it-takes-type grinder, a mentality likely borne out of having to earn his way on to the team sans scholarship. He played both ways in high school but enjoyed more success at Tight End. His best shot to see the field and earn a scholarship in Tallahassee was to embrace defense though, so he started working as a defensive end.
After notching 47 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a reserve in '94, he was asked to move inside and play tackle. Given the guys playing end for FSU in '95 and '96, it's understandable that Wadsworth had to slide inside if he wanted to stay on the field (both of them will appear lower on the countdown).
So number 85 picked up a new position, bulked up about 30 pounds and created push from the middle of the Seminole defensive line for the next two seasons.
In his first year at the nose he settled in by finishing second on the team in tackles. Thoroughly acclimated with playing in the middle by the start of the '96 season, Wadsworth was a key cog at the center of one of the best defenses Florida State has ever fielded.
With Wadsworth mauling opposing guards and centers and forcing offenses to pay him attention the rest of the Seminole defense feasted.
Florida State's defense hauled down the quarterback 67 times in 1996, they set school records by holding opponents to just over 1.5 yards per rush attempt and an average of just 59 rushing yards per game.
Over the course of the two seasons Wadsworth played in the middle Florida State's defense totaled 102 sacks and absolutely stifled any attempt to run the ball. Reinard Wilson and Peter Boulware combined for 52.5 sacks just between the two of them over that time. Both would be selected in the first round of that year's NFL Draft.
Wadsworth had a huge impact on those sacks and the viciousness of that run defense. Just like Corey Simon and Derrick Alexander did in their respective time at FSU, Wadsworth presented opponents an immediate threat in the middle of the Seminole defensive line, somebody capable of beating interior linemen off the snap, collapsing pockets and wreaking havoc.
What Wadsworth had already accomplished heading into the 1997 season was an impressive enough feat, in and of itself. There are players Florida State actually offers scholarships to that don't ever make it on to the field. Wadsworth rolled the dice and passed up surefire chances to play in college to walk on, he earned his scholarship the hard way. Then he evolved into an impact player over three seasons worth of action, notched 7 sacks, made 176 tackles and graduated with a degree in Sports Management– earning ACC All-Academic honors while he did it.
Then in 1997 Wadsworth cemented his legacy as a Seminole great. Florida State had just lost the two most prolific sack artists in the program's history in Wilson and Boulware, the defense would have to replace both of its starting defensive ends.
So after earning a reputation as one of the nastiest defensive tackles in the nation over the course of the previous two seasons, Wadsworth moved back to defensive end and wasted little time forcing the collective football universe to sit up and take notice. In Florida State's season opener he collected two sacks and three tackles for loss at the LA Coliseum while the Seminoles took down USC 14-7.
Over the course of the '97 season Wadsworth victimized opposing offenses to the tune of 59 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 16 sacks. The 16 sacks he recorded that season still stand as the second best mark in Florida State history.
Wadsworth was named to five All-American teams, earned NCAA Consensus All-American honors and was a finalist for the Outland trophy following the Seminoles' season. That Spring at the NFL Draft he was selected higher than any player in the history of Florida State University.
Andre Wadsworth's legacy is determined by the lens you choose to view his career through. To fans that only choose to see part of his NFL story, maybe this pick seems a bit odd. But to Seminoles fans it's the story of a young man who started as a walk-on and worked his way into becoming the highest drafted player in the program's history.
Next up on the countdown we highlight another tailback at number 17...
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