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October 29, 2013

FSU Practice Notebook: It's Business Time

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"Good Tuesday, came out here very business-like and got our work done, we need to have a couple more good days so we can be prepared to play well,” said Jimbo Fisher as his team left the practice field. 

"[It was a] good cool Tuesday, really good environment to practice in -- like [it will be at] game-time. I thought we got a lot of work in, thought the defense really did some great things that I liked," added Fisher. "Offense was good and solid today. Good solid day."

So, in review, Tuesday's practice was both good and also solid.

As for the energy level at practice -- especially given that it's Miami week -- Fisher said he hadn't noticed any difference from his players. Asked if some of the south Florida guys were a little more amped this week, Fisher responded: “No, I really don’t [think so] at all I just feel like we’re going about our business.”

In other news, James Wilder was back at practice yesterday after missing a week due to the effects of a concussion suffered against Clemson. 

“He’s fine, he’s rolling now, going full speed," said Fisher. "He’s doing great.”

Giorgio Newberry also returned to practice after being held out on Monday. 

“[He's] good, he practiced today, he got to practice today," said Fisher. "We did what we had to do and he did a nice job rehabbing.”

Overall the Seminoles are extremely healthy heading into this weekend's tilt with the rival Hurricanes.

“Yeah we feel very good, we’ve been blessed," said Fisher. "Knock on wood.”

More from Practice: 

##- Fisher on Stephen Morris' injured ankle and whether FSU would do more to put pressure on him:

“I mean we’re going to try to affect the quarterback no matter what, that’s one of our main goals on defense whether he can move, he can’t move, you’ve got to affect the quarterback. It looked like he was moving pretty good to me the way he moving around and making some throws.”

##- On Miami having two quality backs:

“You always get a fresh guy, that’s what I say, you’re always getting fresh legs and he’s a big, strong, fast guy. I think the game that Duke got hurt he came in and had 100-something yards I believe, played extremely well. So they have some very capable backs.”

##- On Jameis Winston staying loose and whether it trickles down to his teammates:

“I think it does and guys who usually do that have confidence in themselves and confidence allows you to be relaxed, I think that’s why when he prepares and does a great job during the week he feels that way. But it does, it trickles down to his teammates.”

##- On first down efficiency:

“First down is a big key, when first down is successful third down is usually a lot easier and that’s one our main goals going into every game is how we play on first down offense and defense.”

##- On ESPN being at FSU again today:

“Good, I mean it was good, you don’t even realize they’re here. They do such a great job of getting in and out and getting their interviews and things they do, it’s not very disruptive to your day at all.”

 

For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...

A Look Back: Uncle Luke and Devonta

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An excerpt of this story appeared in the Miami Herald on November 2, 2012, here it is -- a year later-- in its entirety...

It’s 6 PM and from the halls of the Moore Athletic Center you can hear the echoes of a football team reverberating off the tiles.

Young men in their late teens to early 20’s, all recently off the Florida State practice field, fresh from the showers are migrating slowly to the meal hall, chattering amongst themselves about classes and a new semester, college friends, assignments, girls and anything else a college kid might concern himself with.

Devonta Freeman is 20 years old, a sophomore, but his concerns make most others' -- regardless of age -- seem trivial.

“I just bought with some of my financial aid money, I just bought for my deceased auntie, her two boys a whole bunch of school clothes. I just spent like 300 dollars on their school clothes and I’m not done,” says Freeman as his teammates chatter in the adjacent dining hall.

Freeman pauses to gather his thoughts.

“It’s not a thing that I’m doing because I want a blessing or something like that, it’s just I’m doing it because I know what it’s like to go to school without anything new. I don’t want them to go through that, they’re too young to understand, I was too young to understand.”

Like an Uncle

Saying Devonta Freeman has faced more than his share of adversity in his young life wouldn’t do it justice. He’s seen deaths in his family, been close to death in his community, he’s faced poverty, lived for several years in a project and been asked to give up something no child should ever be asked to give up.

But he’s also had an unlikely guardian watching over him along the way.

“I was playing baseball for this little park called Moore Park,” said Freeman, recounting his first meeting with Luther Campbell. “I think that my first year playing I was about nine years old and we came to Liberty City and I hit a home run, ever since that day he wanted me to come play for him.”

Luther Campbell is famous for many things. A simple internet search yields results about supreme court battles, raunchy hip-hop lyrics and even a football scandal at the University of Miami. What’s harder to find is the work the former 2 Live Crew star is doing with troubled young men in south Florida via athletic programs.

Young men like Devonta Freeman and the University of Miami's Duke Johnson.

“He used to take us on trips as the whole team, we used to go to fun parks in Orlando because we always went to the Pop Warner little league [championships]. I was the starting QB, we won two national championships,” recalled Freeman. “We all used to go over, he’d invite the whole team to his house. We used to mess up his house, we were bad playing around.”

In Campbell, or Coach Luke as he’s known to his kids, Freeman found a constant presence to push him in the right direction. He found an escape from his everyday life filled with football trips and pool parties. But most importantly he found someone to set him straight when he needed it most.

“He was always in my corner, even right now it’s the same way and I know if I was ever to like make it to the NFL or whatever he won’t ever ask me for anything– and there’s other people out there that have helped me too– but I’d do whatever for him,” said Freeman.

“Like his child, his child would be good if God forbid something were to happen to him, his family would be good. I’d be there for them.”

Spoken From Experience

Those are not hollow words. Devonta Freeman knows what it means to take care of a family because it’s something he stepped into at a far younger age than anyone should have to.

After the theme park trips and all the days at Uncle Luke’s, Freeman would inevitably have to settle back into his own reality.

“You know when you’re taking a kid home every day and you’re taking him to a neighborhood where he has to walk the red tape, the yellow tape, where people get murdered right at his doorstep and him being in a single parent household situation in the Pork’n’Beans projects, I had to tell him one of the hardest things I ever had to say to him as a coach, mentor, dad or person,” said Campbell.

“I had to give him the harsh reality talk.”

Freeman was living in a project in Liberty City, his younger brothers and sisters and mother were living in a small space along with his aunt and her children. Money was extremely tight.

“There used to always be killing and shooting,” Freeman said solemnly. “But Luther always used to tell me ‘you’re going to it make it out of these projects, so just keep grinding and keep doing what you’re doing.’”

Finally a day came when Campbell had to spell out a harsh, unfortunate reality.

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“I was the oldest at the time, I was 12, but I was the oldest,” Freeman remembered. “He helped me out the best way he could, when we were talking and stuff he just told me that I’ve got to be the man of the house. I’ve got to take over, I’ve got to do things that nobody else, no other man could for my family. I had to get out there and grind.”

There are guys well into their 30’s who still haven’t mastered adulthood but at just 12 years of age Freeman was being asked to become the man of the house.

On that fateful day as Campbell dropped Freeman off the two shared a conversation that would end Devonta’s childhood and thrust him, necessarily, into manhood.

“I [told] him he to be a man, be a man for his little brothers and sisters and his mom as well,” said Campbell. “He had to be the man of the house because of the situation that they’re in. You know, he looked up as a little kid and started crying but I told him look you’re going to have to start being the man of the house, because you’ve got to protect your brothers and sisters and unfortunately you’re not going to be able to have a child’s life like other kids.”

“You’re going to have to carry yourself in a way that your little brothers and sisters look at you as an example so that they can become successful people and get out of the situation that they’re in too.”

Never Look Back

Devonta Freeman took that talk to heart.

“From that point forward, the kid said, ‘I’m going to do that’ and he always did from that period of time on,” remembered Campbell.

“When he was talking to me, I had to grow up,” admitted Freeman. “Like, ‘ok, I’ve got to sacrifice this to get that.’ Or like, start getting my own school clothes to help my little brothers and sisters, like everything I got, I got on my own, schools clothes, shoes, everything.”

He became completely self sufficient, capable of looking after himself financially -- and in a greater sense.

As a 13 year old Devonta was working three jobs. He worked at a car wash and at a funeral home and then on weekends he would make whatever money he could doing yard-work for neighbors.

“I was going around asking people ‘can I cut grass?’ just so I could help feed the family,” said Freeman. “There was just a lot of stuff I had to do.”

He even told his mother to focus on her younger children because he would be OK.

“I told her to stop, like, let me do it. Let me get it all on my own, I chose to go that route,” said Freeman. “I wanted to live that grown man life because I’d rather my mother focus on my younger brothers and sisters than me.”

All the while Campbell and Freeman continued their relationship, continued to have their ‘grown man’ talks where Campbell would help guide the teenager through some of life’s most challenging moments.

“He’s actually been like a real uncle or a father figure in my life because we’ve just been through a lot together,” said Freeman. “I learned so much stuff. Just a lot of life lessons, school first, he always taught me school first, that I need to make good grades in order to succeed. He was straightforward with me -- he told me if I needed to get better at something -- I got chewed out by him sometimes. He’d get mad at me, he used to have long talks with me about life lessons and stuff. A lot of stuff like that.”

Focused, But Not Unscathed

One thing is for sure, his history of ordeal -- of forced self-sufficiency and hard work -- has given Freeman a maturity well beyond his years and an appreciation for where he is.

Devonta Freeman is not taking anything for granted, not in college and not in life.

“Most kids are jumping into college in the first year and they lose their mind. And then they ask me, ‘how did Devonta play so early,'” said Campbell.  "Because Devonta carries himself like a man."

Freeman lead the Seminoles in rushing as a true freshman. He averaged nearly five yards a carry and scored 8 touchdowns as one of the lone bright spots in the 2011 season’s beleaguered rushing attack.

That ability to contribute instantly, the maturity to handle the situation at such a young age came easier than it does for most, because to Freeman, that’s not pressure.

“From that day when he was 12, when we had the conversation, he’s been a man the whole time,” said Campbell. “Coaches whether it’s Jimbo or Eddie Gran they [used to] say ‘man this kid is so mature,’ And I tell them look he’s been the head of the household from the age of 13.

“And a lot of people don’t know that, but that’s why he has his disposition.”

Freeman isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to open up. He’s not aloof, he’s actually quite engaging, but there’s a wall there that separates everyone else from parts of the life he’s experienced and the family he holds close to his heart.

There was a seminal moment back in Freeman’s development that cemented his disposition and still lingers with him to this day. A moment that taught him a lesson that Luther Campbell’s words never could.

“There was one time in the park when he broke his leg,” said Campbell. “When he was the starter in the park before he broke his leg he was getting rides all over, people all wanted to take him out to eat, have Devonta come over to their house.

“When he broke his leg and it looked like he wasn’t going to be the star of the park that year he couldn’t get a ride home.”

Freeman was 14 when he hurt himself on the diving board at a local pool. He shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

“[Luther] was disappointed because I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing,” said Freeman. “I broke my leg sneaking in the city community pool, off a diving board, I stuck and broke my ankle.”

Campbell told Freeman he had to make better decisions, that he could have ended up in jail.

And where Campbell’s words missed their mark the obvious karmic consequence of Freeman’s childish decision filled in the blanks.

“I was only 14 at the time, he was giving me a life lesson. A lot of that stuff carries over now, like everything I do I think before I do it," said Freeman. "That’s why I don’t have a lot of friends. I mean I’ve got friends but there’s nobody like my family.”

Loyalty Is Key

That experience also bore considerable weight in Freeman’s decision to choose Florida State over Miami.

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After getting lukewarm responses from coaches during camps at Miami, Florida and Georgia, Freeman drew an immediate offer from Florida State during a summer camp after his junior year. Head coach Jimbo Fisher told Freeman that regardless of how his senior season played out, the Seminoles wanted him.

“So when Florida State offered him, and then he had this great year of high school football the Florida’s start calling him, the Miami’s start calling him, the Georgia’s and everybody started calling him and he stayed true,” remembered Campbell.

Freeman wowed scouts during a historic senior season at Miami Central High School that climaxed with a 500+ yard performance in the state championship game. He had his pick of the college football world. He signed with the Seminoles.

“He stayed true to the team that was there for him when nobody else was,” said Campbell.

That attitude is still with him even today. Freeman isn’t a typical college kid, he blends in well in the dining hall and in meeting rooms. He looks the part on campus but at the end of the day his concerns weigh a bit heavier than those of the average college student. He isn’t focused on friends or parties, he’s worried about life.

And for now that wall is still up. Those blinders are still on.

“‘It’s what’s up, how you doing?’ I’m going to respect you like I want to be respected but it’s nothing like ‘you’re my best friend,’ like I don’t got that, I’m not interested,” said Freeman.

“I’m just focused right now. I’m trying to get my family out of their situation because my mama’s still struggling right now so I’m just trying to get her out of that.”

 

For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...

Florida State's Defense Starting to Mix Things Up

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Florida State's defense finally seems to be rounding into form. Over the past month -- through their last three games -- the Seminoles' first team defense has been stifling. 

They shut out then-no. 25 Maryland, held then-no.3 Clemson to just a touchdown and shut out NC State in the first half. While FSU's defense has given up a total of 31 points in the month of October -- 24 of them came after they had pulled their starters. 

So in effect, through three games in October -- two against ranked opponents -- FSU's first team defense has given up just seven points.

That can largely be attributed to two things. First of all, this defense is much better suited to defend against a spread offense -- as they've seen their past few games -- than a traditional one. 

Breaking that down more, facing the spread gives FSU a definitive advantage by virtue of the speed they possess in the back-end of their defense and their ability to create pressure up front.

“Thanks to Timmy [Jernigan] and all those guys down there, they’re able to just really create pressure and really get those quarterbacks flustered and when they do that, our linebackers are able to roam and we’re able to just cover all day so that right there just speaks for itself," said safety Terrence Brooks. "I love it, it’s really working together, we’re all playing for each other and it’s going good.”

Florida State's defensive front has been good enough lately to get pressure without FSU having to blitz. Without the offense having extra blockers, the Seminoles' line has been able to win most of their matchups. That frees up guys like Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner to go out and make plays, specifically force turnovers. At this point in the season (just half-way through) Florida State is already one interception short of their total from all of last season.

"You create a lot more opportunities for yourself and it definitely is crazy -- our coach actually said that today -- that we don’t even have to send a rush because those three guys are down there just creating havoc on the quarterback," said Brooks. "I feel like that’s just everybody doing their job and doing a little bit more with effort. and I mean it’s a matter of want-to with those guys, we go out there and play for each other and that’s what’s getting us by to tell the truth."

In addition to being better-suited to defend the spread, the Seminoles are also benefiting from their level of acclimation to Pruitt's new system. This is a complex defense, much more so than the one these same players ran under Stoops. That's not a knock on Stoops' scheme either, it's just worth noting that Pruitt's scheme is calculus to Stoops' algebra.

“Instead of just having one defense like we did last year, we have a multiple defense so a lot of different guys can have different opportunities," said LB/DE Christian Jones.

Now that FSU's defense has really started to pick the concepts up, it's opened the door for them to disguise more and become more exotic in the looks they show opposing offenses.

“We have a lot of different stuff," said Jones. "When the offense checks and we give a call we usually have another check in there so that when we see them change, we change right into another defense and we usually stuff them then.

"And I feel like we can disguise more [now] -- Jalen [Ramsey], he’s played corner too and he’s our safety -- he knows what the corners are doing and he knows what he’s doing so they complement each other. He can disguise more and he knows the corner has a third or something so he can disguise it and come up and they can just switch off. He understands that and we’ve been doing a good job of that so far."

Added Brooks: "He’s really learned the defense, he’s applied himself very well to it. He’s just been playing with a lot of confidence, that’s what I like about him, he’s still being aggressive. I make sure he knows his calls, knows where to line up and now what we do -- now that he knows the plays and what to do -- we try to disguise a lot more and just have some personality about the defense."

Ramsey is not the only player that's true for. As everyone has gotten more comfortable and confident in the Seminoles' new defensive scheme the entire unit has gained more flexibility -- become more versatile.

“We’re having a little bit more personality, you know coach Pruitt loves personality, he doesn’t want you out there looking like a stiff guy," said safety Lamarcus Joyner. "If you’re outside leverage, just flirting with coverage and everything, it’s been pretty fun.”

For a bit of different perspective I also asked Florida State Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Jones Sr. (Christian's father) about the progress this defense was making last week. He has had a unique perspective -- both from talking to his son and from his experience playing and coaching college football -- and offered this assessment:

"What we’re seeing now is just a glimmer of what we’re going to see as far as the greatness in that system," said Jones Sr. "There is a learning curve and I’ve seen Christian -- and I’ve seen some of the other guys -- struggle early on to pick it up. But they’re good enough athletes to make some mistakes and still come off pretty good.

FSU currently ranks 4th overall in scoring defense, 8th in total defense and have the top-ranked passing defense in the entire country. 

"But as time goes on I saw -- starting with the Maryland game -- a big turnaround there. And I saw glimmer of greatness in the Clemson game. But still, they’re under construction -- put it like that -- that defense is still under construction.

“[They're] always trying to adjust and match what the [opposing] offense does and that’s the beauty of the Pruitt system, they match up defensive personnel with offensive personnel so as we evolve and move forward from this point on I think they’re going to get better and you’re going to see more guys make bigger plays and greater plays. That’s going to translate on into overall team success."

 

For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...


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