TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For a freshman speaking to the media for the first time, Cam Akers sure knew how to say all the right things.
On the heels of becoming Florida State’s all-time freshman rushing leader after a 13-carry, 94-yard outburst in the Independence Bowl, Akers passed the credit for the feat to seemingly everyone but himself.
“It’s just truly a blessing to even be in a position to be able to do so,” Akers said a few moments after FSU beat Southern Mississippi, 42-13. “It’s a lot of credit to my O-line, a lot of credit to my coaches and my teammates for pushing me throughout the season to get this accomplishment. It’s a great blessing.”
OK, fine, but it’s a lot of credit to Akers, too.
A Mississippi native who grew up about 100 miles from Southern Miss’ campus, Akers arrived in Tallahassee last summer with a world of hype. Or maybe it was a world of pressure.
Not only did Akers bring with him a consensus five-star rating from all the major recruiting services – one even considered him the highest-rated offensive recruit to ever sign with FSU – he also carried the weight of succeeding superstar Dalvin Cook, who rewrote nearly every school rushing record during his three-year tenure.
Living up to five-star expectations is often difficult for a freshman. Measuring up to Cook would be nearly impossible.
Or at least it should have been.
But with the same humility he flashed during FSU’s post-bowl press conference, Akers carved his own place in the Seminoles’ offense and, in some ways, surpassed even Cook.
After all, Akers’ 1,024 rushing yards this season are second to no other FSU freshman. Cook held the record for all of three years.
Akers also matched Cook’s freshman touchdown numbers (eight) and narrowly fell short in total 100-yard games. Cook had five, Akers had four, although Akers’ 199 yards against Syracuse this season were the most for either.
Between the hype and the production, the comparisons to Cook, unfair as they might have been, were bound to happen. And Akers was asked about it after the Independence Bowl.
“I just tried to play to the best of my abilities. I can’t worry about none of that other stuff,” he said. “I’ve just got goals for myself and goals for the team that we’re trying to accomplish. That’s all I can focus on.”
Getting a little help from his friends didn’t hurt, either.
One of the prominent storylines surrounding FSU’s preseason camp was the perceived running back competition between Akers and veteran Jacques Patrick – himself a former five-star prospect.
Who would get the first-team reps, how would they split touches and, perhaps more importantly, how would the two get along?
A heralded newcomer mixed with a talented junior who had patiently waited his turn to shine made for a potentially awkward – if not volatile – dynamic.
Turns out that any fears were unfounded.
“That’s my little brother,” Patrick said earlier this season. “That’s my brother for life.”
Akers echoed those sentiments a few months later.
“That’s my big brother,” he said. “He kind of showed me the ropes through everything. In practice, I look at the way he does (things). I try to watch him on film. I look up to him as a big brother. It’s more than football. … I love him.”
That brotherhood did some pretty good things on the football field. While Akers topped the Seminoles’ rushing chart this season, Patrick (748 yards, seven TDs) wasn’t too far behind, and the two formed the top rushing tandem in the ACC.
“When our name is called,” Patrick said, “we go out there and execute.”
Akers is part of a wave of freshmen that have the Seminoles and their fans feeling optimistic at the dawn of the Willie Taggart era. And that wave seemed to be in full force during the Independence Bowl.
Akers had his star turn, freshman quarterback James Blackman set a bowl record with four touchdown passes and freshman cornerback Stanford Samuels III forced a fumble that helped swing the game for the Seminoles.
Throw in newcomers like Joshua Kaindoh, Hamsah Nasirildeen and D.J. Matthews, all of whom got extended action throughout the season, and it’s apparent that youth will be served at Florida State.
With Akers likely leading the way.
“Talent doesn’t have an age on it,” said junior receiver Auden Tate, who sat with Akers, Blackman and Samuels to his left during that same Independence Bowl press conference.
“The coaches have always said they are going to play the best player. These boys didn’t come in here thinking they were just going to learn for one season. They came ready to play, and I think we’ve seen that this season and this game specifically.”