TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jacob Pugh plans to make the most of his last season at Florida State.
And he has the hardware to prove it.
After four weeks of spring practice that coach Jimbo Fisher described as “the best spring of anybody we’ve ever had,” the senior linebacker added an exclamation point by receiving both defensive MVP honors and the Hinesman Award at halftime of the Garnet and Gold spring game.
The Hinesman Award is presented each year to the “most dominant” player of spring camp. Recent winners include Jalen Ramsey, Jameis Winston and Rodney Hudson, among several others.
“He’s running up the stairs, now,” Fisher said. “I mean, he has been a super player and done a tremendous job. Probably has done as good a job as anyone on this team.”
Pugh’s production matched Fisher’s praise during Saturday’s scrimmage: He had three tackles – including two solo stops – a sack, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry for the victorious Gold team.
And Pugh’s success often came at the direct expense of the Garnet offense.
Early in the game, Garnet quarterback J.J. Cosentino dropped back and scanned the middle of the field in search of a tight end on a crossing route. The only problem? Pugh jammed the tight end at the line of scrimmage and effectively derailed the play before it started.
Pugh didn’t get credit for the play in the box score, but it didn’t go unnoticed by his head coach.
“(That’s) something, that a lot of folks don’t see, that screwed the whole play up.” Fisher said. “I mean, he’s doing every little thing right. Really staying focused on what he’s doing.”
Which Pugh admits is something of a recent development.
A former standout at Tallahassee’s Godby High School, Pugh found success as a freshman but said his focus waivered some over the next two years.
Not that his statistics necessarily reflect that. He still posted 32 tackles as a sophomore and then contributed 43 tackles (six for loss) and 4.5 sacks as a junior.
Even better, Pugh got better toward the end of last season and had one of his best games (six tackles, one sack) in FSU’s Orange Bowl win over Michigan.
Still, as he set out on his senior year a few weeks ago, Pugh couldn’t help feeling like he could do more.
According to Fisher, it’s a common phenomenon – a player sees that his time is winding down and, suddenly, they’re driven by a newfound sense of urgency.
“Coach stayed in my ear and let me know what I was capable of, that I had a lot of potential,” Pugh said. “It’s my last year, so I’ve got to make something happen. Do or die.”
Armed with a fresh mindset, Pugh dominated throughout the spring and emerged as one of the most talked-about members of FSU’s defense. Which is no small feat on a unit that features Derwin James, Josh Sweat, Brian Burns and Matthew Thomas.
“Jake is just an all-around great player,” Burns said. “He covers, he plays the run, he can rush the passer, he does everything. He’s had a great spring.”
It’s that versatility that has Fisher most excited.
As Florida State’s “Buck” linebacker, Pugh’s responsibilities can carry him all over the field. From one play to the next, Pugh could be rushing the quarterback, supporting the run defense or dropping into coverage.
It’s a role that, if played well, can be one of the cornerstones of the Seminoles’ defense.
“You saw it today at times,” Fisher said. “Rushing and (playing) physical and the way he covers.”
But even with his breakout spring in the books, and a wave of optimism carrying into the summer, Pugh said he was still surprised when he learned of his accolades.
“Honestly I didn’t expect that. I really didn’t,” he said. “I just came out there to play and have fun with my team. It caught me off-guard.”
But, given Fisher’s philosophy – which emphasizes a detail-focused process while not focusing on results – perhaps it shouldn’t have.
“It’s funny, when you play your best, it’s when you start doing everything right and you don’t worry about the results,” Fisher said. “Youre not worried about what’s going on. (You’re) just trying to do what’s right every day.
“When you do that, and you have the ability he has, you start becoming a dominant, productive player like he has been. And that’s what he did all spring.”