Oct. 27, 2003
By Chuck Walsh, FSU Sports Information
Jesse Stein has never been promised anything as a Florida State football player.
He was not promised a roster spot as a walk-on at Florida State in 1999. He was not promised playing time when he walked-on to the team after spending a semester at the Air Force Academy in 2000. After handling the kickoff duties throughout the 2001 season, he did not play at all in 2002 and wasn’t even invited back to join the Seminoles in 2003.
Sensing his football playing days had come to an end, Stein put his degrees in finance and real estate to work as he took a job as a market analyst for an Orlando-based company that specialized in building vacation resorts worldwide. For Stein it was the perfect job. He would be able to utilize both bachelor’s degrees he earned in 2003, travel extensively and live in places like Hawaii and California. Stein had his immediate future planned. He would graduate from Florida State and head out into the corporate world.
That all changed when Stein received a call from John Lilly, Florida State’s tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator who also works with the Seminole kickers. Lilly called Stein into his office in February and not only invited him to rejoin the team but offered him a scholarship.
“We felt we needed to bring in a back-up punter just in case and Jesse was the perfect fit,” Lilly said. “He has exhibited the characteristic of perseverance that everybody probably wishes they had a little bit more of in life.”
Like everything he has always done, Stein carefully weighed his options. On one hand, he felt a responsibility to take the job he had recently accepted. He felt his future was in the corporate world and not in an NFL stadium. On the other hand, he still wanted to play football – the game he had been playing much of his life.
“My first reaction to being offered a scholarship to come back and play was one of satisfaction,” Stein said. “It’s great to see the benefits of your hard work and all the time you put into something you truly love. Being offered a scholarship meant the world to me because I had been a walk-on and it was good to finally feel appreciated.”
Fortunately for the Seminoles, Stein accepted the scholarship offer and is one of the top punters in the ACC this season. A Ray Guy Award candidate as the nation’s top punter, Stein is averaging more than 40 yards per punt with only half of his punts returned and none of them for more than 17 yards.
Stein was one of the state of Florida’s top kicking specialists as a prep senior in 1999. He earned all-state first-team honors as a punter and all-county first-team honors as a kicker at Shorecrest High School in St. Petersburg where he often found himself dreaming about being the starting kicker at Florida State. There was only one problem with Stein’s vision of how his collegiate career would begin – All-American Sebastian Janikowski was already wearing the garnet and gold. Janikowski had already earned the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker once and would become the first and only repeat winner of the award in what would have been Stein’s first year as a Seminole.
Because he didn’t see his immediate future as a kicker at Florida State, Stein decided to combine his love for football and his love for flying and enrolled in the Air Force Academy.
“I decided to go to the Air Force Academy because I had caught the flying bug,” Stein said. “I flew Cessna’s in high school and I was on track to get my private’s license. Once I was accepted into the Academy, I felt that it was too great of an opportunity for me to pass up and decided to go west.”
Because of the mandatory five-year service agreement that comes with attending one of the nation’s three service academies, Stein essentially gave up his dream of playing in the NFL when he enrolled at Air Force. He spent his only fall at Colorado Springs as the back-up place-kicker but never appeared in a game for the Falcons.
But dreams die hard and Stein didn’t want to let his dream of playing in the NFL disappear.
“It’s been a dream of mine ever since I started playing football to make it to the NFL,” Stein said. “One of the main reasons I chose to transfer from the Air Force Academy and come back to Florida State was not to close my door to the NFL.”
Stein returned to Florida State as a walk-on and handled the kickoff duties and was the back-up place kicker for the Seminoles in 2001.
Stein, who is working toward his master’s degree in business, was invited back to compete against sophomore Chris Hall for the for the punting job this season and won the starting assignment. He has been an extra defender on the field as he regularly pins the Seminoles’ opponent deep in their own territory.
“Dreams change and you should always follow your dreams,” Stein said. “In January, my dream was to be a developer and now my dream is to be in the NFL. If I can give advice to anybody, it would be to follow your dreams no matter what the consequences are.”
Stein’s future now seems promised to him whether his dreams take him into the corporate world or into the NFL.