TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – At first, Marquez White thought Ermon Lane was kidding.Lane, a junior receiver at Florida State and a player White has often practiced against, approached White a few weeks ago and told him that he would soon be joining him in the secondary. Never mind that Lane had played receiver for more than two years and that FSU’s 2016 season was nearly a month old.
“He was like, ‘I’m about to come to safety,’” White said. “And I’m like, ‘Bro, you’re not coming to safety.’”
Lane, however, was serious. And, in his defensive debut last week at Miami, he delivered some serious results.
With senior safety Nate Andrews sidelined by an injury, Lane stepped in and provided four tackles during the Seminoles’ 20-19 win.
He also disrupted a play in the Miami backfield – for which he didn’t receive any credit in the box score – and otherwise showed no signs of a player who had just switched positions less than a month ago.
“I thought he played really nice in the game,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Did some really good things. Very happy with him going forward.”
A former five-star recruit and high-school All-American, Lane came to Tallahassee as part of the same 2014 recruiting class that produced Dalvin Cook, Travis Rudolph and Roderick Johnson.
And he showed plenty of promise as a freshman, grabbing 13 catches for 267 yards and a touchdown – including a dazzling, 47-yard catch-and-run that helped spark FSU’s comeback win over Louisville.
Over the next year, though, a series of circumstances kept Lane from climbing the depth chart. Some receivers, like Kermit Whitfield and Bobo Wilson, were more experienced. Others, like Rudolph or Auden Tate, seemed to fit in better with Florida State’s offensive philosophy.
Lane caught six passes for 50 yards as a sophomore in 2015 and, through three games of the 2016 season, he saw the field only sparingly.
But rather than sulk about his situation, Lane instead sought a way to contribute.
And after seeing FSU’s secondary struggle at Louisville earlier this season, Lane had an idea.
“It was after the Louisville game, I was like, ‘OK,’” Lane said. “I texted Coach (Lawrence) Dawsey and was like, “’I think I’ll be better on the defensive side.’”
At 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Lane has a natural build for safety. And he played a little defensive back in high school, even once matching up with Dalvin Cook when Lane’s Homestead Broncos played Cook’s Miami Central Rockets.
Those factors, coupled with an injury to starting safety Derwin James, made it easy for Fisher to approve the move.
“He’s big, he’s long, he’s athletic, he can judge the ball,” Fisher said. “He’s shown that he can be physical and change directions. So we thought, ‘Hey, we need some guys over there. We want to give him a look.’”
Still, giving up on wide receiver – where Lane had previously established himself as one of the top play-makers in the talent-rich South Florida region – didn’t come easily.
Although he had some defensive instincts left over from his high school days, Lane still had a lot to learn in regard to Florida State’s defensive scheme.
And, with the calendar already approaching October by the time Lane made the switch, he had to learn it quickly if he had any designs on playing this year.
With that in mind, Lane recruited help from Andrews, a senior and perhaps the most knowledgeable member of FSU’s secondary.
The two put in hours in the film room, with Andrews quizzing Lane about play-calls, reads and assignments.
By the time FSU’s game at Miami came around, Lane had done enough to earn his coaches’ trust.
And when Andrews went down with an early injury, that opened the door for Lane to step onto the field as a member of the Florida State defense.
“It kind of shocked me a little bit, as far as him picking it up that quick,” Fisher said. “Not that he couldn’t, I just think that can take some time.”
Lane’s debut wasn’t quite perfect – he was flagged for a late hit out of bounds and also missed a tackle that led to a 45-yard Miami touchdown run (later nullified by a holding penalty), but it was plenty to build on. And more than enough to show that he’ll have a place in the secondary as the season moves forward.
“Ermon’s been playing well,” White said. “He’s an athlete. He’s a playmaker. He switched over from receiver to play – he didn’t come to sit on the bench.”