Oct. 29, 2013
Seminoles.com Managing Editor
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It’s said that big things can come in small packages but Lamarcus Joyner doesn’t buy into that way of thinking. No, Florida State’s star defensive back isn’t about to embrace clichés as the reason for his success.
At 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, Joyner is more often than not the smallest player on the football field. But his diminutive stature didn’t stop him from becoming the 2009 USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year in high school and it sure hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the top college football players in the country and a 2013 semifinalist for both the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik awards.
Just don’t credit the chip on Joyner’s shoulder for his triumphs — because there isn’t one.
“I don’t play so hard because of that,” Joyner said. “Everything I do out there on the football field comes from the heart. I just feel like you shouldn’t measure a guy by the eyeball test with size, height and weight. If a guy’s out there playing football and getting the job done that’s all that should matter.
“I never play to prove that I should be out there because I’m only 5-8. I don’t feed into that; that’s clutter. That’s external.”
An attitude since childhood
Lamarcus Joyner learned early in life that if he was going to keep up with his two older brothers, he’d better be prepared for a battle.
One of four boys in his family and the third born, Joyner would play sports in the neighborhood with his older siblings and their friends. The games were competitive and aggressive — as they always are among boys –and for Joyner there was an added element because he was mixing it up with kids much bigger, stronger and older than he was.
But if he was intimidated, Joyner didn’t show it. Instead, he forged a reputation.
“I just remember them saying that I never quit,” Joyner said with a smile he couldn’t suppress, almost subconsciously showing how important that part of his life was in helping shape the man he is today. “Playing football with my brothers and their friends and them questioning whether I’d be able to keep up, they learned quickly that I was tough. I just adopted that attitude of playing bigger than myself.
“That kind if prepped me for what I’d be doing later on in life.”
What he’d do later would become an all-world high school football prospect.
Blessed with eye-popping speed and a bone-jarring ability to hit, Joyner turned himself into a five-star high-school prospect and the nation’s No. 1 cornerback recruit by the time he was a senior at powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas.
He committed to Florida State publicly on Dec. 9, 2009, spurning offers from the likes of Alabama, Florida, USC, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Georgia and all the rest of college football’s premier programs.
Upon arriving at Florida State in the summer of 2010, it was clear that Joyner’s neighborhood-football attitude had made the move from South Florida to Tallahassee with him.
“From the first time I played with Lamarcus it was clear that he’d go at anybody,” said FSU defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel, who was a sophomore when Joyner came to FSU in 2010. “It doesn’t matter who you are or how big you are, he’ll bring it to you on that football field.”
Big decision, big opportunity
Lamarcus Joyner played in all 14 of FSU’s games in 2010 as a reserve cornerback, special teams player and kick-off return man. He finished his rookie year with 23 tackles, two pass break-ups and one interception while adding nearly 200 total yards on kick returns.
In 2011 he slid back to his more natural position of safety and started 27 consecutive games in that spot over the course of the past two seasons and racked up a combined 105 total tackles and five interceptions along the way. In that time frame, he became one of the top players in the Atlantic Coast Conference and a candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award given annually to college football’s best defensive back.
Before he could ever build off three strong years at FSU, though, Joyner came to a crossroads after the ‘Noles’ Orange-Bowl victory in January.
In the aftermath of defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ decision to accept the head-coaching job at Kentucky, Joyner had lost the only defensive coordinator and position coach he had ever known at Florida State. Rather than start over with a new coordinator, he thought very seriously about forgoing his final year of eligibility at FSU and declaring early for the 2013 NFL Draft.
After convincing Joyner to sign as part of his first class as FSU’s head coach in 2010, Jimbo Fisher had to once again recruit the star defender. And he had two specific pitches that Joyner couldn’t possibly say no to: a position switch back to cornerback and the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt as the Seminoles’ new defensive coordinator.
First, Fisher wanted Joyner to know that by returning to FSU and to cornerback he would likely bolster his standing as a professional prospect.
“Lamarcus is a natural corner,” Fisher said. “He can be a safety, which is great. But him as a nickel, a nickel is everything. It’s a safety, it’s a linebacker, it’s a corner, you can play man-to-man against the Sammy Watkins’ of the world in the slot. You can blitz, you can cover. He’s a naturally instinctive football player. Certain guys can only play in those certain roles of being in those nickel and dimes situations.”
Just like the youngster that wouldn’t back down from his older brothers and their friends, Joyner was intrigued by the challenge.
“I’m a football player,” Joyner said. “I have been back and forth with those kind of positions all throughout my life. Coach Fisher is someone who I trust and someone who I believe in and I have love for him and respect so it wasn’t that hard of a decision when we sat down in his office.”
If Fisher hadn’t already sold him on what a move to cornerback could create, Pruitt’s background and his plans for the FSU defense would have sealed the deal.
A disciple of Nick Saban at Alabama, Pruitt had just come off another Crimson Tide national championship as the team’s defensive backs coach. The style of defense that ‘Bama has utilized during its run of three national titles in four years has taken college football by storm and has produced a plethora of NFL-ready prospects.
Joyner couldn’t turn down the opportunity to play on a new-look `Noles defense that, like him, is aggressive, multiple and versatile.
“That was a big reason why I came back knowing that Coach Pruitt was going to come in and implement this kind of defense and I just trusted it,” Joyner said. “I trusted that it will help me show the skills that I wanted to show. I’m at nickel, I’m at corner, I get to blitz, I get to play man-to-man, I get to do all those things that I wanted to do coming back for my senior year. When he sold the defense to me I just committed myself to it.”
The right choice
Lamarcus Joyner is now seven games into his final season at FSU and it’s clear that the decision to return was the correct one — both for himself and for the team.
His monster three-turnover-producing night at Clemson when FSU blew the doors off the then-No. 3 Tigers was his official coming out party; a performance that wowed onlookers and showed NFL scouts why they should have no doubts about how his talents in spite of his size will translate to the big league.
But Joyner’s not caught up in that. Just like he doesn’t use his size as a driving force for success, he doesn’t use the NFL as a motivating factor for his play.
“I am just playing football right now,” Joyner said. “Let the chips fall where they may. When you get caught up in that stuff, I mean that’s clutter. You kind of mess yourself up. So you want to just focus on football and do the best you can do. Do the best that you can do and you’ll get what you deserve.”
Heading into FSU’s pivotal showdown with rival Miami, Joyner is considered to be among the nation’s very best and has already captured nearly a dozen in-season national accolades.
The honors and his production are to the surprise of no one. Joyner’s teammates and coaches saw this coming. They see how hard he works in the weight room, how diligent he is in the film room and how terrific he is as an unquestioned leader of a national-championship focused team.
“He’s a workaholic,” FSU quarterback Jameis Winston said. “He’s a grinder. He’s real. He’s the real deal.”
Real: On and off the field
Lamarcus Joyner is two people. He’s the speedy, playmaking defender that will stand up to anyone and lay out any opponent. But he’s also the quiet, thoughtful and introspective man that is a favorite of the media because he speaks from the soul.
He doesn’t brag and he doesn’t boast. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t carry himself with a sort of confidence befitting a professional.
“I told Lamarcus last year, he’s the type of guy that came in as the defensive player of the year in high school but he never brags about what he did in the past,” McDaniel said. “It’s always week-by-week with him. Lamarcus just wants to get better every week.”
When Winston says that Joyner is “real” he means it. And when McDaniel says that Joyner is intent on improving every day he means it.
Above all else, they know that FSU’s senior cornerback is someone that can be counted on when it’s 3rd-and-goal and the `Noles need a stop or is someone that can just as easily be counted on to show a young teammate what it means to represent Florida State as a student-athlete.
It’s not an act. It’s who Joyner is as a person.
“It all comes from the heart,” Joyner said. “I try my best to be a genuine person. But I signed up for football because I have that other side to me. When it’s time to play football, that switch in my heart turns on and I’m able to be that competitor.”
And that competitor is leading a `Noles team towards a potential national championship. That same little boy that stood toe-to-toe with his older brothers and their friends is now a man standing toe-to-toe with each and every obstacle that FSU will face.
When asked if he thought opposing players viewed his size as their own advantage in a similar way to that of the neighborhood boys many years ago, Joyner’s ear-to-ear smile returns because he knows that once again his reputation speaks for itself.
“When I go against opponents, it’s always respect and love,” Joyner said. “They watch film. They know what I’m capable of.”