TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Since his first day at Florida State, Derrick Nnadi has always been, as offensive lineman Alec Eberle put it, “strong as an ox.”
At 6-foot-1, 312 pounds, the junior defensive tackle strikes an imposing figure at the line of scrimmage. Now with two seasons on his ledger, Nnadi is combining his brawn with his brains in an effort take his game up a notch.
“Two years ago, he didn’t know the defense as well,” said Eberle, who regularly lines up across from Nnadi in practice. “Now he’s studying the film, he’s studying his playbook and he’s getting so ahead to where he’s not just relying on his strength and his pure ability to beat the offensive linemen, he’s really using technique and using smarts to get by.”
Nnadi could tell a difference in his game from the moment he stepped on to the practice fields on Tuesday.
As a freshman, he said, it was as much as he could do to keep his head above water while learning the ins and outs of Florida State’s defensive playbook.
Things got better during Nnadi’s sophomore season, when he amassed 45 tackles (second-most among FSU’s returning defenders in 2016) and two sacks, but he still felt like he had more to learn.
A year later, as he enters his junior season, Nnadi knows exactly what he’s doing. And that, combined with his physical gifts, makes Nnadi a handful for offensive linemen.
“I feel more comfortable,” Nnadi said. “Honestly, I’m having fun out there. I’m having so much fun. Because I’ve been here so long, I’ve been really focused on my craft and I feel like we can really do something this year.”
Nnadi’s emergence comes at a good time, as FSU’s defensive tackles must contend with the loss of two seniors, including veteran leader Nile Lawrence-Stample.
Nnadi, who referred to Lawrence-Stample as a “big brother,” said he still texts with Lawrence-Stample, often just to see how he’s doing and other times to pick his brain for football advice.
As one of the more experienced players in FSU’s group of defensive tackles, Nnadi said he hopes to grow into a similar role for his younger teammates.
“It’s like if you’re in class,” Nnadi said. “If you know you’ve got good grades, someone’s going to ask you, ‘Hey, how’d you get this right? … What’d I do wrong here?’ You know what you’ve got to do. And you’ve just got to help others get to the same level as you.”