TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It wasn’t all that long ago that Jacob Pugh roamed the hallways of Tallahassee’s Godby High School, making his way to classes and football practices with hopes of one day playing big-time college football.
Back then, it never occurred to Pugh that he might one day return to his high school and share his experiences and advice with the next generation.
But there he was last week, surrounded by a handful of his teammates on the Florida State football team, speaking in front of Godby’s squad inside the school cafeteria.
FSU’s stop at Godby – which sits only about 2.5 miles north of Doak Campbell Stadium – was the latest in a series of visits by members of the Seminole football team to high schools in Tallahassee.
In front of football players and coaches from each school, the Seminoles answer panel questions about life as a college football player, then turn it over to the room for any other inquiries.
Topics range from academics to social media, and playbooks to relationships. The Q&A sessions often last more than an hour.
“It’s good to talk to the kids and let them know (what to expect),” Pugh said. “I already experienced it, so it’s good to let them know what I went through … and perhaps they can better themselves and come out on top.”
As they looked out in to the crowd of players, whether at Godby, Lincoln, Rickards or East Gadsden High Schools, the Seminoles each thought of something different.
Running back Dalvin Cook flashed back to his days as a youngster in Miami, tagging along with the older kids.
“When I was growing up, I wanted to be around the older guys that were playing football,” Cook said. “I know those guys look up to me. When I was younger, I looked up to a certain person. I know they look up to me so I just want to go and give back to them, any way possible.”
Center Alec Eberle, meanwhile, thought of some of his former high school teammates in Mechanicsville, Va.
“I wish I had somebody come back to my high school and talk to me and my guys,” Eberle said. “I know guys back home that, if someone had come back and helped them out and talked to them a little more, they’d probably be in college, playing football.”
That’s the idea behind these visits: Give area high school football players guidance and perspective that can help them achieve both on the football field and beyond.
To a man, the Seminoles stressed the importance of academics. Players simply can’t compete without first meeting the NCAA’s academic standards. And, for the high-schoolers, staying on top of their grades now can save a lot of headaches down the road.
“Football is going to run out,” senior safety Nate Andrews said. “They need to get their academics.”
Beyond that, the Godby players were encouraged to study their playbooks, to be good teammates and – with extra emphasis – to be responsible on their social media accounts.
“I’ve been here (in college) long enough to know everything that’s going on, what the kids need to know,” Cook said. “Being real is the key to them. Because I would want somebody to be real to me (if I was) in their situation.
After the session at Godby, Pugh greeted a few leftover teammates and shared hugs with some of his former teachers.
He said that the opportunity to give back to a community was a memorable experience, one made even more special since the community was his own.
“It just brings back memories,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s about getting places in life and doing great things and then coming back and talking to the little ones, the ones that are under you, and giving them keys to be successful in life.
“It’s a blessing to come back.”