TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – At his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters that every starter’s job was open during this season’s preseason camp.
A few hours later, Marquez White, a senior cornerback and one of FSU’s closest things to a surefire starter this side of Dalvin Cook, echoed those sentiments after the Seminoles’ first practice.
“I feel like every day I’ve got to come out and fight for my spot,” White said. “So I’m not really complacent.”
Maybe so, but there’s no denying that this year’s fall camp is a little different for White.
Entering the 2015 season, White was a junior but a relative unknown who played sparingly as a reserve during his first two years at FSU.
Fast forward a year, and White is the established veteran who, after a startlingly impressive junior season, could flirt with All-America honors as a senior.
Safe to say that White will likely start when the Seminoles face Mississippi on Sept. 5.
But in addition to his duties on the field, White also has new responsibilities as the leader of a cornerback corps that must contend with the departure of Jalen Ramsey, the do-everything defensive back who was drafted fifth overall by Jacksonville in April.
In sophomores Tarvarus McFadden and Marcus Lewis, the Seminoles boast two options who have both the athletic ability and high school pedigrees to suggest they’ll be successful at the college level.
What they don’t have is much in-game experience. McFadden recorded four tackles in seven games last year, while Lewis appeared in four games, mostly on special teams.
If FSU’s defense is to reach its full potential this season, it will likely need one or both cornerbacks to take the next step.
White, for his part, is determined to help them get there. Much like Ramsey and his other teammates in the secondary did for him.
“I know they look up to me, in a way,” White said. “And (they) want to – not be like me – but be alongside me at the other starting position. And they know they’ve got to battle.”
White’s production suggests that the best way for him to lead is by example. He started all 13 games a year ago and allowed a completion on just 32.1 percent of the passes thrown his way.
But, as one of only three senior returning starters on the defense, White knows there may be times when he has to lend his voice to the huddle.
It’s a role that White admits doesn’t come naturally, but, with a year like the one he just had under his belt, he’s starting to grow into it.
“You become a leader when you get more comfortable with your surroundings,” Fisher said. “He’s been out here, he’s done it and now he’s had success for a whole year on the field. So that makes your confidence grow. And also the respect the other guys look at you with. They look to ask him questions and things like that, and he’s done a really good job.”
White’s summer is evident of that.
A native of Dothan, Ala., White recently took it upon himself to put together a free football camp for kids in his hometown.
Named “A Different Way Out,” the camp attracted a few hundred kids from around Dothan, and it inspired a few of White’s teammates to join him on the 90-mile drive from Tallahassee to serve as counselors.
Among them were Cook, receivers Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane, and fellow defensive backs Nate Andrews and Derwin James.
“That was a great sign of respect that they have for me,” White said. “They took time out of their schedule. They could have gone home to be with their family, but they knew what I was trying to do for the kids in my community and they jumped at it as soon as I asked them.”
Back in practice, White is still devoted to improving his craft.
He said he’s focused on small details like pursuit angles and hand placement, and he’s found a reliable sparring partner in junior Rudolph, FSU’s top returning receiver.
The two go head-to-head often, and White said it didn’t take long for things to heat up at Tuesday’s practice.
“Travis knows I come out here every day trying to whoop him,” White said with a laugh. “I like guarding Travis. He’s our best receiver. He’s one of the best receivers in the nation, in the conference. So, every day I get to compete against him.”
White revealed that Rudolph got the better of him in at least one drill, beating him over the top on a deep route.
Never mind that Rudolph didn’t actually catch the ball.
Still, Fisher noted that White caught his eye several times throughout practice and, from the sound of it, more than held his own.
“He jumped at me (and had) two or three really nice plays,” Fisher said. “He just flashed.”