TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Ever since Rick Leonard arrived at Florida State two years ago, offensive line coach Rick Trickett has been in his ear. Leonard arrived as a defensive end prospect from Maryland, but with a 6-foot-7, 287-pound frame, he looked to Trickett like a natural fit for the offensive line. And the longtime FSU assistant made sure to let Leonard know about it as often as he could.
“He’s always been hollering at me,” Leonard said with a smile. “He’s always been joking like that.”
Fast-forward a few years and Trickett got his wish. After wading through the defensive end depth chart to start his career, Leonard switched to the offensive line this spring. He’s lined up mostly at right tackle – with some center and guard mixed in – and is expected to compete for a starting spot this fall.
“There’s been a big learning curve, as predicted, but it’s been good,” Leonard said. “I’ve got great teammates, a great coach, so I’m just trying to learn and get better every day.”
So far, Leonard’s fellow linemen say that he fits right in.
“Rick came over here and made it look easy,” junior left tackle Roderick Johnson said. “I guess it ain’t much of a challenge.”
Aside from his days as what he called a “red striper” (a heavyweight youth football player who wears a red stripe on his helmet and can only play as a down lineman) Leonard has little experience up front.
He played tight end end at Middletown High, so he does have some basic blocking experience.
“But,” Leonard said, “nothing like this.”
Working in Leonard’s favor are a protypical body type and a deep support system in his new meeting room.
Center Alec Eberle is Leonard’s best friend and roommate. And Leonard had already built friendships with several of FSU’s other linemen before making the switch.
After a few years of trying to best his buddies in practice, Leonard is now on their side.
“He’s always kind of hung around the offensive linemen,” Eberle said. “So we know him real well.”
He certainly has the faith of his coaching staff. Trickett obviously sees plenty of potential, and has already showed confidence in Leonard by occasionally working him in with the first-team line.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher even suggested that Leonard might one day have a professional future.
“Ricky’s gonna be a really good player,” Fisher said. “He’s an athletic, big body there. He can help us. … I think he could play there for a long time. I really do.”
Leonard is the latest in a long line of players to switch positions during Fisher’s tenure. That list includes Cameron Erving, a former defensive lineman who switched sides and went on to be drafted in the first round as a center.
Leonard likes that idea, but also quickly admits that he’s got a long way to go. Until then, he’s just looking to absorb as much of Trickett’s teaching as possible.
“I know playing for Trickett, he ain’t going to lie to me,” Leonard said. “He’s not one of those guys at all. I believe him and I’m trying my best to do what he’s saying.”
Draft day at Florida State
Some new depth across the roster has allowed the Seminoles to resume a spring tradition: drafting teams for the Garnet and Gold Game.
Fisher brought the idea of letting the team’s seniors draft teams when he took over as head coach in 2010. But with a rash of injuries over the last few seasons, the Seminoles often barely had enough players to field two competitive teams.
Not so, this year. Fisher said Wednesday that he split the team’s seniors in half and let them draft the squads with one caveat. If a starter went to one team, his backup automatically went to the other.
The full rosters will be revealed later this week.
“It’s a whole different animal when they have to pick,” Fisher said. “… I love seeing what they think of each other.”
Neither Fisher nor the players would reveal the first overall selection, but a few suggested that left tackle Roderick Johnson, running back Dalvin Cook and safety Derwin James would make fine choices.
While the draft is meant to provide some fun, Fisher also views it as a way to build unity between offensive and defensive players.
“The point of it, too, is we have to have each other,” Fisher said. “When we have camp here in the fall, and you stay offense vs. defense so long, you can divide yourself if you’re not careful.”
A few players have made fast friends. Leonard said that he and defensive end DeMarcus Walker are on the same team, and that they’ve already started letting the other side know what they can expect on Saturday.
Leonard and Walker shared co-defensive MVP honors last spring.
“I’m on D-Walk’s team, so we’ve been talking smack to the other team,” Leonard said. “I’m ready to get after it.”
Maguire making progress
Sean Maguire’s ankle injury hasn’t diminished his presence on the FSU football team.
The fifth-year senior has been a fixture at every practice and, despite wearing a protective boot on his left foot, still throws passes to FSU’s receiving corps after each session.
“He’s extremely involved,” Fisher said. “All of our meetings, our talking, our teachings. He’s been involved.”
Fisher estimated that Maguire is around 70-percent healthy and that he’ll be fully recovered by June.
In Maguire’s absence, third-year sophomore J.J. Cosentino, redshirt freshman Deondre Francois and true freshman Malik Henry have taken turns helming the first-team offense. Maguire won’t play in Saturday’s spring game, but Fisher has already promised that he’ll compete for the starting job this fall.