July 19, 2004 - by
Florida State Football Position Analysis: Linebackers

July 19, 2004

The fact that FSU must replace all three starting linebackers from last season should mean that the position will be the weak point in 2004. The fact that they are not automatically written in as a top concern attests to the talent depth at the position and the practice of playing younger players in big situations. Because of both, Seminole defensive coaches believe that the linebacking corps may actually emerge as a strength on the defensive side of the football.

Junior A.J. Nicholson put any doubters to rest early in spring practice this year and finished the 15-day workout as the winner of the Hinesman Award, which goes to the most dominant player during spring practice. He already has a lot of experience at the position and was ninth on the FSU tackle charts last year with 55 tackles (36 solo). Classmate Marcello Church will begin the year behind him at the weakside position and also has game experience, but was slowed at the early part of last season by an injury. Newcomer Barry Wright, a sophomore, will get his first chance to show coaches he’s ready to go during preseason drills.

Sam McGrew emerged from spring practice listed at the top spot in the middle of the defense. The junior has shown coaches enough to be excited about his potential, but must prove reliable to hold the pivotal middle linebacker spot. Sophomore Buster Davis was all over the field again during spring and his play making ability has linebacker coach Kevin Steele scheming for a place to get him in the lineup. He’ll backup McGrew in the middle to start the year.

Senior Ray Piquion’s experience and steady play have earned him the starting nod at strongside linebacker as the team heads into 2004. He saw considerable playing time last year although his 16 total tackles do not really reflect that playing time. Behind Piquion on the depth chart is a player who has everyone around the program buzzing. Sophomore Ernie Sims literally made a big impact as a true freshman last year. His highlight film hit on Miami tight end Kellen Winslow even brought the Hurricane bench to its feet. Sims had 42 tackles last year which ranked him 10th on the FSU tackle chart, and he finished spring as the most valuable player on defense.

Again, it is surprising to think that a program that lost three-year starters Michael Boulware and Kendyll Pope, along with two-year starter Allen Augustin, would not be dreading the coming season, but the wealth of talent returning to the program as well as key signees have FSU defensive coaches planning big things for the defensive unit.

SLB 56 Ray Piquion 6-0 212 SR
34 Ernie Sims 6-0 220 SO

MLB 44 Sam McGrew 6-3 226 JR
7 Buster Davis 5-11 248 SO

WLB 54 A.J. Nicholson 6-2 235 JR
39 Marcello Church 6-1 233 JR
Barry Wright 6-1 208 SO

#39 Marcello Church
Linebacker, 6-1, 233, Junior
St. Petersburg, FL (Lakewood)

At Florida State: Experienced linebacker who is listed second on the depth chart behind A.J. Nicholson at weakside linebacker…can play both outside linebacking positions as he spent last season behind Michael Boulware at strongside linebacker…worked at weakside linebacker his first two years at FSU…valuable special teams performer…had a huge punt block that led to a touchdown in the 2002 Gator Bowl win against Virginia Tech.

Sophomore Year (2003): Played behind All-ACC selection Michael Boulware at strongside linebacker…played in all 13 games, including the Orange Bowl, at linebacker and on special teams…finished the season with 13 total tackles, nine of which were solo stops…recorded a career-high three tackles at Notre Dame…had one or more tackles in nine games…recognized as the Kicking Game Player of the Week by coaching staff following the win over NC State…was named the most improved linebacker following 2003 spring practice.
2002: Redshirted after an injury kept him from practice time early in the season…was expected to see considerable playing time after performing well as a true freshman in 2001.

Freshman Year (2001): Blocked a punt that led to a touchdown against Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl…appeared in all but one game as a true freshman…finished 23rd on the team with 14 tackles…best outing came at Duke with two unassisted tackles …had three intimidations with two at Clemson and one against Alabama-Birmingham.

High School: Regarded as one of the top linebackers in the state…member of Max Emfinger’s Top 100…had an impressive senior season at Lakewood High in St. Petersburg…also played running back and rushed for 1,089 yards as a senior.

Personal: Majoring in social science…born March 24, 1982.

2001 8 6 14 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2002 Redshirted
2003 9 4 13 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
CAREER 17 10 27 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Games Started: None
Tackles: 3 at Notre Dame, 2003
Unassisted Tackles: 2 vs. Duke, 2001
Assisted Tackles: 2 at Notre Dame, 2003
Season Tackles: 14 in 2001

#51 Buster Davis
Linebacker, 5-11, 248, Sophomore
Daytona Beach, FL (Mainland)

At Florida State: Redshirt sophomore battling for the starting job at middle linebacker vacated by Allen Augustin…enters preseason practice as the second team middle linebacker behind Sam McGrew…impressed the coaching staff with is playmaking abilities during spring drills 2004 as he was named the most improved linebacker.

Freshman Year (2003): Saw limited playing time as a reserve at linebacker…backed up Allen Augustin and Sam McGrew at middle linebacker…recorded five tackles (four solo) on the season while playing in seven games…recorded one tackle in games against UNC, Colorado, Duke, Notre Dame and Clemson.

2002: Redshirted along with most of his signing class.

High School: Regarded as a top 10 linebacker nationally in numerous publications…ranked as the nation’s No. 5 linebacker by Rivals100.com …selected to the PrepStar Dream Team…earned USA Today first team All-American honors…TheInsiders.com ranked Davis as the nation’s No. 8 linebacker prospect…ranked ninth-best linebacker in the nation by SchoolSports…ranked in the top 100 players nationally on several lists, including SuperPrep, Student Sports 100, and Tom Lemming’s top 100…named to the SuperPrep All-America team…Florida Kids rated Davis as the No. 1 linebacker in Florida… ranked 30th prospect over-all in Florida by Florida Kids…earned a perfect 7.50 rating in Max Emfinger’s Top 200…had over 140 tackles as senior…closed out his career with nearly 400 career tackles…recorded 101 solo stops and forced seven fumbles as a junior…selected Florida State over Nebraska, Ohio State, Tennessee and Syracuse.

Personal: Majoring in business…born October 20, 1983.

#44 Sam McGrew
Linebacker, 6-3, 226, Junior
Crawfordville, FL (Wakulla)

At Florida State: Enters his junior year as the starter at middle linebacker following a stint as the backup to Allen Augustin over the last two years…will have to hold off sophomore Buster Davis during the preseason to keep the starting job…has played in every game over his two-year Seminole career (27 games), both at linebacker and on special teams…selected as the winner of the Iron Nole Award following spring drills in March.

Sophomore Year (2003): Saw action in all 13 games as the second team middle linebacker…finished the season with 19 total tackles (13 solo)…added two tackles for loss, a quarterback sack and a forced fumble…had career-high tackle performance with four each vs. Maryland and Clemson.

Freshman Year (2002): Played behind starter Allen Augustin at middle linebacker…one of eight true freshmen to see action for FSU…made an immediate impact, playing in all 14 games for the Seminoles…saw significant playing time on special teams…recorded eight tackles on the season, including a season-high three stops at Georgia Tech.

High School: Graduated from nearby Wakulla High in 2002…considered by many publications to be the best inside linebacker prospect in Florida…SuperPrep’s No. 38 prospect in the nation…No. 14 ranked linebacker prospect according to TheInsiders.com…rated the No. 4 linebacker from Florida and the No. 32 prospect in the nation according to Florida Kids…finished his senior season with over 150 tackles…represented Florida in the Georgia-Florida All-Star Game… Rivals100.com’s No. 15 linebacker in the nation…a Florida Times-Union Super 75 selection…named to Max Emfinger’s Top 250…selected Florida State over Florida, Alabama, Georgia Tech and Kentucky.

Personal: Majoring in social science…born July 28, 1984.

2002 3 5 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2003 13 6 19 2 1 0 1 0 0 0
CAREER 16 11 27 2 1 0 1 0 0 0

Games Started: None
Tackles: 4 vs. 3 teams
Unassisted Tackles: 3 vs. Clemson, 2003
Assisted Tackles: 2 vs. 3 teams
Season Tackles: 19 in 2003

#54 A.J. Nicholson
Linebacker, 6-2, 235, Junior
Winston-Salem, NC (Mt. Tabor)

At Florida State: All-ACC candidate who is slated to start at weakside linebacker as a junior…backed up three-year starter Kendyll Pope at weakside linebacker last season…FSU’s fourth-leading returning tackler from 2003…came into his own last season and gave a sign of things to come with his playmaking ability…outstanding play carried over to the spring as he earned the Hinesman Award, given by the coaches to the most dominant player during spring drills.

Sophomore (2003): Saw action in all 13 games and started three (Duke, Wake Forest and Notre Dame)…recorded seven tackles, one tackle for loss and recovered two fumbles including one he returned for a touchdown in his first career start at Duke…ranked eighth on the team with 55 total tackles…also had three tackles for loss, two pass break-ups, four QB hurries, three recovered fumbles and a forced fumble…tallied a career-high 12 tackles (nine solo) against Wake Forest…had six tackles against Maryland and Notre Dame.

Freshman Year (2002): Played in 13 games as a true freshman …finished 20th on the team with 23 tackles…one of only eight true freshmen to see playing time during the year…had 14 unassisted tackles and nine assisted tackles in 2002, including one sack and a tackle for loss… recorded a season-high five tackles on two occasions (Clemson and North Carolina)…leading tackler among the freshmen…saw action as a member of special teams as well as a backup outside linebacker.

High School: Graduated from Mt. Tabor in 2002…highly recruited linebacker who was named a Parade All-American…PrepStar Dream Team selection…named to the USA Today All-USA second team …TheInsiders.com’s No. 3 linebacker in the nation…No. 3 rated middle linebacker in the nation according to Max Emfinger…rated the eighth-best linebacker in the nation according to SchoolSports…Countdown to Signing Day First Team All-South selection…selected to Athlon Sports Top 100 High School Seniors and the Alliance Sports Top 100 lists…named to the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Super Southern 100 team…had 147 tackles as a senior…made 170 tackles and had 23 tackles for losses as a junior…selected Florida State over Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida and Texas.

Personal: Majoring in sport management…born June 25, 1983.

2002 14 9 23 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
2003 36 19 55 3 0 2 1 3 0 1
CAREER 50 28 78 4 1 2 1 3 0 1

Games Started: Three
Tackles: 12 vs. Wake Forest, 2003
Unassisted Tackles: 9 vs. Wake Forest, 2003
Assisted Tackles: 3 vs. 3 teams
Season Tackles: 55 in 2003

#56 Ray Piquion
Linebacker, 6-0, 212, Senior
Miami, FL (Miami Beach)

At Florida State: The lone senior among the Seminole linebacking corps…will open preseason drills as the starter at strongside linebacker after backing up All-ACC performer Michael Boulware in 2003…has also served as a valuable special teams performer…will be pushed by sophomore Ernie Sims for starting honors…received the Big Otis Award at the conclusion of spring practice in March…very experienced player who is a proven talent among FSU coaches.

Junior Year (2003): Saw action in all 13 games as he served as a member of FSU’s special teams and a backup to Michael Boulware at strongside linebacker…finished with 16 total tackles, including one for loss…had two or more tackles in six games…tied for second on the team with two fumble recoveries…also had a pass break-up and a quarterback hurry…tallied three tackles (season-high) against Duke and North Carolina.

Sophomore Year (2002): Played in 13 games for the Seminoles…recorded 11 total tackles, including a career-high five tackles versus Maryland…had one solo stop and 10 assisted tackles…was a major contributor on the Seminole special teams…also saw considerable playing time in goal line situations.

Freshman Year (2001): Came in and participated in spring drills after graduating from high school early…recorded two unassisted tackles and three assist in the Garnet and Gold game …played in two games (Duke and UNC).

High School: Graduated early from high school early and enrolled at Florida State in January of 2001…named second-team all-state as a senior at Miami Lakes…Max Emfinger listed him on both his national Nifty 150 and state of Florida Top 100…selected by Florida Times Union to their Super 75 team…made 133 tackles as a junior…had a 35″ vertical leap…was clocked at 4.47 in the 40…selected FSU over a number of other schools, including Miami, Nebraska and Penn State.

Personal: Majoring in social science…born May 13, 1982.

2001 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2002 1 10 11 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2003 7 9 16 1 0 1 0 2 0 0
CAREER 8 19 27 1 0 1 0 2 0 0

Games Started: None
Tackles: 5 at Maryland, 2002
Unassisted Tackles: 2 vs. 3 teams
Assisted Tackles: 4 at Maryland, 2002
Season Tackles: 16 in 2003

#34 Ernie Sims III
6-0, 220, Linebacker, Sophomore
Tallahassee, FL (North Florida Christian)

At Florida State: Sophomore who is expected to be one of the next great linebackers at Florida State…will push senior Ray Piquion for starting honors at strongside linebacker as he enters preseason drills on the second team…led all freshman with 42 tackles in 2003…had an outstanding spring and was recognized as the defensive MVP by the coaches at the conclusion of spring practice…was also named the defense’s big hitter during the spring…regarded by many as one of the top high school players in the country as a senior at North Florida Christian in 2002…quickly earned a repuration as a fierce hitter as a true freshman last year…leveled Miami All-America tight end Kellen Winslow in the Orange Bowl for one of the biggest hits of the season.

Freshman Year (2003): Played in all 13 games as a true freshman…one of only five true freshman to see action in 2003…finished ninth on the team with 42 total tackles…had one or more tackle in 12 of 13 games…added two tackles for loss, two pass break-ups, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble…made his presence felt at linebacker and as a standout special teams performer…had a season-high 10 tackles against Wake Forest and was named ACC Rookie of the Week…recorded nine tackles at Duke and had six at Notre Dame.

High School: Considered by most to be the No. 1 recruit in the nation…Parade All-American as the top linebacker in the country…five star player by Rivals.com and the No.1 rated inside linebacker in the nation…No.1 rated player in the Southeast by Rivals.com and the No.1 rated player on the Florida Top 100…one of Florida’s Top 100 according to the Orlando Sentinel…USA Today All-USA second team as a linebacker…voted one of Florida’s Super 75 by the Times-Union…named to the Tampa Tribune’s All-South Top 20 as the No. 1 player in the south…participant in the 2003 California-Florida Bowl where he was showcased as a running back…as a junior led NFC to the class A state championship rushing for three touchdowns as the Eagles won their state-record 20th consecutive playoff game…that made four straight state championship games for him, as he played on the varsity team as an eighth grader…totaled 180 tackles, 41 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and forced seven fumbles from his linebacker position…also had over 600 yards rushing with 17 TDs…competed in track (200M & 400M) and has posted a time of 10.7 seconds in the 100M…as a senior battled nagging injuries, but still managed 115 carries and 1,081 yards to go along with 23 TDs…tallied 133 tackles (73 solo), 15 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and one blocked field goal at linebacker.

Personal: Father Ernie, Jr. played football at Florida State for head coach Bobby Bowden from 1977-78, 1980-81 and his mother, the former Alice Bennett, ran on the Lady Seminole track team from 1980-83…wears jersey number 34 which is retired in honor of former FSU great Ron Sellers, but was brought out of retirement with Sellers’ permission…majoring in biological science…interested in becoming a veterinarian.

2003 32 10 42 2 0 2 1 0 0 0

Games Started: None
Tackles: 10 vs. Wake Forest, 2003
Unassisted Tackles: 7 vs. 2 teams
Assisted Tackles: 3 vs. Wake Forest, 2003
Season Tackles: 42 in 2003

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