TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A little more than four years ago, one of Florida State’s most beloved linebackers shared a piece of advice with one of the Seminoles’ newest linebackers.
Jacob Pugh hadn’t even begun his FSU career yet – that would come a few months later, in the fall of 2014 – but he made sure to learn a few things from Telvin Smith before Smith left for a career in the NFL.
“I looked up to Telvin a lot,” said Pugh, now a senior. “He always told me every time I came up here, ‘Make the best of it, because it’s going to go by fast.’ And he didn’t lie to me.”
After watching his older teammates participate in Senior Day ceremonies in each of the last three years, Pugh’s time is here. He is one of 17 Florida State seniors who will be honored before Saturday’s home game against Delaware State (noon, Raycom), a group that includes the final remaining members of FSU’s 2013 national championship team (Matthew Thomas, Ryan Green, Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Nate Andrews), as well as several key pieces of one of the most successful runs in FSU football history.
“We honor and cherish every moment they’ve been here,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “And I think we need to show them a great celebration.”
FSU’s four-year scholarship seniors – Ermon Lane, Trey Marshall, Malique Jackson, Stephen Gabbard, Rick Leonard, Derrick Nnadi and Pugh – have been a part of three straight New Year’s Six Bowls, including an appearance in the first ever College Football Playoff semifinal, and an ACC title.
Along the way, they’ve ridden countless highs and a few lows on the way to what they say are memorable, satisfying careers.
“It’s hitting me, it’s finally here,” Nnadi said. “It feels like just last week I was just coming here in June (of 2014), bracing for – trying to survive – the Tallahassee summer heat.”
“It’s definitely crazy,” added center Alec Eberle, a redshirt junior who arrived as part of FSU’s signing class of 2014. “Thinking about this being my fourth year, but also some of the guys that we’re going to be losing. Some of my really close friends. It’s wild, honestly.”
Eberle then reeled off some of his favorite memories. A visit to the Rose Bowl as a freshman was a highlight, as were subsequent visits to the Peach and Orange Bowls.
“Winning the Orange Bowl last year was pretty awesome,” he said.
But as much as anything he and his teammates accomplished over the past few years, Eberle is proud of the resolve that the team has shown during a difficult season.
FSU in 2017 has dealt with a season-ending injury to its starting quarterback and a hurricane that forced a two-week break that threw off the Seminoles’ routine. All while then proceeding to play 11 games in 11 weeks against perhaps the nation’s toughest schedule.
The Seminoles have played three teams in the Top 20 of the latest College Football Playoff rankings, including No. 1 Alabama, No, 2 Clemson and No. 3 Miami. They’re the first team in the CFP era to have played against the top three teams at the time of a weekly ranking.
“We’ve had a lot of struggles,” Eberle said. “Whether it’s the hurricane, losing players. It’s been so up and down. But we never gave up. No one ever quit. …
“I think it’s just part of the culture. We’re a team that’s never going to give up. Whatever is thrown at us, we’re going to keep going.”
It’s that culture – established by the likes of Smith, Lamarcus Joyner and Timmy Jernigan in Fisher’s early years, and maintained by Andrews, Green, Nnadi and the rest of the current seniors – that the Seminoles hope to both honor and continue over the rest of the season.
With three games to play, the Seminoles still have a good chance to reach six wins, go to a bowl game and finish with a winning season.
For a group that has accomplished so much, sending them out in the best way possible is a top priority.
“They’re what helped shape this program, change this program,” redshirt sophomore safety Derwin James said. “They’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, that’s why I commend them. They know what it is to win. They’ve been around a winning culture. They’ve laid a lot in this program and made a lot of sacrifices.”