TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In the span of two years, Kareem Are has evolved from a wide-eyed junior college transfer on the first day practice to one of the anchors of the Florida State offensive line.
A fifth-year senior from Elmont, N.Y., Are appeared in every game last season, with eight starts at left guard to his credit.
He’s the heavy favorite to keep that starting job heading into the 2016 campaign. And although his neighbor, left tackle Roderick Johnson, garners most of the headlines and accolades, Are is still a key component for an FSU line looking to improve from last year while potentially working in some new pieces.
“We’re holding up, but that can’t be enough,” Are said. “We want to dominate, so we’ve got to get better.”
Are understands that process well. He arrived at FSU in 2014 after two dominant years at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, in which he earned All-America honors and a designation as the No. 1 junior college lineman prospect in the nation. But it didn’t take long for Are to find that the jump from JUCO to Division I is substantial.
“I just remember a lot coming at me at once,” Are said. “Just trying to stay focused, trying to concentrate, but at the same time play as hard as I could.
“It was challenging, but I learned to get used it.”
A redshirt year helped that process and, by the time 2015 rolled around, Are found himself ready to contribute for a line that had lost four senior starters to the NFL.
Safe to say he performed admirably: Are earned third-team All-ACC honors and, a few months later, was named FSU’s most improved offensive player after spring camp.
“Kareem has a big heart,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He gives everything he’s got out there. He does some good things. He’s got a big body, gets on you, can run good for a big guy and cares. And got some power. He’s a good football player.”
Added defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi: “It’s a fun day when me and him go at it on the practice fields. He’s a great athlete, great blocker, so I know I’m getting 100 percent every time I go against him.”
McFadden, Lewis draw comparisons to Seminole greats
Two weeks in to camp, cornerbacks Marcus Lewis and Tarvarus McFadden remain tangled in a competition to replace the departed Jalen Ramsey.
While Fisher recently said that neither has yet pulled ahead of the other, it sounds like Florida State’s defense will be in good shape either way.
“McFadden’s just got that Jalen frame,” senior receiver Kermit Whitfield said. “He’s very long. Very physical, too. He’s good at what he does.”
And if one comparison to a former FSU All-American wasn’t enough, Whitfield offered one for Lewis, too.
“Marcus, he’s just got that dog in him,” Whitfield said. “He reminds me of (Lamarcus) Joyner a little bit. So, yeah, it’s going to be scary back there.”
Joyner and Ramsey each earned consensus All-America honors and each were selected with high picks in the NFL draft. McFadden and Lewis, meanwhile, are in just their second years with the program and are still awaiting their first significant collegiate action.
Still, their physical attributes and prep resumes suggest that they could one day reach such high standards.
McFadden, who at 6-2, 198 pounds has a similar frame to Ramsey’s, arrived at FSU as perhaps the most sought-after defensive back recruit in the class of 2015.
And Lewis (6-1, 190), a four-star prospect, was considered by recruiting services as the No. 2 overall player in Washington, D.C. – an area that has recently produced defensive stars like Ronald Darby and Eddie Goldman.
Lewis and McFadden have each taken reps with the first-team defense, and, given Florida State’s depth in the secondary – the Seminoles list 12 scholarship defensive backs – each will likely have a role to play this season.
“Both of them are great in their own way,” sophomore safety Derwin James said. “Tarvarus is long. Marcus is fast. … The best man is going to play.”
Fisher still seeking mental toughness
Another morning practice meant another hot day for the Seminoles on Monday, and Fisher tested his team’s will even more than usual by extending the session nearly an hour past its scheduled time.
Physical practices have been the norm for this year’s fall camp and, with two weeks still remaining until the season opener against Mississippi, Fisher said he’s looking for players who can clear both mental and physical hurdles between now and then.
“We’re getting mentally tougher, but we’re not as strong as we need to be and we’ve got to grind it out,” Fisher said. ‘We’re in those dog days of camp. You’ve got to work and create habits. No matter how you feel, how sore you are. We’re getting there, we just ain’t quite there.”
Those thoughts echoed what Fisher said after the team’s first scrimmage last week – the Seminoles have plenty of ability. He wants to see improvements in effort, attitude and demeanor. FSU will hold its second fall scrimmage on Wednesday.
Asked when he’ll know that the Seminoles are where they need to be, Fisher responded, “When they do everything perfect.”
It’s a tall order, but, then again, that’s also the point. One of Fisher’s favorite sayings is that you don’t practice until you do it right, you practice until you can’t do it wrong.
“Everybody’s playing Playstation – when practice doesn’t go well, let’s hit restart. Game over,” Fisher said. “No, you don’t get to do that.”
Receivers Nyqwan Murray (concussion-like symptoms) and George Campbell (groin) missed Monday’s practice, but Fisher sounded optimistic about each and said that Campbell in particular could return at “any time.”
Junior Ja’Vonn Harrison, however, returned Monday after missing the last few days while tending to a personal matter and Fisher said Harrison’s fresh legs were noticeable.
Elsewhere, center Alec Eberle (concussion-like symptoms) remains sidelined, with Corey Martinez working with the first team in his place. Linebacker Dontavious Jackson also missed Monday’s practice due to a family matter.
Quarterback Sean Maguire visited practice a week after having surgery to repair a bone in his foot. Maguire was not wearing a cast or a boot and seemed to be walking well.
Outside of Maguire’s, Fisher doesn’t believe there are any injuries that could threaten a player’s status for the season opener.