He has a new friend in Florida State President T.K. Wetherell and an old one in coach Bobby Bowden.
After battling leg and shoulder injuries all last year, Darnell Dockett is playing at full strength again.
That's not good news for Seminole opponents.
FSU opens its season tonight at North Carolina, and starting defensive tackle Darnell Dockett intends to make an impact on national television.
A positive impact this time.
"If he stays healthy, I guarantee you he'll be one of the best defensive tackles in the country,'' Bowden said.
Dockett's struggles have been well-documented.
His college career almost ended after his arrest in December on a felony shoplifting charge. He was suspended from playing in the Sugar Bowl and told several teammates he might not return for his senior year.
However, the NFL showed little or no interest in Dockett, who battled injuries, his waistline and a lack of maturity last season.
In fact, his star had fallen considerably since he burst on the scene as a freshman in 2000, earning freshman All-America honors and was named the Freshman Defensive Player of the Year by Football News. Many agreed Dockett was headed down a path littered by talented athletes who simply, for whatever reason, never reached their potential.
Thankfully, Dockett stopped himself.
Dockett said watching the Sugar Bowl on television reminded him of how valuable he is to the FSU defense and inspired him. The Seminoles lost to Georgia 26-13, largely because Bulldogs tailback Musa Smith rushed for 145 yards on 23 carries. Most of Smith's yards came on runs up the gut of the defense, right where Dockett should have been positioned.
That was mentioned more than once by television announcers.
"When I looked at that Georgia film, I looked at it like if I had been 100 percent, a lot of that stuff Georgia did wouldn't have worked," Dockett said.
"Ever since I looked at it, I've been enthusiastic in the off-season, doing my community service with the sheriff. All I wanted to do is get that over with and just focus on football and school. I feel that I owe that much to the team for what I did in December."
Dockett, a 22-year-old senior, spent part of the summer completing requirements of a plea bargain in the shoplifting case, working 30 10-hour days picking up roadside trash in the sheriff's department work program. He also was a regular at the Seminoles' summer conditioning sessions, intent on proving to his teammates he was determined to make a difference.
Many days Dockett remained behind working with the Seminoles' younger players, teaching technique and talking strategy. His approach carried over into the preseason. In fact, some of the best battles were between Dockett and guard Eric Broe. The two got after each other like caged animals, nearly coming to blows at times.
Each time, however, the two walked off the field together, smiling and encouraging each other.
Teammates have marveled at Dockett's intensity.
"If there's a better tackle in the country, I want to see him," Broe said and smiled. Added cornerback Stanford Samuels: "They better get two or three people to block him this year because I know he's hungry. With some of the criticism that he's gotten over the past year or whatever, I know he's ready to go out there and is ready to go."
Dockett's value is clearly evident. In spite of a subpar junior season, Dockett holds school records for tackles for loss in a season (22 in 2001) and a career (48 and counting). Dockett knew he had underachieved for a variety of reasons, starting with injuries and his off-the-field troubles.
Dockett -- and others -- realized this season was his last chance to make something good happen. To help re-enforce that message, Wetherell, who played football for FSU in the mid-1960s, became president in early January, called Dockett into his office. The two talked about opportunity.
"He basically told me you've got all the talent in the world. Don't waste it," Dockett said.
"All I wanted to do (this summer) is get all that over with and just focus on football and school That's exactly what I did and positive results came out of it. Hopefully, I can just keep getting better and better.. I am not taking anything for granted this year."
Picked by Bowden to speak to the team at its pregame dinner Friday night, Dockett said his message would come from the heart.
"To come out here and run over people every now and then, I feel good," Dockett said of his preseason effort.
"But we have so much to prove. We just haven't played to our standards yet and it's either this year or never. Some of these guys' futures are on the line with this football team. Mine too."